Peak(s):  San Luis Peak  -  14,014 feet
Date Posted:  01/20/2016
Modified:  01/21/2016
Date Climbed:   01/16/2016
Author:  SarahT
 Full Value on San Luis   

N Ridge via Spring Creek
RT Stats: 21.5 mi, 5500 ft
Start: FS Rd 788 (1.25 mi SE of Cathedral)
Jan 15-17, 2016

Anyone who has met Dominic knows he is not a list person. Quite the opposite. Frankly when he told me he wanted to finish off his 7 remaining winter 14ers this year I was shocked! Most of them (Redcloud, Sunshine, Shavano, Tabeguache, Princeton and Pikes) are shoe-ins and can be climbed in almost any condition. San Luis, given its remoteness and avalanche concerns, is the only one that might require some finesse.

Only in very recent years has a standard winter route for San Luis emerged. It begins north of Creede at the Equity Mine, climbs toward San Luis Pass, and then drops into the head of the Spring Creek drainage to access the west and south sides of San Luis. Several variations exist and the most appropriate option is condition dependent. Usually it is wise to lose considerable elevation in Spring Creek in order to mitigate avalanche risk. Five years ago a large group of us pulled this route off as an 11 hour daytrip in fairly cooperative early spring-like snow conditions. I shudder to think about how much longer it could potentially take in deep unconsolidated powder. And the fact that this route loses considerable elevation on the approach detracts from its appeal as an overnight trip.

More than a decade ago Ken Nolan made two winter ascents of San Luis via long, multi-day treks up Spring Creek from the north. This route is longer and requires more overall effort, but we'd prefer an overnight trip to an epic long day with a non-zero chance of failure. It seems worth a try. Besides, Dom is a big fan of winter backpacking and this is the perfect excuse.

Disclaimer: The only access to the mouth of Spring Creek is via private property. You must hike through a large, active cattle ranch to access the Bondholder Trail that leads up Spring Creek. We obtained the landowner's permission to do this.


To avoid parking on private property we begin walking from a small plowed pullout 1/3 mile from the start of the ranch road. On our stroll through the farm we watch a baby cow run full speed into a fence! Odd.

Reality sets in quickly when we reach the far side of the ranch and the end of the packed snow. Instantly we're wallowing in knee deep sugary powder. Oh boy, we're in for an ass-kickin'! Over the course of the next 7 hours we struggle to cover a single mile per hour. Fortunately there is a lot of game activity in this area; deer postholes are obnoxious to snowshoe through but this requires slightly less effort than pioneering a new path through the otherwise pristine and seemingly bottomless powder.

Crossing Spring Creek in Bondholder Meadows

It commences snowing around noon. Past the endless Bondholder Meadows the going gets tougher. Deadfall, yay. Our pace slows considerably and we're starting to lose steam. Judging by the few remaining meandering tracks and the abundance of places where the deer have lounged, its clear they'd had enough at this point too. At 10,350 feet and after 4pm we call it good and erect camp in the continuing snow shower.


Its still snowing lightly when we resume the trailreaking torture up Spring Creek around 7:30am the next morning. After a long half mile we turn left and head due east up a narrow side drainage, staying a bit off the messy looking floor on mostly gentle slopes on the south side. There are a couple of short sections that would be questionable during periods of higher avy concern. Thankfully today the snow is stable, wallowy yes, but at least we're confident in it staying put.


The fun factor increases when we veer right up another narrow side drainage, again staying off the floor which is situated under suspect slopes. We're on the heavily treed other side, traversing steep northeast facing slopes. I find it particularly exasperating when I can no longer swing my leg up over the top of the snow and have to resort to the plow method.

Its cold as hell; I have to stop and put on my big mitts despite all the hard labor. Who's idea was this again? At least the snow has stopped and the skies are clearing.

At long last a safe line up the west slopes of Point 13,232 presents itself and our spirits are lifted. We find a place to drop the short distance to the bottom of the drainage, cross to the other side, cache our snowshoes, and climb 1300 feet of annoyingly loose and snow covered talus and scree to the west ridge of Point 13,232. San Luis isn't giving himself up easily.


Grungy west slopes of Point 13,232

Looking further up Spring Creek to where the standard route drops in

Continuing east over Point 13,232 along a snowy and corniced ridge, the summit of San Luis finally comes into view. It's tantalizingly close but the ridge we're on takes its time getting there.

San Luis' northwest slopes

Nearing Point 13,232 with Stewart and Baldy Alto on the left

We battle a new adversary on the final 700 foot push: that iconic Colorado winter wind. A steady gale blows, knocking us around more and more the higher we climb, draining both our strength and core temperature.



Our summit break consists of plopping down for 60 seconds and then agreeing to get the hell out of here.

