Peak(s):  Organ Mtn A  -  13,801 feet
Baldy Alto  -  13,698 feet
Stewart Pk  -  13,983 feet
"Column Ridge"  -  13,795 feet
Baldy Chato  -  13,401 feet
Date Posted:  09/24/2019
Modified:  09/29/2019
Date Climbed:   08/30/2019
Author:  supranihilest
 San Juan Sentries: Organ Stew  

This is part two of a four part report. Over a four day Labor Day weekend in 2019 I climbed 17 of 21 13ers in the La Garita Wilderness. You can find all parts here:


I pretty much always plan to make a trip to the San Juan over Labor Day weekend. The weather is usually great, it's always a three day weekend which makes the distance easier, and it's the San Juan. They're amazing. 'Nuff said. This year I concocted an insane idea to take an extra day off work and climb all 21 of the 13ers in the La Garita Wilderness, and maybe San Luis Peak, La Garita's lone 14er. Talk about getting the bang for my buck! I probably could have gotten more peaks if I had sniffed out some big enchainments in the Weminuche instead, but the La Garita are so pretty and unspoiled. San Luis Peak has a special place in my heart as a, easy but stunning peak, and one of only a few 14ers I had absolute solitude on when I climbed it. I had been wanting to return for a few years and having been fully infected by the 13er bug this year I couldn't wait any longer.

The La Garita (Sentry Box in Spanish, hence the "San Juan Sentries" trip report titles) is an interesting area geologically. It should probably be considered a separate mountain range from the rest of the San Juan, as it is the result of probably the largest known volcanic eruptions on Earth and is distinct from much of the rest of the San Juan. At thousands of cubic kilometers of volcanic ejecta very few other eruptions come close. This has led to the rock and soil being very soft and eroding away into both gentle, rolling peaks as well as insane, scary towers and hoodoos of mud and ash, tortured ridges of collapsing rock, crumbling faces that are a wonder how the entire mountain doesn't collapse, and more. This stuff is terrible for climbing on and it's all over the place in the La Garita.

The 13ers in the La Garita are no different than the area at large; mostly easy but with a few nasty tricks thrown in among the easy Class 1 and Class 2 hikes that make up the highest peaks in the Wilderness - San Luis, Stewart, "Phoenix", and Organ. They logically break down into four or five groups, depending on how much of a glutton for punishment you are.

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Light blue: Baldy Cinco group. Accessed from Spring Creek Pass Trailhead.
Green: "Baldy Lejos" group. Accessed from West Willow Creek Trailhead.
Blue: Stewart/Organ group. Accessed from Stewart Creek or Nutras Creek Trailhead. San Luis Peak, La Garita's lone 14er, can be climbed from Stewart, Nutras, or West Willow Creek.
Red: San Luis South 13ers group (none of these peaks have names). Accessed from West Willow Creek Trailhead.
Orange: "Phoenix Peak" group. Accessed from East Willow Creek Trailhead to the south/west or from Eddiesville Trailhead to the north (near Stewart Creek Trailhead).
Yellow: These two groups can be combined from either the West or East Willow Creek Trailhead, but makes more sense from East Willow Creek. It's a massive day either way.
Creede is just to the south of the 503 marker.

I decided to start with the Stewart/Organ group since it was the closest trailhead to Boulder. It's an extremely remote trailhead still, but well maintained. Unless you drive a small car and go to fast. Then you rip off part of your undercarriage (you have no idea what this part does) in the darkness and have to hack it off with your pocketknife. I won't name names, but someone, some total idiot I've known and been close to my entire life did just that on this trip. Me. It was me. Oops. Great start to the trip. At least my car wasn't leaking fluids!

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I have no idea what this is but my car ran fine without it so um... I kept climbing for days. You can't possibly expect me not to!

It was stupid late when I finally got to bed, probably 11:30, and I had 20+ miles and somewhere around 8,000 vert to knock off the next day. Seriously, rough start overall. I woke up, packed up my tent and sleeping gear, and scarfed down some Poptarts before hitting the trail. I was immediately reminded how much I loved Stewart Creek drainage. Easy, beautiful, remote, what's not to like?

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From the trailhead.
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Stewart Creek you son of a gun.

