A couple of the trip reports I studied in prep of this hike were excellent and so there is nothing significant to add. But still perhaps a couple things that might be of interest.
Camped above the Equity Mine, at 11.4k, just where the road turns left to cross the stream. The "parking area" is really enough room for just one vehicle. So rather than take it we pulled off just before it on what is the faint "old 4WD road" which is the start of the hike.
On the hike the next morning, the 4WD trail ended real quick and so we just vectored to the saddle below the obvious Pt 12,540, avoiding dropping into the gully. The ascending traverse is pretty easy with only modest bushwacking. On the return we took a different path which we noticed on the way up. It was another faint, old 4wd road which stayed on the NW side of the gully. Then near the bottom we crossed over and headed down the west willow creek. But I think our way up was a little better. As always the lower in a gully the more dense the willows. Made the saddle in about 50 min so it is an easy start.
The view of San Luis from the saddle is, well, daunting. It is a very distant behemoth. But as always the best thing to do is just start moving, trusting that it will seem more achievable with each step. The basin you hike into and around on the CO trail is beautiful in spite of a lot of beetle kill. Keep looking up at the ridge on your right for cool views of a few rugged areas. There is a very unusual and stunning slab running down from the ridge right next to one of the peaks (I think the 13285 point). It is green color and very smooth. I wonder if snow sticks to that. From looking at a couple of reports of hiking that ridge it seems that some on the ridge don't notice it as they probably are below the ridge at that point.
strange slab near 13285
I think it took about 1:15 to get around to the next saddle and was not difficult even though you have to lose and regain a few hundred feet.
The next basin to contour around is also beautiful and it is really nice to stay level going around it. About half way around you will start getting great views of the hoodoos on the hillside above the trail. This will probably be the most memorable part of the hike to me. It is a large area and some of them are pretty tall with crazy erosion patterns. On the return trip I hiked over from the saddle on the south San Luis ridge to get close and personal with them. It is moderately steep and very loose, but very cool views. I climbed up a few steps on a low one for a pose and was amazed at how weak they are; they crumbled in my hand. I can't imagine how these will last many years.
view of Hoodoos,
The ascent up the south ridge is as all report it, easy and pretty quick (50 min)), but by the 3rd false summit it starts becoming annoying
south ridge of San Luis. It seemed easier and faster than most 1400' 1 mile final sections. It seems odd that a mountain can have so much small loose shale with no boulders at all! From the top, on our clear day we could see East to the Crestones and West to Uncompaghre!
On the return with more sunlight we noticed several patches of beautiful Gentians
Gentians late Aug San Luis.
For the day we actually made contact with only 5 other hikers and saw perhaps a total of 10. This is a lot of solitude for a 14er on a weekend in August!
All in all this is an excellent hike. It is rare to have an approach go over 2 passes and around 2 basins before getting to a ridge. Yet the total effort is less than most peaks and there certainly is no risk on the route. Big thanks go out to those who have built and maintained the CO Trail for their labors!
Hiking time round trip: 6.5 hrs