| Tour de Stewart Peak Quadrangle
Stewart Peak has the distinction of being the highest thirteener in the San Juans. Together with its nearest neighbors Baldy Alto and Baldy Chato, Stewart marks the northern edge of the La Garita range. Like San Luis Peak just to the south, these peaks are very gentle when compared to the rest of the San Juans, presumably due to the lack of prior glaciation in the area. Aside from San Luis, the La Garitas are very sparsely traveled, so I was unable to locate much beta on the north slopes route up Stewart. Gerry Roach has (correctly) bestowed a classic rating on this route, so I thought I'd share some extra details for those seeking solitude.
First, the Cebolla trailhead is reachable in a low-clearance 2WD. It's pretty wild that such remote roads are so well maintained. Second, the Cebolla trail that is supposed to take one to treeline is pretty much gone. This is a class 2 adventure from the start. Third, this route stays above 13k' for a very long time. Roach claims 2800' for the roundtrip to Stewart, but that doesn't account for uphills on the return or sidetrips to either of the Baldys. To get all 3 peaks in the area, I did about 4500' of climbing (plus an extra 500 due to a modest route-finding error below treeline). Check it out:
Left to right is Baldy Alto, Stewart and Baldy Chato (far right). The North Slopes route pretty much traverses from one point to the next. Lots of minor ups and downs add up and the peaks are nearly 3 miles from end to end. Add a thunderstorm and you've got yourself a nightmare.
The trailhead is at 11,500' and a quick bushwack brought me to treeline before sunrise. I located a faint remnant of the Cebolla trail at treeline and found a few marker poles through the willows above treeline, but for the most part I just headed straight for Baldy Chato. The willows weren't too swampy and have numerous alleys through them.
Cochetopa Hills before sunrise
Once past the willows, the climb to Baldy Chato was simple. From there I followed the rolling ridgeline to the high west shoulder of Stewart, then traversed out to Baldy Alto. This summit has probably the most commanding view in the La Garitas, surrounded by Stewart, San Luis, Organ, Phoenix and the main ranges of the San Juans beyond.
The gentle slopes of Stewart
Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre, still snowy
Rio Grande Pyramid, still snowy too
From Baldy Alto, I retraced my steps to the shoulder of Stewart and bagged the summit. I took a while to enjoy the summit knowing that I'd have several hundred feet of climbing on the descent. Luckily the terrain is gentle so it was never particularly taxing. Nonetheless, the route kept me above 13k for nearly six hours. Glad the skies were still clear.
Organ (fore) and Phoenix (rear) from Stewart
Baldy Chato and the rolling ridge from Stewart
One final note – the Cebolla trail is really hard to follow on the way down. I lost track of the trail and bushwacked back to the road. When I popped out of the woods, I was nearly a mile from my car. Without a map and a clear head, it could've been much worse. Make a good mental note of where the trail transitions from trees to willows on your way up, or better yet, set a GPS track.
Mother elk and child
Cows, uncomfortably close to the road and displeased with my Ipod's shuffled selection
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):