San Luis Peak
July 31, 2000 & July 28, 2007- via Stewart Creek drainage
(photos from 2007 climb)
"San Luis is just an anthill", why bother to climb it other than to complete the tick list. If this thought has crossed your mind, you and I once thought of this peak in the same way. After you climb it, you may feel differently about this solitary and wonderful peak. I think back on the 14’ers I have climbed, all of them as a matter of fact, as I write this page and I still consider San Luis to have been among the very best. There is no knife edge ridge, there are no route finding challenges and there are no epic four wheel drive roads to get to the trail head, but it is a climb not to be missed.
I've gotten to the Stewart Creek trail head from both Saguache and Gunnison. I'm not sure how much difference it made in either trip so long as you keep a close eye on the map for the cut off to the south, leaving Colorado 114. The guides and a map combined will get you to the trail head and there is no lack of informal camping near the parking area. The only comment I'll make on the excellent Dawson driving directions is that the turn off onto the forest service route 914 is just over the other side of the mentioned cattle guard where the road splits. You want to take the immediate right path that goes down hill and makes a sweeping turn back the better part of 150 degrees before starting back out of the drainage and onto in the direction you want to go. A second cattle guard after a half, maybe three quarters of a mile is followed by a Forest Service sign that finally identifies your route as the correct road. Later on there is another intersection where you will go straight (don't take the right turn) but that intersection has a good USFS sign pointing the right direction.
I got there in the late afternoon, found a nice place for the night and settled down for dinner and an early start. The route is about a 12 mile round trip of gently graded trail that takes the climber up Stewart Creek, past beaver ponds and stands of aspen. I saw very little wild life but I am also a poor observer of more than my feet and the trail ahead of me if I do not stop to smell the roses. Perhaps it was a slow animal day but I cannot brag of moose or a cat, as others who are familiar with this climb have been able to relate.
The route leaves the trail head on an old double track that soon becomes a single track path. The route meanders along the right side of the drainage and does not see enough traffic to have been beaten down like so many other 14'er routes. I got an early start and since it had rained, the grass along the trail soaked me to the knees. But alas the day was warm and it made little difference and there was not the slightest chill as a result. The trail passes many beaver ponds and then transitions from a grassy valley to a walk through the pine forest as the elevation rises and the trees take over.
The path climbs to tree line with but a few short steep sections that remind you that this is after all a climb. The trees peter out eventually and the path wanders over a knoll and through a willowed area before the willows too give way to the altitude and the path enters short grass meadows. The route crosses the creek once, then soon another time to take to the left side of the valley where the climb portion of the ascent starts in earnest. I left the creek after pumping a full quart for the climb and made my way up the visible but again, not beaten down path, toward the saddle that is probably about six or seven hundred feet above the creek crossing.
I made steady time and reached the saddle on the flank of Baldy Alto, of course thinking that Baldy might in fact be San Luis (reading a map is one thing, checking to make sure you remember to pack the map is another lesson, you think?). Such is not the case, San Luis is behind Baldy Alto and once you reach the 13,107 saddle, the trail traverses to along the flank of this lesser peak, making no false representations as to where it is going. The route and the summit of San Luis were now clearly visible. My course climbed along the rocky scree covered trail as it rose to the saddle and then continued onto the summit of San Luis.
The rounded summit gives a good view of the San Juans and given the remote nature of the peak, I was not surprised to be alone on top. I spent some time enjoying the sun and then headed back down to the truck, logging a total climb time of just about six ½ hours. I still did not see anything more out of the ordinary than a few mule deer but there are never any guarantees in that department. I made the truck and retraced my course the Cheyenne, a long drive, but a trip well worth the effort. If you have been putting off the trip to San Luis, you are missing out. If you have already ticked San Luis off your list, then I am not telling you anything you do not already know.