| Organs North Slopes, West Ridge to San Luis
This was the second leg of our 2005 July 4th weekend trip to hike mountains. Debbie and I did Culebra and Red on Friday the 1st, then drove through the San Luis valley into the La Gardia Mountains to hike San Luis the next day. We arrived at the trailhead around 7pm after a long dirt road through mountainous cattle country. The gentle peaks of the La Gardias stood up the valley from our sweet camp spot right at the beginning of the trail. We set up camp, ate dinner and relaxed as the sun went down. We were excited about the popularity of the wildlife in this area instead of man. A recent trip report of an Organ and San Luis summit success had us considering the two peaks (thanks for the advice Sarah!).
An early start would hopefully produce a moose sighting on the approach. We woke around 5:45 to the sound of two other groups heading up the trail. We thought since some of the people had dogs, our moose sighting possibilities vanished. After oatmeal, a banana and some hot coco, we hit the trail. The Steward Creek drainage is filled with hundreds of beaver ponds and dozens of beaver lodges. The trail follows the north side of the drainage just above the swampy center most of the way up to tree line. This positioning gives a great vantage to view wildlife in and around the ponds. About a mile in, Debbie spotted him. A full grown bull Moose eating out of the center of a large beaver pond. He immediately noticed us, giving us a worrisome stare. We walked by him getting a great look at the large animal. His chin dangling thing caught our attention. We left him and were on our way.
Debbies legs were tired and she began to slow as we approached tree line. Here we met the other two couples who started before us. We told them of the Moose and they said they hadn't seen any. Guess the early bird didn't get the worm this time We had to make a decision on whether or not to hike Organ because its North slopes route leaves the San Luis standard route just above tree line, heading east up a grassy valley. We decided to go, which was probably a bad decision based on the amount of hiking ahead of us and Debbie's wary legs.
The hike up this valley toward Organ starts through some willows and quickly becomes a long ascending traverse up grassy mole hole ridden slopes. There were many deer and elk in the drainage, which we flushed up to and over the saddle. We made pretty good time up to the rocky summit. We could see the herd of elk over the saddle in a high basin. Peering down into the Organ pipes was a dramatic change from the recent terrain.
The last people to sign the register were SarahT from 14ers.com and her friend, whos route report I had read and taken advice from. They had done San Luis first and come across the ridge to Organ, then down towards the eddieville trailhead. They advised to avoid the bushwhacking on this route. We were doing in the reverse order: North slopes to Organ, Organs west ridge to San Luis, and descent of San Luis standard route . After some food and pics on Organs summit, we began our decent down to what Roach calls a "ghastly gash".
The initial down off of Organs West ridge moves through some class 2+ terrain on good rock, bypassing some neat lime green lichen covered organ pipes. After this down climb, a grassy ridge led to the gash. I didn't know what to expect, other than that we had to down climb a ways to pass the gap. I had seen the gash from on the ascent of Organ, as we were directly across from it, but we had to travel on the opposite side of the ridge.
The down climb was over loose rock, so we made our way cautiously. I kept peering into the deeply inset couloir to find the route. It took maybe three pears following 50 foot descents into an "abyss" until I saw what I thought was the route. It required a 3rd class down climb over loose rock. I ended up pulling a briefcase sized rock right out of the wall. Luckily I had other support. The rock tumbled down into the chutes below leaving a smell of fire. We finished the down climb to the snow filled couloir and crossed it where we saw other footprints (man, goat and sheep). The route crux was the first move after we passed the snow. It is a 10 foot difficult class 3 climb up a narrow, near vertical gully. I would be temped to call the 10 foot section class 4. There were several good holds to use as the loose rock in this section had been removed by previous travelers. The rock above was very sketchy again, so we carefully made our way up the remainder of the gully. After we passed the 3rd class, we climbed up crumbling rock/mud slopes to the ridge proper. The remainder of this section of the ridge was class 2+, at which point we reached the grassy slopes again.
Most of the 2 mile long ridge is grass. Just before meeting the standard route on San Luis again, we spooked a family of mountain goats out of the rocks just above the low point in the San Luis-Organ saddle. The mother goat escorted 3 baby goats at full speed up the ridge to the San Luis false summit. Amazing how they can move! It only took about 3 mins for them to go 600 with several zig zags. The papa stayed behind and distracted us, following us up the mild trail which leads up the remaining 900 to San Luis.
Debbie made great pace up to the summit. We reached the top at 12:50. The clouds had been threatening all day, and I though we wouldn't have a chance at the summit due to our Organ detour. Luckily the weather held, with only slight building all day. We relaxed for a while on top looking out over the volcanic La Gardias. The biggest know volcanic eruption to man created the range millions of years ago. Very cool. We took some summit picks, no register, ate some cliff bars and an apple and began to make our way down. The 5.5 mile down took a while, but the success of the day kept a happy tone to everything. We reached the car at 3:30, packed up and headed home.