Organ Mtn, Phoenix Peak, Baldy Alto, and San Luis Peak as seen from Stewart Peak
Peaks (In order of summit):Organ Mtn A – 13,801’ (R#106), San Luis Peak - 14,014' (R#50), Baldy Alto - 13,698' (R#147), Stewart Peak – 13,983' (R#55) TH/Route:Eddiesville/Stewart Creek TH, Canòn Hondo - Organ Mtn A then ridge traverse to San Luis-Baldy Alto-Stewart. Down Stewart Creek Distance:15.8mi Elev Gain:6700' Time:12:00 (5:45am - 5:45pm) Technical Gear: Trekking Poles. Climbers: Me Weather: Mix Sun and Clouds with graupel showers, temps in the 50's with 35mph NW winds
Well the original plan was for me to take a group of Boy Scouts to climb San Luis Peak. This is in preparation for a 50mi hike we're doing in July. When it turned out that only a couple of them could go the other leader decided that it wasn't worth the drive. But not for ME! And why do just one peak when you can have a "Big Day"(TM)and do 4 peaks? So I headed down Thursday night. Along the way I stopped at a gas station. Little did I know that was the last place I would talk to, interact with, or even SEE anyone for the next 24hrs!
It took me exactly 4hrs to reach the Eddiesville/Stewart Creek TH where I set up my tent and crashed for the night under the incredibly bright stars. The alarm rang at 5am and I had breakfast and packed up and was off towards the Canòn Hondo trail by 5:45am. This unmaintained trail is fairly easy to find. Follow the trail from South Eddiesville TH for about 150' and there will be a pile of rocks with a post sticking out of it on the left side of the trail. At this post the faint Canòn Hondo trail splits off to the right at a 45° angle from the main trail. It is a bit faint in the grass but easily identifiable if you look for it. If you cross Canòn Hondo Creek you've gone too far.
Morning light along Canòn Hondo Trail
For being an unmaintained trail, the Canòn Hondo Trail is in really good condition. It has a nice moderate grade to it and doesn't have too much deadfall across it. There are even blazes on the trees marking the trail. I soon reached treeline at 11900' where I headed right and up towards the NE arm of Organ Mtn's East Ridge.
Basin below Organ's East Ridge
Right past the trees there are a bunch of willows that are a bit annoying to wander through looking for the easiest way, but soon I reached the broad, open tundra slope.
Organ Mtn's NE ridge - Can you spot the elk herd?
Here I had my first view of Stewart Peak across the way.
Stewart Peak from Organ's NE ridge
The ridge steepened for 400' up to 13000' shoulder of Organ Mtn where I could see Organ's rounded summit ahead and gazed upon the spectacular views of "Phoenix Peak" (13,895') to the south.
Organ Mtn Summit from shoulder
Majestic 13,895' Phoenix Peak to the south
The last 700' to the summit went quickly (reached at 8:45am, 3hrs after start) and I was finally able to see the sublime San Luis Peak in the distance. The paper in the summit register was really damp so I ended up writing my name on the plastic sheet that was part of the register. After enjoying the"BIG SKY" views from Organ's summit and refueling I headed down and towards San Luis Peak.
14,014' San Luis Peak from Organ Mtn summit
Once down from Organ I could finally see Organ's "pipes" on its south face.
Organ Mtn's Pipes on south face
As I neared the "notch" on Organ's west ridge I headed left and traversed down and across loose scree to two gullies that took me to the couloir below the notch.
Rough section before the Notch
Loose Choss-o-rama on the way below the notch
To get down to the couloir I had to downclimb some Class 3/4 terrain for about 20' or so. The snow in the couloir was only 15' wide or so and I was able to traverse it without the microspikes or ice axe I had brought along.
Section below the notch. Downclimbed the face in upper right
Then I headed up a gully that led back up to the ridge.
Nice knobby gully that leads back up to ridge
Once back up on the ridge the fun scrambling continued for the next 300' or so as there are a series of short towers and fins I had to find my way around, over and down.
Funky, Knobby towers still to go
Finally, the ridge broadened again and gentle tundra led me to a knob right above the pass where the Stewart Creek Trail gains the ridge. Here I headed to the right and traversed a short rocky, loose section that took me down to the pass and the Stewart Creek Trail. The clouds that had been forming over the La Garitas since about 8am now started to coalesce, darken a bit and I could see graupel showers really hitting Stewart Peak. I could tell that the clouds, even though they were dark, weren't really building "up" into thunderheads. Even so, I was constantly listening for thunder or "buzzing" of my ice axe indicating static in the air but didn't hear any.