Organ Mountain to the east


I have to admit, I'd had high aspirations of climbing a thirteener on this trip as well. As we descend San Luis and escape the worst of the wind my mind turns to a quick trip over to Baldy Alto. I was really hoping for Stewart Peak but this will be a good consolation prize. As we continue on the wind returns in full force and I concede defeat. It's already past 2pm and we are both having trouble staying warm even while moving; we're starving but don't want to stop.

Stewart Peak & Baldy Alto

We plod back up Point 13,232 and then emit an abundance of profanities as we descend the loose slope back to our snowshoes.

Looking straight down into Stewart Creek toward Organ Mountain

Retracing our steps over Point 13,232

Corniced ridge on Point 12,232

It has clouded up once again and the next wave of snow begins to fall as we cruise our trench back to camp.


It's still snowing when we pack up camp and begin the 7.5 mile hike out Sunday morning. A total of about four inches have fallen on our track, and as feared it is completely blown in through Bondholder Meadows. We've certainly gotten our money's worth on this one.

Cool stand of trees on the south end of Bondholder Meadows
Unsettled weather over upper Spring Creek
Breaking a new track back across Bondholder Meadows

Route to summit

After taking care of Shavano and Tabeguache Dom hopes to soon be celebrating atop Pikes Peak. It'll be his 14er finisher
and winter 14er finisher all rolled into one.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Comments or Questions

01/20/2016 21:24
Dom has the tough one done! Thanks for the report.


01/21/2016 07:33
A little snow is no match for the Dominator. We may have a couple as 5th & 6th or whatever the number is, unless I get busy. not likely. and then there is that Dad Mike guy. The storms are in Dominic's favor, and he has the best support crew.

I Man

Congrats bud!
01/21/2016 08:12
Good job Mr List!! You tick off those 14ers

Can't wait to celebrate your accomplishment with you soon!

Wish I lived in CO

Great Report
01/21/2016 08:34
Can't call myself a winter climber, but this report really paints the picture of how the winter elements can affect a climb. Great job and thanks for sharing.

Dad Mike

Another One.
01/21/2016 10:52
Great report Sarah. Love seeing new, creative winter routes. And I'm not getting in the middle of this power couple. Don't worry, I won't be finishing any time soon.

Summit Lounger

Crown Royal ?
01/21/2016 12:04
Crown Royal for the celebration? Seriously, congratulations on nearing the finish of the 14ers in calendar winter. It is a HUGE accomplishment.


01/21/2016 12:18
Congrats on the climb! You mentioned getting permission from the landowner to cross their territory...can you elaborate on how you were able to do that? I'm scheming a San Luis expedition myself, and had actually looked at access from the north right before you put up this TR, so this is very intriguing! I'd probably continue up the Spring Creek drainage to eventually join with the SE ridge route, as this should be more amenable to a ski ascent/descent.


Determination ^2
01/21/2016 13:16
Personally, I am not so secretly hoping for an 11 hr RT myself in the winter-spring, so this report leaves me speechless. But I guess that's how one earns/cements her or his spot in the mountaineering history of Colorado. Way to be you two, and I am honored to have met you.


Nice Sarah
01/21/2016 14:09
At first I was wondering why you were repeating San Luis of all peaks, then I read the report and it makes a lot more sense. Very cool you guys will both be finishers soon!

Great report and pictures too. Brings back a few memories


01/21/2016 14:24
Didn't know Dominic was so close. Good to see you guys continuing to kill it out there.


01/21/2016 16:41
Congrats on reaching another tough winter summit, way to go! Wow, stunning and beautiful pictures. Thanks for posting. Especially love the Corniced Ridge and Bondholder Meadows!


Nice to hear from some old friends
01/22/2016 09:11
dsunwall & Dad Mike - Fingers crossed that the weather starts cooperating so you guys can finish. You're so close!

Summit Lounger - Yes! Crown will be perfect for the occasion

AlexeyD - We simply knocked on the door and spoke with the landowner face to face. Sort of risky as the long drive would have been wasted if they'd said no. Luckily they turned out to be refreshingly friendly. I thought about trying to get their phone number on the way out but they weren't around.

SnowAlien - Yes, I highly recommend a spring ascent via the more standard route! And I am honored to have met you too

benners - Ya, I was less than thrilled about having to repeat this one! But it did bring back good memories of my first trip with you guys... which proved skiers and snowshoers can indeed coexist!

maverick_manley - Nice to hear from ya and see you're still out there getting after it as well!

Mickeys Grenade

Hard Earned Summit
01/22/2016 09:45
Breaking trail on the way out is such a treat! Congrats. Only one more to go for Dom! Very cool.

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