| "Phoenix Peak" - South Slopes
Trip Report – "Phoenix Peak" (13,895') – 05/27/07
RT: 11.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~4400'
I think 3 straight years makes it official: Memorial Day weekend is now the time for an annual trip to the La Garita Wilderness, quickly becoming one of my favorite places in Colorado. Two years ago it was Wheeler Geologic Area, last year was Stewart Peak, and this year I had my sights set on Point 13,895, otherwise known as "Phoenix Peak" I've also seen the name "Creede Crest" which I've always personally preferred.
We drove down on Saturday and had dinner in Creede. The whole town was practically shut down due to a wedding going on at the local theater and some country singer named Dirks Bentley or something like that was there, so the town was quite abuzz. We enjoyed our calzones and headed up East Willow Creek Road to the 2WD trailhead. While not the most scenic spot, we found a good flat place to pitch the tent right next to the trail and settled down for the night.
We awoke the next morning and were packed up and ready to go by 6:15 AM. We followed the trail as it skirts the 4WD trail before meeting up with it again as it goes to the west of a small fin-like ridge. We crossed Whited Creek on a footbridge and knew to look for the turnoff towards the east soon afterwards. At a couple of road markers there is a pretty obvious place to descend down to East Willow Creek. We crossed the meandering creek on frozen mounds of grass and found the trail that cuts back to go up the side drainage to the east.
We were met by the sun as we entered the drainage so we donned sunglasses and sunscreen and continued up past a number of old beaver ponds. I knew from previous trip reports that the crux of this hike was trying to find the right place to cross the creek. Much like those who came before me, I chose wrong. Becky and I found a cairn near the creek and saw a trail on the other side, so we assumed this was it. We jumped the creek (something Becky has not yet found enjoyable) and found ourselves on a very steep trail that goes straight up the slope to the south.
The trail petered out high up and I knew we had gotten off route, so we started to contour to the east, trying to lose as little elevation as possible. Eventually we crossed one more side creek and found the trail closer to the drainage bottom. We had started to run into larger and larger snow patches and the trail disappeared amidst them quickly. Thankfully this trail is one of the best marked I've ever seen. Almost every tree along the tree has received a burn mark in the long ago past and made the trail easy to follow.
The snow wallowing became more and more tiresome as we found ourselves plunging into our hips and deeper on occasion. Finally the bare small tree wells that we had been connecting to avoid the deeper snow ran out and we were forced to cross the creek to the much drier northern (but south-facing) side. This ended up to be a good route choice as we made much quicker time up to the small basin below some prominent volcanic cliffs at 11,700. We contoured over to the west side of the volcanic cliffs and followed the ramp above the cliffs up towards the basin below the 13,600' saddle to the south of Phoenix Peak. The snow was in good condition, but Becky was a bit nervous of traveling on snow, so we chained together dry spots till we got to about 13,300' and then made a beeline across the snow to the saddle.
I was beat after the snow wallowing and we took a lot of breaks between here and the summit. Becky, who had been a real champ thus far, started to slow as well. We reached the heavily corniced and snow-covered summit at about 11:20 and found the only snow-free perch right next to the large cairn on top. We were unable to find a register, but it could have just been buried in the snow. We stayed up top for half an hour enjoying the completely windless summit. Clouds were building, but they looked very unthreatening so we enjoyed the expansive views. I truly enjoy this part of Colorado, remote and quiet.
We hoped to get a good glissade on the way down, but unfortunately the snow had softened and the angle was to minimal to get much of a glissade going. We headed straight down from the saddle on snow till about 12,400' and then decided to avoid the ramp and head down the valley NW of the volcanic cliffs. This worked pretty well as long as we stayed to the west of the willows and we were soon back into the trees and following our tracks down the hill. Becky had her jets on now, with the thoughts of dinner and ice cream in Creede fueling her speed. I struggled to keep up.
What had taken 5 hours to climb, we descended in 3 and only got slightly drizzled on. On the return we followed the trail and found the "right" place to cross the creek, but I no description can properly keep people from crossing to soon. I think if I went up there next week, I'd still probably miss the crossing. Oh well. We tore our tent down at the trailhead and had an AWESOME lunch/dinner at the kind of new Mexican Restaurant called Cascada on the southern end of town (highly recommended). This area remains a favorite, and I'm already looking forward to next year's annual Memorial Day La Garita trip.
Pics at: http://www.imagestation.com/album/pictures.html?id=2091538949