A La Garita Weekend: Stewart, Baldy Alto, & "Phoenix"
Stewart Peak & Baldy Alto
Date: Sunday, May 27, 2012 Crew: moon stalker (Kelly), sdkeil (Shawn), letsgocu (Kyle), and I Route: East Ridge > Baldy Alto via Stewart > descent of Baldy’s East Ridge loop from Nutras Creek TH Stats: 10.5 miles; 3,450’; 8 hrs RT
East Ridge on Stewart (taken from the Baldy Alto descent):
Topo of the route:
We all knew we wanted to go big this weekend – it was just a matter of what. The email chains began and ideas brewed. It’s no secret that the high winds on Saturday halted plans for a lot of people; including us. So we bumped the San Juans back a day. All four of us met in Golden, condensed into two cars, and drove to the Nutras Creek trailhead for the Stewart-Baldy Alto loop on Sunday. We arrived to the TH, set up camp, and certainly embraced the comfort of car camping; Kelly cooked up a storm with grilled veggies, steak, and corn.
The un-signed Nutras Creek Trailhead; a small pull-off from FS 794:
We went to sleep early for a 5:00am alarm the next day. We were off to a cold start on the old jeep trail at 6:00am hiking southwest. We came to a little side stream where we then headed northwest up a broken trail that lead us into the basin below Stewart’s East Ridge. It’s easy to just want to climb up the draw right in front of you, but that does involve some willow bush-whacking. So we slightly veered hikers’ right, crossed some marsh en route to a short, steep hill through open trees to gain the East Ridge near 12,300’.
In the basin below Stewart; we headed right to find a broken climbers’ trail to reach the ridge:
Kyle, Kelly, and I on the steep open-tree section below the ridge: Photo: Shawn
Looking back down at the route through the basin; Organ emerges:
Once here, the route was obvious but you cannot see the summit. We crossed a flat plain to what was perhaps may have been the crux of this route – another steep hill with loose scree/talus near 12,600’. The rest of this ridge route follows a gentle slope over a few false bumps to the summit. The summit ridge had a long strip of snow that we chose to hike on, but it can easily be avoided. We were on the summit at 9:25am (Shawn a bit earlier) and the time here would be short-lived due to annoying chilly winds.
After gaining the ridge, the route is straightforward:
Kyle and Kelly climb the loose scree section (the ‘crux’ of this route) and talk geology:
Shawn hikes the snow strip on one of the false summits:
On the cold summit of Stewart Peak with Baldy Alto and San Luis behind:
Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre, and the western San Juans: Photo: Kyle
We left the summit 15 minutes later at 9:40am, descended the 1.25 miles on Stewart’s south slopes en route to Baldy Alto. The traverse took an hour and a half (with a stop) – we arrived on the Baldy’s summit at 11:10am. The winds calmed ever so slightly and we were able to enjoy a summit break a little longer.
Shawn, Kyle, and Kelly descend Stewart’s South Slopes on the way to Baldy Alto:
Looking back at the route from Stewart to Baldy from their saddle: Photo: Kelly
The entire route to Baldy Alto from Stewart:
Looking towards Organ, San Luis and “Phoenix” in the distance from the summit of Baldy Alto: Photo: Kelly
We left Baldy at 11:40am and had two choices to descend back down to Nutras Creek: 1) go back to the Stewart-Baldy saddle and descend the valley, or, 2) follow Baldy’s East Ridge. As long as the winds stayed relatively ok, we chose #2 to avoid a big bush-whack from the saddle – that choice proved to be just fine.
The descent of Baldy’s East Ridge (larger photo taken during the climb of Stewart):
Near 12,600’ we left the ridge and made a bee-line northeast down through a small bush-whack to the main trail along Nutras Creek. A couple-mile walk on flatter ground and we were back at the vehicles at 2:00pm, glad to be out of the wind!
*Rather than going back out onto CO 114 to get to Creede for “Phoenix”, we took the back dirt roads described in Roach’s 13ers book.* It was pretty cool to be in the middle of nowhere in the San Juans. However, we encountered obstacles #1 and #2 of the trip pretty quickly – Kyle got a flat tire and a huge tree branch fell across the road! Eventually we made it to Slumgullion Pass on CO 149 and 120 miles later we arrived in Creede.
Obstacle #3: Our original plan was to head up Forest Service 503 and camp near Phoenix Park but due to a movie being filmed, that road is closed. A local resident told us FS 503 is closed through June and gave us directions of about a 9-mile detour on FS 504 to reach the trailhead. We chose to camp lower at Marshall Park Campground adjacent to 149 and the Rio Grande River just outside of town.
Kyle changes his flat tire while Kelly pulls the giant tree branch out of our way in the middle of the dirt backroads!
More fun car camping at Marshall Park Campground!
Date: Monday, May 28, 2012 Crew: same as above Route: South Slopes from 10,000’ just above E. Willow Creek TH Stats: 11 miles; 4,000’; 7 hrs 30 min RT
Topo of the route:
The alarm went off at 3:00am, we tore down camp, and took the detour on 504. We found a clearing about a mile below the top of the Phoenix Park 4WD road and parked there (10,000’). We started up the road at 5:25am and at 10,350’ we made a hard right east and crossed a small creek. We came to the old Center Stock Driveway as Roach describes. A cairn shortly after this mislead us to cross E. Willow Creek too soon (at 10,400’, like Roach says not to). There is a very faint broken trail through a lot of down trees along the north side of the creek where you really do cross it at 10,500’. After this creek crossing on the south side of the creek, the trail is easy to follow. Near 11,750’ we crossed back over the creek to the north side and hiked northeast up grassy slopes to reach the bottom of the south slopes.
Hiking through the fallen trees on the north side of the creek:
Looking back down the grassy slopes: Photo: Shawn
There are dispersed cairns and, again, pieces of a broken trail. We continued north up a small ridge to where it dropped us off at the bottom of the south slopes. From here, we angled north making an ascending traverse to the saddle between “Phoenix” and PT 13,780’.
Hiking to the small ridge to reach the south slopes. Summit is not visible:
Another photo of the ascending traverse to the south ridge (summit still not visible):
We reached the south ridge, glad to be done with the side-hilling. The summit ridge is straight-forward, but the summit it still not visible and farther away than you think. But, it’s a pretty sweet ridge walk! We topped out at 9:35am and met forum member Bethie on top. Beautiful day for sure.
A false summit – the actual summit is still a ways off:
The real summit and giant cairn on top:
On the summit of “Phoenix” with the San Luis group behind:
Looking west again, Rio Grande Pyramid on the far left: Photo: Kelly
This was a really cool summit and has a great vantage point of other San Juan Peaks. And, the east face of “Phoenix” looks like a sweet ski line to boot! We took a longer break up here soaking in the views and calories and left the summit at 10:15am. We made quick time down the south slopes, crossing paths with a few others back to the creek crossing and to the car where we arrived at 12:55pm. Back in Creede, we ate at a local restaurant before making the drive back home; the slow drive since we couldn’t go over 50mph with Kyle’s donut tire!
Kelly in mid-air crossing back across the creek - Shawn called it the "Kelly-crux": Photo: Shawn
A nice end to Memorial Day weekend in the La Garitas – local grub and live music in Creede!
Camping, peak-bagging, road-tripping with friends – aren’t some of these the moments we live for? Absolutely. Thanks for a great Memorial Day weekend everyone! Now time for a little R&R in the islands.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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