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San Luis Peak
Elevation: 14,014 feet
Climbed: Sep 1, 2004
Mountain Range: San Juan Range
Colorado Rank: 50th
Class Rating: 1
Latitude: 37.986900
Longitude: -106.931000

Trip Report

Sep 1, 2004
San Luis Peak was the second peak we climbed during the week of my climbing vacation with my brother, Randy, and his friend, Mike, both from St. Louis, MO. As usual, Mike from St. Louis was referred to as Wild Mike and I was called Mountain Mike, since I live in Colorado.

On Monday, August 30, 2004, we climbed Mount Sneffels. On Tuesday, we drove to the Stewart Creek trailhead, intending to backpack in and then climb San Luis Peak on Wednesday. We approached Stewart Creek trailhead via Los Pinos Pass, which was pretty much a one-lane dirt road. We followed Gerry Roach's directions, traveling over miles and miles of dirt road, finally arriving at the trailhead.

The trailhead sign listed San Luis Peak at 5 1/2 miles from the Stewart Creek trailhead, but we measured it at 6 miles, consistent with Roach's 12-mile round-trip estimate. Another trailhead sign said we were entering the La Garita Wilderness Area.

We loaded up our backpacks with enough supplies for two nights and headed up the Stewart Creek trail. The lower section of the trail was sunny and warm during the late afternoon, and fairly flat as it followed a series of active beaver ponds built along Stewart Creek. Our second night, after climbing San Luis Peak, we watched beavers swimming through their ponds as darkness approached.

After close to a mile, the trail began to climb into the forest, providing relief from the warm sun. We stopped to rest periodically, especially when the trail became steeper. We stopped to pitch camp next to the stream, just above the last of the beaver ponds, about 3 miles up the trail at an elevation of approximately 11,348 feet. Wild Mike put up the tent, Randy sawed some firewood, and I filtered water from Stewart Creek to replenish our supplies. I used a portable MSR MiniWorks water filter. The pumping action forced water directly into the attached Nalgene water bottle.

While Randy got the fire blazing, I boiled some water for Randy and Wild Mike's freeze-dried dinners, using my Svea 123 backpacking stove. I've had this reliable little stove for close to 20 years, although they can still be bought today. REI, Inc., describes the stove as a "Museum Piece." After eating, Randy and Wild Mike hung our food supply out of the reach of bears, then we turned in for the night. We awoke around dawn. Our base camp opened up to the eastern-facing valley, so it did not take long for the sun to rise above the valley and warm our cold morning camp.

We ate some cold cereal for breakfast, loaded our day packs, and started up the Stewart Creek trail toward San Luis Peak. The stream intersected the trail at least twice as we ascended through the forest. We either waded across or crossed on bridges comprised of small-diameter tree trunks laid across the water. Some of the logs looked wet, but were actually covered with patches of ice.

Baldy Alto dominated the upper valley as we hiked up the trail. We actually thought that we were looking at San Luis Peak for the longest time. In reality, San Luis Peak was a barely-visible peak protruding over Baldy's southern (left) shoulder.

Near treeline, Randy and Wild Mike saw some bighorn sheep on the crest of a ridge north of us. They were tiny and far away, but Randy had brought his compact binoculars, so we took turns watching the sheep. From the same location, we also watched some mule/blacktail deer crossing on a lower hillside above treeline.

We continued to climb higher, leaving all trees far below, as we entered the world of the alpine tundra. Well-defined trails gave way to faint, but solid, footpaths through the talus. We climbed onto an extremely windy and chilly saddle, where the wind blew fiercely. We took a breather there, sitting on the ground so that a low band of rocks behind us deflected a bit of the wind.

We continued the climb, crossing several long talus slopes, walking along below the ridge lines leading to the peak. We made our final charge up the mountain to arrive on top of San Luis Peak. The strong wind encountered on the saddle persisted on the summit. A large cairn on the summit provided a nice barrier to the constant wind. As the wind shifted, we would move to a more protected location, although the cairn was only large enough to really protect one or two people at a time. Randy found that the best way to relax comfortably was to lay on his back with his hat over his eyes.

We discovered that a pica lived in the cairn on the San Luis Peak summit. He made a few brief appearances, since we seemed to interest him somewhat. Wild Mike got his camera ready and waited for him. Soon, the pica appeared for a photograph. For our own summit photo, one of my trekking poles was set into a small cairn for support, with a portable tripod attached to the trekking pole handle via a Velcro strap. That made a secure platform for the camera, although it wobbled in the wind.

After snacking a bit, we decided we had endured enough wind and cold, so we headed down. The trail down was enjoyable, with tremendous mountains of rock and greenery dominating the landscape. We were just specks in this landscape, as I was reminded that we were merely temporary guests in this land of extremes.

We stopped occasionally to take in the spectacular views, but for the most part, we made good time going down the mountain. At timberline, we turned one last time to view Baldy Alto and San Luis Peak, before they disappeared behind the gnarly trees.

Back at camp, tired and thirsty, Randy pulled the hydration bag out of his backpack and drank the remaining water. I filtered water from Stewart Creek, while Wild Mike and Randy retrieved our food and started a fire. We boiled up enough water to hydrate each of our freeze-dried meals. Wild Mike had beef stew with what he described as "chewy" potatoes. At over 11,000 feet in elevation, water boils at a lower temperature, which sometimes means food preparation takes a bit longer.

Before turning in, we walked down the trail a short ways and watched beavers swimming in their ponds. They would loudly slap their tails and dive under the water. We watched the willows for sign of moose, knowing they lived in the Stewart Creek drainage, but we never saw any. We walked back to camp and settled in for our fourth, and last, night in the mountains.

We woke at our leisure the next morning, which was still very early. We built a fire and watched the smoke from our campfire float past the early-morning rays of sun filtering through the trees. We warmed ourselves by the flickering, orange flames of the fire. Soon, the sun rose to warm our camp. We got busy dismantling our camp, breaking down the tent, and loading our backpacks. We doused the fire with several bags of water from the creek, put on our packs and began the 3-mile trip to the trailhead.

We reached the lower section of the trail, where the trees parted and thick stands of willow grew between the beaver ponds. We saw some animals along the edge of the forest, so we crept closer until we could see they were deer. We picked up our pace when our vehicle came into view at the trailhead, hiking briskly the last half-mile or more. We unloaded our packs and poked around the trailhead for a while, then finally loaded everything in the car and drove away.

We had decided the night before to drive back to Colorado Springs via the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, located south of Buena Vista. Not only did we get well-needed showers, but we enjoyed soaking in the warm pockets of water in Chalk Creek. We also spent time enjoying the water in both the warm and cool pools just above the creek.

After we were just about as waterlogged as you can get, we climbed out of the pools and headed back to Colorado Springs. The trip was almost over, although we did see a herd of bison in South Park, and then, while descending Wilkerson Pass, we saw a black bear foraging in a green field between the forest and the highway. It was a nice way to end our trip.


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