Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Adventures to San Luis Peak

One last big Colorado mountain for the summer.  We were in Lake City anyway, so we decided to go for an out-of-the-way 14er, San Luis Peak.  There are a couple ways to reach this mountain, none of them very straightforward.  We drove through Creede in the dark and then up a dirt road for several miles.  Passing through the giant mine north of town was a little freaky in the dark - the start of an interesting adventure, it turns out.

We arrived at what seemed like a trailhead, still in the dark, finding another vehicle and some people who were trying to figure out where to go.  Sarah introduced herself, and together we checked out the options.  We finally decided to cross through the Equity mine complex.  Much later in the day we discovered a small path that leads to a road that leads around the mine.  Better signage here would have been really helpful.

Sarah and crew were still getting themselves ready, so John and I set off up the road.  A short bit later we came across a woman standing next to a truck, just past the spot where we entered National Forest land.  Good morning!  She helpfully pointed out the alternate road route.  Then we found 2 guys with 2 skittish dogs coming toward us.  No idea what that group was doing.

In the middle of all this, we were trying to find a small trail leading up the hill.  I had a map, just a copy from the 14ers.com website and not a full topo.  The basic problem was that we weren't exactly sure where the trailhead was located on the map vs. where we were.

On the plus side, we knew that the Continental Divide was above us to the right.  I had already been thinking we might want to explore the Divide on the way back from the peak.  I convinced John that we should climb up there now, to heck with wasting time trail-finding.  So we did.

It was a fun climb up through woods, along elk tracks, and up above treeline.  Now that we could see, we still couldn't spot any trails in the drainages to either side of the ridge we were climbing.  The slope was steep enough to be considered Barkley training.  Eventually we topped out and into the sunshine, yay!

We headed over to look into the valley on the other side.  Finally we could see where we were.  Hmm, we had started out pretty far off the map (the listed trailhead was almost a mile up from where we were parked).  At least we were on the map now.

We checked out the ridgeline of the Divide, going over to where it got pretty jagged and rocky.  John poked around a little further, but it wasn't something I was ready to try.  So we backtracked and found a rocky chute to climb down.  I was slow and sometimes a bit hesitant, but didn't have any problems.  John was patient.

Near the bottom I finally remembered I had a camera:

Looking back up the slope of rocks:

The little valley we ended up in, with San Luis Peak in the background:

We ambled over a rocky field and found the trail.  Sarah and her group were not too far ahead of us.  They had had their own adventures this morning, staying on the road but not finding the cutoff trail.  They eventually located the Colorado Trail to get over to the right valley, but it was a significant detour.  John and I were interested in figuring out the right way and spent moments here and there looking back to try to understand where to go on the way back.

Fascinating hoodoos on the slopes above us:

We left the Colorado Trail/Continental Divide Trail for a long slog up to the top of the mountain.  We had played around enough that morning that it was time for clouds to start forming already.  But the weather held for a while.

The summit marker - seems not quite a "permanent" as on other summits:

Lovely alpine view, looking back down the trail we had come up:

Hanging out with the summit marker:

John making sure I didn't miss any part of him in my selfie attempt:

Nice break:

Time to go - the clouds are somewhat darker:

A marker for the Colorado Trail:

And another:

John found the little cutoff trail, but it sure wasn't obvious.  We decided to add a cairn on the other side of the trail to make a sort of "gate" at that spot.  No idea if it will be helpful, but it was fun figuring out if we could make a passable cairn:

What do you think?

We found our way back to the truck, no problem.  John ran on ahead and I followed, arriving just as the rain was starting to pelt down on us.  Nice timing!

Our 14ers tracking page:

And that's it for the big mountains for now!  We also spent a day running up Sand Canyon and back in Canyons of the Ancients NM.  That was most excellent - lots of cliff dwellings, quite fascinating.  I didn't bring a camera that day (probably good because we got poured on at the furthest point from the truck), so you'll just have to go see it for yourselves.  It's worth it!

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