Intro/StatsSan Luis Peak (14014')- CO Rank 50
Baldy Alto (13698')- CO Rank 147
Stewart Peak (13983')- CO Rank 55
Sept 9, 2006
13.5 miles RT, 5080' gain
via Stewart Creek TH
Participants: Jim and Karen Ohl, Jason Stansbury, Risa Hayes, Matt Williams, Patrick Thornley, Kevin and Jenni Baker
Back in 1998 on our first wedding anniversay, my wife Jenni and I climbed CO state highpoint and 14er Mt Elbert via the Black Cloud trail from the south. We were ill prepared for the hike as we were living in KS at the time and did not have a clue of how to prepare for a 14er. It took us 11 hrs to complete this relatively easy 14er as I suffered blood blisters on my feet, altitude sickness, and was physically wasted when we got down. It felt worse than running intervals in track practice! Jenni suffered a bad sunburn and blisters as well. At the time, I didn't know there were so many 14ers in CO nor did I think I would do any others.
Four years ago I bought Gerry Roach's guidebook at an REI in Denver and thought I could climb all of the easier class 1 and 2 hikes. We moved to CO one year later and the 14er journey began. Little did I know that I would somehow overcome my big fear of heights and be in position to complete the list of 59 (including unofficials) 8 years after the journey began! I picked easy San Luis as my last so my wife would be there with me as she hates off trail hikes on loose rock!
My friend Jason Stansbury was with us to climb Elbert over 8 years ago. I sent him an invite to join us on my last and I was surprised that he came all the way from KS with no acclimitization! We met him at our place Friday and set out for the remote La Garita mountains near Gunnison. It had been a dreary day on Friday and the forecast did not look great for the hike, but it didn't matter for me because I was prepared for anything. It would take a freak storm to keep me off San Luis.
The long 47 mile journey from US-50 to the Stewart Creek TH took us 1.5 hrs as the roads were very muddy in spots. I fishtailed a few times through the mud, but we made it without any mishaps. Our friends Jim and Karen Ohl from C. Springs followed us and we didn't get camp setup until nearly 11pm. Patrick, Matt, and Risa would join us in the morning as they stayed at a hotel in Gunnison. Those three have been with me the most on various 14er adventures.
San Luis- The Journey Ends
The night was cold but I slept pretty well as the rains held off for the night under a nearly full moon. Our tents were covered with frost in the morning as we awoke to a 30 degree temp, but the skies looked promising. I knew with the winding roads that Pat, Risa, and Matt would probably be late, so we set out at a slow pace at 6:19am so we could warm up. A couple miles down the trail we established radio contact with Pat as they started around 7am. We took quite a few breaks and they met us at the first stream crossing. With the entire group now in place, we let Jason set the pace since he had just been in KS the day before. We met a couple rangers who were camping in the area who told us there was 8" of snow on the trail near the summit. I found that hard to believe. They probably thought we were ill prepared as 3 of us were still wearing shorts and me with my trail runners on!
The beautiful Stewart Creek valley from the Organ-San Luis saddle.
We finally arrived at the saddle and took a clothing break as the wind was now beginning to pick up. The trail indeed was snow covered but it was more like 2-3". The ascending traverse to the north ridge went quick as this was a welcome change of pace from the steep, loose climbs I have been doing this summer.
The remaining journey to San Luis from the saddle.
We were soon within 300' of the summit and Jim let me lead the way. The last few hundred feet were pretty emotional for me as I thought of the many 14er climbs I have enjoyed while in CO. I have met so many awesome hiking partners who have made this journey so fun. The wind beating against my face reminded me of the many challenges and obstacles that were faced along the way. I topped out at 11:19am, touched the highest point, and said a prayer of thanks as Jim stood by. I was so happy to share this moment with friends as I hugged everyone as they came up. We broke out some celebratory sparkling grape juice for the occasion and Jim and Karen made me a cool 14er completion visor. Matt even gave me a homemade card with memories of our climbs together and a 13er passport for climbs to come!
Group summit shot on San Luis, my final CO 14er.
Baldy Alto and Stewart
The skies were looking pretty ominous for further adventures, but it was so cold that there were no boomers developing. Jim and Matt were up for a trip over to 13ers Baldy Alto and Stewart, which are on the top 200 list for CO. Patrick led the rest down the south ridge to the CO trail, which ended up being longer than my hike! The hike over to Baldy Alto went quick. We choose to ascend it via a class 2+ gully near a cliff band. The gully looked pretty steep until we began climbing it. We made quick work of it and were soon on the summit at 1:06. The views over to San Luis were nice, but we didn't hang around long as it looked like weather was moving in.
The view north to the next goals, 13ers Baldy Alto and Stewart.
Light graupel began to fall on the descent of Baldy Alto, but it didn't last long as the sun would come out in intervals. Matt chose a high traverse below a bump above the saddle, while Jim and I rounded a corner staying lower at 13200'. This dumped us into an annoying boulder field, but we were soon on grassy terrain heading up to the s.w. ridge of Stewart. We all began to feel it on the steep grunt, and were tormented with a couple false summits before topping out around 2:30. A snow shower quickly blew in as we rested and dropped the visibility, so we only hung around for 20 minutes. The snow quickly subsided as we decended though.
Completing this nice loop, we headed down the n.e. ridge of Stewart so we could eventually end up in the Nutras creek drainage below. There were bits of a trail on this ridge, which was shale for the first 500' or so before giving way to gentle, grassy slopes. We followed game trails when possible down to Nutras Creek at ~11800'. The bushwack was too easy, so we paid our dues with some willow bashing for a few minutes before finding the trail back to the road. We arrived back at the road at 5:06, but the others were not there to pick us up! It turns out that their CO Trail descent was much longer than Pat thought, and they arrived back at camp around the same time we completed our hike. We waited for 45 minutes or so until a guy drove by and gave a ride to Matt back to our starting point. The rest of the crew arrived just a couple minutes after he left and were beat from the long descent. We all headed to Gunnison for a celebratory dinner.
It is hard to believe the journey of climbing all the 14ers is complete. I will continue to experience them down the road as I hope to repeat the interesting ones with friends and try new routes. It only takes some lung power, will, balance, fitness, routefinding, common sense, and a little climbing ability to climb them all. If a clutz like me can do them all, anybody can!