The trail passes through every kind of alpine environment. Thick forest, willows, meadows, under cliffs and soaring peaks, around and through black water marshes - perfect homes for moose, which I had the fortune of seeing last time (this time too, in Nutras Creek).

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A moose lives here.
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First views of Organ Mountain's west ridge, with the wild eroded features.
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San Luis Peak. Though it looks dull from here the views improve as you climb higher.

I hiked up to treeline and then began scouting for a way south across Stewart Creek to gain access to the north slopes of Organ Mountain. A relatively easy passage north of some chossy outcrops led to the other side of the creek.

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Turns out that while this is technically the north slopes of Organ (over under the sun) it is not the north slopes I wanted. Those are behind the ridge to
the right. I also thought the pointy peak in center was the summit, but you can just barely make out a sliver of the true summit behind the right skyline
ridge.
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I crossed down and then passed through the break in the willows heading left. I should have followed the drainage right.
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Poor quality rock to avoid. I hiked upstream until I found a boulder to hop across.

From here I traversed left atop the willows but below Organ's ugly northern cliffs.

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This was low on the mountain. I ended up scrambling up similar stuff near the top anyway.

I was going for the north ridge direct thinking that it was the north slopes. The GPS didn't make it look terrible and neither did my direct visual observation of it. It started off moderately steep and grassy and continued on ever-steepening talus and eventually terrible volcanic rock to scramble on.

19760_12
A closeup of the rock. It wasn't absolutely terrible but a lot of the stones wiggled in their sockets. I only had to do a bit of Class 2+ scrambling and that was more than enough on this.

I popped out above the steepest, nastiest scrambling and found it had all been nasty for no reason. There was a nice grassy slope most of the remaining way to the summit and all the way down to my right, under the west ridge. So much for doing the proper route.

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Grass all the way down from to where I came up from...

A couple of minutes later I stood on top of Organ. I turned around and looked north. It was a long way to Stewart and the rest of my day.

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Baldy Alto left foreground, Stewart obvious in the middle, and "Column Ridge" on the left background. Baldy Chato is not visible from here.

I walked over and peered down the west ridge. Ugly looking loose rock down to a saddle, and then unknown but ugly looking scrambling from there to San Luis, which looked painfully far away. Since I'd already done San Luis I decided to skip it and continue on with the original plan - 13ers have priority. I hiked back towards where I came but instead of hiking back down the loose rock I went west into the drainage and down a soft dirt and grass slope. This proved much faster and easier and gave spectacular views of the west ridge's janky looking cliffs.

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Not quite as steep as it looks. There's no trail so I just switchbacked down as it made sense.
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More volcanic rock. There's surprisingly little debris for how rotten it probably is.

Back in the bottom of the drainage I came up I crossed back over the creek, willow bashed for a few minutes to gain Baldy Alto's southeast ridge, and then hiked up easy Class 1/Class 2 slopes to the summit.

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On the ridge. Simple as can be.
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Baldy Alto's summit. Really nice views in every direction from here.

On top of Baldy Alto I looked back from where I came and on to where I still had to go. I knew this was a big day but every summit just seemed so far from all the others!

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Organ from Baldy Alto. This is a good shot of where I went and where I should have gone. Look at all those nice grassy slopes I didn't hike up! I instead went underneath the outcrops near mid-left, up the rib, and through the outcrops near the end of the ridge. It still got me to the top but it was not efficient at all.
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"Column Ridge" is the left-most point. Stuart Peak is the obvious large peak in shadow.

There was a good amount of elevation loss en route to "Column Ridge" and a lot of gain past the namesake volcanic columns on the ridge.

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These wrapped around the corner as well. I believe these extended all the way to Baldy Chato and were visible from peaks to the west.

I decided to cut over to Stewart first. Originally I had planned on hitting "Column" first, then Stewart, then Baldy Chato, but it seemed easier to swap "Column" and Stewart instead of trying to sidehill and maintain a contour over to Baldy Chato. Everything would be more direct this way. More Class 2 led to Stewart's summit, the highest 13er in the San Juan.

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Not an inspiring summit but again, the views were good.
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Wee lil' Baldy Chato (chato is flat in Spanish).
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"Column Ridge" is the point in center. You can see the face of the ridge continues off frame to the right.

