San Luis Peak (4271m) is perhaps the least climbed of Colorado’s fourteeners. The shy peak is far from everywhere and offers little technical excitement. But it is precisely San Luis’ reclusive nature that makes the peak well worth climbing, and I very much enjoyed to spend a beautiful day in solitude.
A peaceful morning in Lake City
I really appreciated my rest day Sep 12, subsequent to several days of long hikes and climbs. I slept until 09:00 at Woodland Campground outside of Lake City, pleased to know that there would be no climbs that day. I had a better breakfast and a much needed shower at the campground, before I met a retired man from Texas. He told me that he and his wife had been camping 27 consecutive summers in Colorado, a quite impressive record. In the early years they only had a small camping van, but over the years they had invested in new and bigger RV’s several times. He had never hiked or climbed in the mountains, except from one attempt of climbing Mount Elbert, where he and his wife failed to reach the summit. Nowadays he had severe problems with a deteriorating heart failure, so I kind of felt sorry for the old man. Who knows, maybe this was his last summer in Colorado. Despite of his health troubles, he was in a good mood and I was amused by his stories from current and previous years. When he stepped out of his RV yesterday morning, he was shocked by the sight of a black bear standing only two metres away from him. But his sudden reaction must have scared the black bear off as it hastily run away.
Driving to Creede
I spent the rest of the morning trying to figure out how to approach San Luis Peak the next day. One option was to drive northeast in order to reach the Stewart Creek Trailhead, but that was a very long drive from Lake City. Secondly, the myriad of dirt roads to this trailhead were complicated to navigate, according to my guidebook. Certainly a nightmare for me, given that I had managed to mess up so many times when driving to far less complicated trailheads during the last couple of weeks. The other option was to drive south to the small town of Creede and the easier accessible West Willow Creek Trailhead.
The decision was rather easy in the end, and I started to drive to Creede around noon. It was a very scenic drive via Slumgullion Pass, before I finally reached the historic town of Creede. I spent the afternoon wandering around in the small town, buying local burgers and visiting the site where the notorious bandit Jesse James was killed in 1892.
The next morning I woke up in my car at 06:20. I drove to the Willow Creek bridge just south of Creede. Then I drove south for 0,5 km to three dirt roads leading west (right). I turned west onto the rightmost of the three dirt roads. I passed the cemetery turnoff after 0,8 km and I turned left at a T-junction after 2 km. I continued on the main road to Allens Crossing over West Willow Creek at 10 km. I turned left at a T-junction just east of Allens Crossing and drove north to Equity Mine (approx 14 km from Creede). The road was excellent to this point and I found a small and empty parking lot just before the bridge at an elevation of 3395 metres. I was pleased to have the entire mountain for myself, because one rarely walk alone in the very busy Colorado mountains. But this was not a typical day in the Colorado mountains. San Luis Peak is the least climbed of Colorado‘s fourteeners, secondly it was off-season. Hence I was not surprised to get the chance of spending a day in solitude.
Climbing San Luis Peak (4271m)
I left the parking lot 07:35, walked south for 100 metres and found the 4x4 Loop Road on my right-hand side. I followed the rough dirt road for 2,5 kilometres, until the road turned steeply up the hill to the left. Here I left the 4x4 Loop Road and continued north on an old four-wheel-drive road that soon crossed back to the creek’s east side. I followed the old road as it climbed northeast up a shoulder to the broad saddle just southeast of Point 12540. The elevation here was 3700 metres, and I rested for a while to admire the postcard view of San Luis Peak.
Beyond the saddle I could see the Colorado Trail, and I descended 50 metres in order to reach the excellent trail. I followed this trail east as it descended to a low point of 3570 metres in the trees, then contoured around a basin to a saddle in the upper Spring Creek drainage. I continued east on the excellent trail as it contoured around a second basin, then climbed north to the 3800 metres high saddle between San Luis and Point 13155. Here I surprisingly met someone else on the trail, Tim McElderry from Colorado Springs. He started to walk from Denver Aug 3 and expected to reach Durango around Sep 22, a total distance of approx 750 kilometres. During the last 40 days he had been hiking pretty much all the time, except from one week “vacation” as well as some weekends off. The remarkably fit guy also told me that he had finalized his collection of fourteeners in 1992, and after that the 100 highest peaks in Colorado. He invited me to stay in Colorado Springs the next time I visited Colorado to climb more fourteeners. There was a icy-cold wind on the saddle, so we exchanged e-mail addresses quickly before I left the Colorado Trail and continued on the San Luis’ gentle, easy south ridge (class 1). I reached the summit 10:30, less than 3 hours after I started from the parking lot. The view from the summit was extensive, simply because San Luis is the highest peak in the area (4271m), towering high above the surrounding areas. It is also worth to mention that there are only 4 other fourteeners in Colorado which have a higher prominence than San Luis (948m). I found a shelter on the summit and rested for 20 minutes before I started the long return hike (11km) to the trailhead.
Undoubtedly it had been a very special day on San Luis, and I did not expect the same level of silence when I returned to Buena Vista and the Collegiate Peaks over the next few days.