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Peak(s):  Mt. Bross  -  14,178 feet
Mt. Lincoln  -  14,293 feet
Mt. Cameron  -  14,248 feet
Mt. Democrat  -  14,154 feet
Stewart Peak  -  13,988 feet
Stewart Peak  -  13,988 feet
Date Posted:  09/22/2023
Date Climbed:   08/18/2023
Author:  GuiGirard
 An unexpectedly sunny welcome to the Rockies   

It was a long and quiet summer in the sunny office and the dark basement labs here in Illinois... lots of bike ride miles in too, hey, we've got some hills if looking at the right place but frankly, I'd be lying if saying that my hiking muscles were well trained when it was finally vacay time. Luckily enough I was able to take 3 weeks off, and off I go until Labor Day weekend for 21 days of adventures camping, road tripping, AND HIKING PEAKS in the CO high country.

This will be the leitmotiv of this TR and the following, but the weather forecast was looking sketchy when I last looked before leaving home. So, I took my time along the road and didn't hit the Rockies until 2 days later, and i reached Fairplay at 2PM on 08/14 with terrific sunshine and no towering clouds around... I'm also a geologist and I love to incorporate some roadside (or trailside) geology on my trips, and it's a great activity for acclimating. I was originally headed to Bonanza and Saguache areas for that purpose, with the intent of heading towards La Garita wilderness to check out more rocks and take on some unfinished peak business, and eventually spend more time in Lake City. But that PERFECT weather forecast for the next day and the recent reopening of the "Decalibron" loop peaks (thank you CFI and Mr. Rieber!) called it in: I'm hiking the Decalibron tomorrow, and since I'm in town with cell signal I'm signing that waiver RIGHT NOW! (19 14ers to that day and I was still oddly enough a Decalibron-virgin) I figured the relatively short 7 miles loop and relatively easy terrain would be a trade-off for my lack of acclimation. Plus I didn't mind cutting that drive short and set camp earlier (I ended up camping along the Buffalo Peaks road in my quest for relatively low elevation terrain where to sleep).

Disclaimer: I am not doing this TR for sharing beta on the Decalibron route, Bill Middlebrook has already done it better than me on the website, so please look at his descriptions and not mine. Here I am just sharing impressions of it, and some cool rock pics. I will however provide details on my route up and down Stewart Peak as this is a cool one and part of it is not documented on the website. If you came here for Stewart, which I really hope you did, scroll down!

Ready to hit the trail by 6.30 the next morning (Aug 15) after being treated by a beautiful South Park sunrise. Easy parking at Kite Lake on a Tuesday, and I took off for the loop in reverse. Up along the Bross bypass by 8AM with some screaming lungs, not unexpected but at least I was able to keep a good pace up that scree slope of misery.

The inauguration of my 2023 hiking season: the grand scree slope of misery of Mt. Bross. I admit there are nicer ways to start a hiking trip but I really came for training purposes so I just put up with it.
Plus, there's even semblances of class 2 terrain, so that cheered me up!

Since that bypass counts as the summit, then 14er 20 was in the books. Deal. I took my time to check out the beautiful Mt Bross porphyry exposures -those that attracted the miners as they host lots of ore at their contact with the sediments they intruded into-, which then towards the Cameron saddle gives way to the sediments. Yeah, limestone!!!

Bross is boring unless one cares about the rocks. Nice porphyry! Different generations of crystals, with large quartz in a matrix of small crystals.
Mt Lincoln porphyry (white rocks) intruding limestone (dark) on the slopes of Cameron.

Relatively uneventful ascent of Lincoln though my flatlander lungs still weren't the happiest, and wow, I got stunned by the views from the summit on the Tenmile range. Whereas Bross met my "meh!" expectations, Lincoln exceeded them, by a lot. What a stunning day.

Views from Lincoln to the North exceeding expectations.

I'm not sure I'd count Cameron as a re-ascent, but here's my 22nd 14er, since it counts as a summit anyways, albeit unranked. Pretty cool to have the "summit" to myself on one of CO's most popular high country hike, and to sit on what might be Colorado's highest limestone outcrop.

I thought the summit of Cameron would be boring until I ran into some limestone. Quite elusive rock type so high up in the Rockies.

I really took my time and enjoyed the descent of Cameron towards Democrat, with ever-changing geology, eventually entering the Precambrian gneiss basement.

Down Cameron facing Democrat. Second nicest views of the whole loop.
I hope you notice the change of geology as much as I do. That's right, we've now entered the basement. 1.7 billion year old gneiss.

A nice a comfy trail, apparently not just appreciated by humans. That baby goat thought it was a good trail, too.

Thank you humans for creating such nice dirt surfaces to rest our bellies! Might as well, right!

One final push later on terrain that I found to be the hardest of the whole loop and also harder than I expected for such a popular "easy" peak, i was standing on Mt Democrat's summit pegmatite vein and its huge crystals. Really neat views too, and a good bunch of friendly people. Not crowded but not lonely. Just the right amount of hikers.

Monster crystals in a pegmatite vein near Democrat summit.

And about 6.5 hours later after a slow final descent, the loop was finished. 4 14ers in a day, woohoo! Ate lunch in the shade a little further down along the road, then got hit by a memorable headache. So yeah... altitude DID get me, eventually... re acclimation: most problems I've ever had over the years happened during the descent or after the descent, and they are that: headaches. We all react differently but descending further down helps, of course, and so does eating. I grabbed a legendary burrito at a food truck in Alma and back to my Buffalo Peaks road campsite for a well deserved dinner and rest.

