At 14047’ San Luis Peak is one of the less popular 14ers because it is remote and gentle. However, the south facing Yawner Couloirs provide motivation to the skier via a continuous 2800’ moderate ski descent from the summit to valley.
Our first view of San Luis and our ski route
Getting to San Luis in mid April required some extra effort. There are 2 ways to get to the Equity Mine trail head, North straight out of the town of Creede, and West in a round about loop. We were blocked by snow on the first mile of the North route, but after backtracking to the other approach we found the road plowed all the way to the equity mine turn off, still 3.5 miles short of the summer time trail head.
We skinned 6 miles up the valley on gentle terrain and were able to keep our skis on the entire way. At the continental divide we took a break and surveyed our descent into the next valley where we would camp. A cornice ringed most of the bowl but we found an entry and dropped in, awkwardly with our heavy packs. The snow was excellent, just a light layer of corn on consolidated base.
Dropping off the cornice.
After a few good turns we arrived at a good camp site exactly at tree line, and set up camp for the night. We spent an hour stomping out and leveling a place for our tent in the snow and working up an appetite. Soon we realize the stove and cookware has been left in the car and starting a fire becomes priority. Joe preps the fire good enough that we start it with our first spark. Luckily we had a single steel bowl that allowed us to melt snow in the fire, but melting snow 2 cups at a time in a bowl filled with embers takes hours for 1 evening worth of water. This will be the last hot meal we have until we arrive back in civilization because it’s just too much effort to cook, so we just eat cold snacks and try to conserve water.
Day 2, Summit
San Luis is still 2 small valleys away even though we can clearly see our route. We traverse the valleys while trying to lose as little elevation as possible since we would be returning the same way later in the day. The snow is still frozen and we are able to skin directly up our route because the skins are sticking good. Eventually we transition to crampons and put the skis on the pack, which is a precarious balancing act on a frozen slope, all while trying not to drop anything down the mountain.
Around 13500’ things are getting steeper and the wind blows almost continuously. We are hoping the snow will soften up for the descent but it remains icy. I wonder if our skis will grip the ice enough to descend safely or if we will have to wait on the summit for it to soften. I take a drink and try not to puke since the water tastes like charcoal.
We arrive at the summit at 12:00, Joe first, and me a few minutes behind with a bloody nose. The wind is blowing snow hard off the summit and we are too cold to spend more then a minute on the summit, just enough to sign the register… the first since February.
The summit! It was too cold and windy to stay for more then a minute or two.
It is possible to ski directly from the summit but we chose to descend our climbing route about 100’ feet lower. We drop in 1 at a time and take very few turns towards the top because it is still steep and icy. After a few hundred feet the snow begins to improve and by the time we are at the bottom we are taking high speed turns on perfect corn snow.
Good corn at 13,000'
We find a running stream at the base of the mountain and are relieved to be able to purify some better tasting water to get us through the rest of the trip. The plan was to ascend back to camp, pack, ascend the cornice and ski gently back down the final 6 miles to the car. Unfortunately, by the time we reach camp I’m too exhausted and we spend another night.
At first light we pack up and look for a way to overcome the cornice. Lucky for us we found a small break that is just enough to allow us to ski over it and leave the crampons in the pack. The descent back is long and we occasionally have to take off our skis for short sections because it has melted out since the previous 2 days. Overall there is still gobs of snow and good skiing to be had.
Back over the cornice and to the mellow descent to the trail head.
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