| San Luis Peak, South Ridge--My New Favorite
It probably seems lame that an easy, Class 1 walk-up has overtaken some of my more challenging summits as my “favorite” 14er, but I absolutely loved this hike! For those of you thinking about what 14er to finish on, I would highly recommend San Luis Peak. It is easy enough for friends and family to hike with you, but is also scenic, fun, and interesting. I kept thinking while I was on the trail: “Boy, Dad would love this hike,” “Man, my brother would love this hike,” “Geez, my nephews would love this hike.” Even with the long drive to get there, I will definitely be repeating San Luis Peak.
I spent the night at the Windy Point overlook on CO-149 near Lake City. I awoke at 5:15 on July 5th and had my breakfast and coffee while watching the morning light shine upon Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre. It was a great way to wake up, although in hindsight I probably dallied a bit too long there, which led to a later start than I would’ve liked on San Luis Peak. I left Windy Point at 6:30 and drove toward Creede along CO-149, one of the most pleasant drives I’ve taken in Colorado. I saw some deer along the way, took in some majestic mountain views, and stopped briefly at the headwaters of the Rio Grande.
I arrived in Creede at around 7:50. I was pretty pumped to be in the town of Creede. I’m a huge John Wayne fan, and I’ve wondered what Creede was like ever since I saw the scene in which the Duke mentions seeing a doctor in Creede at the beginning of “The Shootist.” Well, I wasn’t disappointed. Creede has to be the neatest old mining town in the state. I could just picture what it must’ve been like during the mining boom. And I had no idea that Robert Ford, the guy who shot Jesse James, is buried there. Certainly a lot of “Old West” history there.
Well, after making a quick drive through Creede for a look I started driving toward the trailhead. I usually find Gerry Roach’s directions pretty good, but in this case they were outdated. He mentions “three dirt roads” in his 2WD directions to the trailhead, but one of the roads (the one you need to take) is actually now paved. His directions got worse from there. I also had the Trails Illustrated and USGS maps of the area. These were next to worthless as well; some roads on the map didn’t exist, and other roads that existed weren’t on the map. However, at least I could pick up major geographic features from the topos. I was surprised that there is not a single sign for “San Luis Peak” on any of the roads, but I guess that adds to the adventure. There were hundreds of old mines with picturesque names dotting the landscape. I felt like I was lost practically from the time I left Creede until I arrived at the Equity Mine, but I amazingly made it there without ever making a wrong turn. Either my instinct was good or, more likely, I was lucky. (FYI, you basically just want to follow 504 north to 503, then turn left and follow 503 all the way to the Equity Mine).
Dawn, looking west from the Windy Point overlook on CO-149.
Uncompahgre is one magnificent 14er.
I got to see a bit of wildlife along CO-149.
Headwaters of the Rio Grande.
Downtown Creede. I would've loved to have seen this place in its heyday!
I was at the Equity Mine at 8:40. After quickly applying sunscreen and making two sandwiches, I hit the trail at 9:00. The first section just follows the 4WD road north, then turns northeast onto an older 4WD road which leads up to a saddle just southeast of the prominent Point 12,540. The steep section leading up to the saddle is one of only three sections of the entire route that I would describe as moderately strenuous. The saddle, which I reached at 10:00, provided great views of San Luis Peak’s west face, and this is where the route got really enjoyable. From the saddle I followed the Colorado Trail down through a small section of forest and then up to another saddle. From this second saddle, which I reached at around 11:00, the trail contours around a wide basin. You can fly through this section—it’s nearly flat as a sidewalk the entire way. It was on this contour that I ran into my first fellow hiker, who was resting against a rock about half-way around the basin.
Eventually the trail begins to rise again to a third saddle. From this saddle, you need to climb up another steep slope to attain the crest of the south ridge of San Luis Peak. This is the second part of the route that I would describe as moderately strenuous. On my way up, I ran into two other hikers on their way down. By the time I reached the top of the ridge at around noon, I started to worry about the darkening clouds. I ran into one more hiker coming down from the summit, the last of the four people I would see all day.
San Luis Peak from the saddle southeast of Point 12,540.
Following the Colorado Trail.
Contouring around the basin. The south ridge of San Luis Peak is on the left.
When I reached 13,250 feet, I started to become more and more concerned with the stormclouds that were gathering. Being on the very top of an exposed ridge, 6 feet taller than anything else, is definitely not where you want to be during a thunderstorm. I sat down for a few minutes and examined the clouds and wind. There were a few extremely distant peals of thunder, but I hadn’t seen any lightning strikes yet. I felt fairly safe in continuing up to the summit. Nevertheless, I moved about as quickly as I could up and down that ridge! I made the summit at 12:45, took a couple of photos, and then hustled back down the ridge.
It started to rain lightly once I was off the ridge, but the thunder and lightning never did materialize. Even with the rain, the hike back was still beautiful. Hiking from the forest back up to the saddle southeast of Point 12,540 was the third and final “moderately stressful” section. I was back at my car at 3:50.
Nearing the summit.
Looking back down the south ridge. The approximate route is shown in red.
A parting view of San Luis Peak.
I can think of four reasons why I enjoyed this hike so much. First, San Luis Peak is nestled in a remote and absolutely stunning area. Second, for most of the route you can see your objective, which always makes things more enjoyable for me. Third, rather than constantly gaining altitude like most 14er hikes, this route fluctuates between sections of gaining altitude, dropping altitude, and staying flat. This is both physically and mentally refreshing. Finally, the south ridge is a playful little walkup—quite good fun to trek up.
On my drive back to Denver I stopped at “True Grits” steakhouse in Alamosa for some John Wayne-themed food. I had “The Duke”, a 20 oz. New York strip. They know how to do steak there! I’m disappointed at most restaurants when I order a large, rare steak (usually it is burnt on the outside and raw in the middle). This baby was cooked to absolute perfection. The peach pie for dessert wasn’t bad either.
I got back to Denver at around 11:30 at night. My three-day Independence Day trip had been successful: four 14er summits (Columbia, Sunshine, Redcloud, and San Luis), a total of 39.5 miles hiked, and a total vertical elevation gain of about 17,300 feet (3.25 miles!). Needless to say, I slept incredibly soundly that night.
Standard south ridge route (click to enlarge).
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):