Tundra Trekking to San Luis summit. Clouds getting darker!
So I continued up the San Luis Peak trail and reached the summit at 10:45am, (2hrs from Organ Mtn and 5hrs from the TH). Fortunately, the graupel showers kept hitting Stewart Peak to the north of me and I was able to hang out on San Luis' summit for 15min or so to enjoy the killer panoramic views it afforded me.
View west from San Luis summit
Conditions beta for Willow Creek approach route on San Luis
Stewart Peak and Baldy Alto
Zoom in of Rio Grande Pyramid, Needle Mtns, and Grenadiers
Looking towards Uncompahgre from San Luis summit
I couldn't stay too long as I didn't want to be on the summit when a graupel shower hit, and I was still listening for thunder or static in the air. So I headed down 200' elevation or so and found a spot below the ridge to eat lunch. Then I continued down and headed towards peak #3 of the day Baldy Alto. There are two bumps on the ridge before Baldy Alto. I went over the first one due to a steep snowfield on the slope I would have to traverse and traversed around the right of the second and larger bump. The NW wind started to really pick up along this section.
Baldy Alto 13,698'
Once atop Baldy Alto I snacked some more and enjoyed the views all around. The sun even came out for a while and I enjoyed its warmth.
Looking back at San Luis Peak from Baldy Alto
Stewart Peak from Baldy Alto's north slope
I had to lose 600' down gentle tundra slopes to the saddle between Baldy Alto and Stewart and then climbed 500' up a steep rocky section to a 13600' bump on the ridge before traversing across to the final saddle below Stewart Peak. The cliffs on my left were quite spectacular.
Dramatic cliffs on the left
At the saddle below Stewart Peak I noticed a large graupel storm that was about to hit or pass nearby the summit and didn't want to risk a lightning strike while being on the summit so I stopped and waited 30min or so for it to pass. I also noticed that the clouds weren't developing to the NW as much as they were earlier so there was the possibility that I would have some nice sunshine on the summit after this last storm passed. After waiting out the storm on the blustery saddle I headed up the last 400' or so to the summit.
Beautiful San Luis Peak as seen from Stewart Peak
Here I turned my cell phone on to see if I had any reception and I actually had 3bars/3G (Verzion) all the way out there so I texted my wife that I had reached the 4th and final summit safely. I took a 45min break on this summit and just soaked in the eye-popping panoramic views around me. Talk about BIG SKY!
I could see:
the Crestones and much of the Sangres
a good portion of the Sawatch
much of the San Juans including the Grenadiers, the Needle Mountains/Chicago Basin 14ers and down towards the Wolf Creek Pass area
Route across Nutras Creek. I stayed above the "Willow Line" on the opposite slope to get to Stewart Creek
I finally headed down towards Nutras Creek around 2:45pm. The entire way down to the creek was on nice soft-on-the-knees tundra so the descent went quickly.
Beautiful Nutras Creek
I had the option of descending Nutras Creek and then walk (or hope for a hitch) the road 2.2mi back to the Eddiesville TH or I could climb over the ridge separating Nutras from Stewart Creek and hike down the Stewart Creek Trail. I chose the latter as walking the road wasn't attractive. I navigated up through the willows on the south side of Nutras Creek until I reached open tundra and then traversed across and around the ridge until I reached the steep slopes above Stewart Creek. The views back up the drainage at Organ and San Luis were beautiful.
Looking up Nutras Creek basin after crossing a steep snowfield.
View from ridge above Stewart Creek. Organ Mtn (L) San Luis (R)
From the top of the ridge I found my way down through open talus and fairly open forest down to the Stewart Creek Trail.
Beautiful, gentle Stewart Creek Trail
I followed the gentle Stewart Creek Trail down the valley all the while marveling at the numerous beaver ponds and dams built across the valley. I even got to see two moose that were fortunately across the valley when they were startled by my presence.
Near Stewart Creek TH looking back up the valley. Organ Mtn (L) Baldy Alto (C) Stewart Peak (R)
I finally reached the Stewart Creek TH and walked the short distance to my car at the South Eddiesville TH. Right about the time I reached my car at 5:45pm a guy drove up in his truck. He was the first person I had seen in 24hrs. The entire time while camping & hiking I hadn't seen or heard anyone at all. I had COMPLETE solitude. Very, very cool!
That's the La Garitas for you! What a great day on some fine peaks with the most expansive panoramic views of any peaks I've been on.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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