| San Luis - West Willow Approach
San Luis seems to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the 14ers (It don't get no respect). Distant from the Front Range, isolated from other 14ers, 50th in rank (barely over 14,000' on its tip toes), a somewhat uninspiring shape, low technical difficulty, the last 1,000 feet of elevation gain is a gravel heap or "broken plate" talus, a 400' climb-out to end the day, and a "ghost forest" of beetle kill pines. If it is solitude you seek, this still makes a nice outing.
Accommodations: Stayed at the Allington in South Fork on US 160, just a mile or so on the left, past the junction of US 160 and CO 149. Nice, comfortable place with a pool and hot tub at ~$85/night with tax. Ramon's is just another mile or so up the road on the right side for good Mexican food.
Creede is a relatively short 21 miles from South Fork. Pass through the town of Creede and set your trip odometer at the north end. Total distance to the trailhead will be 8.6 miles. You will pass a number of historic mining operations enroute for the first seven miles on a very good, graded, 2WD road. At the seven mile mark there will be a road closure sign on the right. This is where you will branch left up a 4WD road up and around the mining operation for another 1.6 miles. There is a small area to park there. No rest rooms. Campers may enjoy a spot near the creek crossing just a few hundred yards up the trail.
From this parking spot, ignore the 4WD road branching to the left and head straight through the trail marker. Several hundred yards up the trail there is a marker with a trail branching left. Ignore this and stay on the rudimentary 2-track straight ahead up the hill. You will end up just right of the prominent hill on the horizon. At this first saddle the trail is lost. Look for a ~4 foot wood pole in the ground on the saddle, then a similar wood pole on the other side below, which marks the Colorado Trail. There will be a faint trail on descent. The CT is your route for the remainder of the journey.
Think of this approach as the 3-basin approach. In each case, the ascent trail swings to the right side of the basin (left on the way down, as shown in the attached pics from the summit). In the second basin you will lose about 400' of elevation. Remember this for your return. It is not as bad as coming back over Halfmoon Pass from Holy Cross, but it is still a pain. So the starting trailhead elevation of about 11,550 is a bit deceiving. The 3rd basin elevation loss is modest (less than 200').
My hike time was 3 1/2 hours on ascent and 2 1/2 hours on return.
Picture 1 shows the TH marker and prominent hill you will ascend to the right of. Picture 2 (from the summit) shows basins 1 and 2. Picture 3 shows basins 2 and 3. Picture 4 shows basin 3 and the final 1,000' of summit march.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):