With the highest summit of the day complete it was all downhill from here. But not really. Two more unranked 13ers and a lot of gain from Baldy Chato over Stewart's east ridge lay before more. Not wasting any time I made the quick jaunt back over to "Column Ridge".

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Vertical to the west, Class 2 to the east.
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A bit airy but nothing serious. By far the most rugged summit of the day.

Four down, one to go. And it's a million miles away, of course.

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Long but easy stroll.

Along the way I encountered a group of sheep. I didn't get any (good) pictures of them but I did get a picture of the insanely eroded and rotten terrain they somehow ran and bounced - yes, bounced - through without a care in the world.

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Layer upon layer of choss.
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Yes, the sheep ran down and across this. How they didn't cause the entire mountain to collapse I just don't know.

Arriving on the completely non-momentous summit of Baldy Chato I surveyed the area. I'd come a long way and had a longer way to go.

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Stewart and "Column Ridge" from Baldy Chato.
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Stewart's east ridge and the vast distance I'd have to hike back to my car. I'm not even sure where the trailhead is in relation to my viewpoint, but it's over there... somewhere.

Knowing full well it'd take me hours to get back I trudged off in the general direction of the trailhead. I had to cross Pauline Creek (visible in the photo) then drop into Nutras Creek Drainage and hike back to the road. There'd be a little bit of elevation loss and re-gain to get to Nutras Creek but in comparison to the overall day it was very small.

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Pauline Creek drainage. I hiked up just to the right of the big mass of willows on the far slope. There was a small game trail there.

Once out of the drainage I continued hiking southeast to where the hillside dropped off into Nutras Creek. I found a trail but wasn't sure where it went so I thought it would be better to follow the creek itself. It might have gone back to Nutras Creek trailhead, I'm not sure.

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Faint trail I followed for a while before going right towards Nutras Creek.

The terrain down into Nutras Creek was a little bit steep but not unmanageable, and there were no cliffs to contend with. Plenty of willows and talus but nothing to be concerned with.

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Down she goes. The beetle kill in the La Garita was awful.

Once in the basin I simply hiked in the only direction I could - east. Bounded behind me by Stewart Peak and on both sides by ridges there wasn't anywhere to go but east. The drainage was absolutely gorgeous and pristine. Besides a few short trail segments there was absolutely no evidence of human passage.

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Welcome to Nutras Creek.
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One of maybe two or three short trail segments I found.
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There was miles of this meadow-y terrain. Surprisingly and mercifully most of it was dry.

I hiked for hours through the flats just enjoying the views. I could have enjoyed this for days. A few minutes from the trailhead I saw a cow moose and her calf. They're scary but beautiful creatures. When I climbed San Luis a few years ago I saw seven moose in Stewart Creek, so how I've gotten lucky enough to see moose both times in this area I don't know, but I'm fortunate.

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Mama moose and her calf just barely visible behind.

Shortly thereafter I popped out in someone's campsite right at the trailhead. I hopped on the road and hiked the two plus miles back to Stewart Creek where I packed up and drove to Creede. As the crow flies it's 13 miles. As the car drives it's 140. Oooookay! Tomorrow I'd be doing the "Baldy Lejos" group of four 13ers, day two of four in the La Garita Wilderness. (Read about that here.)


Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Total distance: 21.42 miles (this day) / 21.42 miles (weekend to this point) / 71.38 (weekend total)
Total elevation gain: 7,718 feet (this day) / 7,718 feet (weekend to this point) / 22,798 (weekend total)
Total time: 10:27:10
Peaks: Five 13ers (three ranked, two unranked)

  • Organ Mountain A, 13,801'
  • Baldy Alto, 13,698'
  • Stewart Peak, 13,983'
  • "Column Ridge", 13,795' (unranked)
  • Baldy Chato, 13,401' (unranked)

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Stewart Creek Trailhead Organ Mountain A 3:13:09 3:13:09 0:00
Organ Mountain A Baldy Alto 1:48:08 5:01:18 0:00
Baldy Alto Stewart Peak 1:06:05 6:07:23 0:00
Stewart Peak "Column Ridge" 0:27:25 6:34:47 0:00
"Column Ridge" Baldy Chato 0:45:16 7:20:04 0:00
Baldy Chato Stewart Creek Trailhead 3:07:06 10:27:10 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




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 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38


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