After a couple of days of geological tourism in Bonanza and Saguache areas (hot springs count as geological features too, right?), my legs were ready to jump again. I had left an attempt at Stewart Peak unfinished in 2021 for a variety of reasons, primarily unpreparedness. The route I had explored then starts at Nutras Creek TH (on the way to Stewart Creek, aka, San Luis Peak TH), and ascends towards beaver ponds, and reaches the NW ridge of Stewart, La Garita's second highest peak and "demoted" 14er (once a 14er due to topographic survey inaccuracies). That route looked obvious then and to my surprise I never found it listed here or on Gerry Roach's book. Mine to draw then! Onto some fun.


Impromptu wildlife photo op in Cochetopa Park, with these pelicans literally posing in front of tomorrow's objective. Cochetopa Park is perhaps one of my all time favorite areas in Colorado, and a volcanic caldera that formed when one of the massive volcanic tuffs that form much of the Eastern and Central San Juan erupted (namely the Nelson Mountain tuff, that forms the summit of San Luis Peak)

The first 2.2 miles start on a gradually more faint trail up the gently sloped Nutras Creek valley and are also part of the E ridge route listed on the website. https://www.14ers.com/route.php?route=201708080742073

The only difficulty there is to regain the trail after each downed tree (lots of them!). You should find the trail again on the other side of each downed tree. There are large expanses of meadows and willows, and it's lonely, so it's best to be on the lookout for a grazing moose. Make noise.


Samples of the first 2.2 miles of trail as seen during the descent. Good leg workout with the downed trees!

2.2 miles in, you'll meet a creek coming from the right (NW) side of the valley, and the trail gets definitely more faint. The E ridge route on this website crosses that creek to stay in the main valley (that's photo 5 on the route description). To go the beaver ponds, you DO NOT cross the creek and ascend straight up along the creek. It gets steeper and there some faint trail segments.

Bill Middlebrook's photo 5 of the East Slopes route modified to show the alternate route

Then slope then flattens and (still along the creek) the view opens up. To the left and still along the creek the "beaver ponds" area becomes visible. This is your next destination. By not crossing the creek, there should be plenty of easy grassy terrain to continue, in sight of the beaver ponds. I was on the lookout for moose again, and this time, I saw one. One hand clap later, it was aware of my presence, and went to hide in the woods. This is a lovely area, with the false summits of Stewart in plain sight.

Typical beaver pond scenery. Stick to the right of the valley and do not cross the stream; there should be wide grassy openings.

In typical La Garita wilderness solitude, I met three ptarmigans who definitely did not expect me and flew away rapidly and loudly. I'm also not sure who scared who the most.

Alas this bucolic enjoyment is short-lived and soon there will be obstacles of willow (come on moose!) as the valley takes a gentle right turn and you face a rocky slope.

This is the crux of the route finding on this route, but I've got good news! Procrastinate entering these willows as much as possible (yeah!). Once on a flat boulder field, your fate becomes obvious: you gonna have to fight the willows. Straight ahead there should be a young spruce tree. To the right and above, there should be several old bristlecones. Know your conifers, y'all! You wanna aim for the lowest of the old tall bristlecone, not the spruce.

The willow patch taken from downstream during descent: the little spruce right ahead of my finger. Bad idea. Aim right towards the bristlecone grove. Old trees are visible above them.

There should be some use paths upslope in the willows, and a small creek which can provide a path of least resistance towards the old bristlecone. That bristlecone is somewhat engulfed in willows and from there there's another old bristlecone visible straight up. That's your path of least resistance to finally reach grass again. You can now relax and admire the beauty of these old giants. 22334_18

Your old bristlecone friends: visible from the willow patch below, they mark the path of least resistance

It's all uphill from there but it's willow-free. Yeah, freedom!

Head NE towards the ridge crest above, by finding the best line that avoids the cliffy parts to the left. It's mostly grassy to the ridge, but in the interest of LNT it might be better to aim for the rockier lines in talus. It's generally stable.


Do not forget to take your time to memorize the route down through the willows. Get familiar with which exact trees you went by (the lowermost tall bristlecone is your friend). They should still be there on the descent, because so will the willows (I can guarantee the latter).

As the terrain flattens out close to the ridge, it is also the time to pay attention where your descent will be. See the pics below. You will not want to descend too far on that ridge since it is plagued of willows past that descent point. This is the upper end of appropriately named Willow Mesa.

22334_14 22334_16

From there, the ridge is easy-peasy and almost flat, gentle class 1 that eventually reaches very cool slabs of platy rocks (volcanic tuff). they will play some music under your footsteps too. 12,800 ft ish, and the main course is now in sight, while the summit is the dessert. Yep, what you see from there is a false summit.

At 12,800 at the end of the easy ridge by the flat rock slabs. Watch the summit one last time before it is obscured by the false. You are warned.
Look back on the route almost all the way back to TH. The slope straight ahead can probably provide an easy descent but notice the willow patch. Have fun!

The cliff along the ridge at that point is obvious to spot, and it will be bypassed by the left (South). To get there, hike up the steep grassy slope (class 1). Terrain will flatten out and you make a gradual left to attack the ridge by its E side while bypassing the cliff.

Cliff bypass after a steep grassy slope from pt 12,800. This is the junction with Bill Middlebrook's E ridge route. See his photo 13. Easy slope. It gets harder above the red rock band, a little loose and steeper.

Once above the cliff via the bypass, welcome to the class 2 fun! The talus might be loose at places, but I did find a good line by staying as close as possible from (and underneath) platy slabs. This line will eventually reach the ridge again.

These platy slabs are not solid and neither is the talus below them but hiking right at their base was likely the best line.

Past the loose section, it's a stable slab fun fest up the false summit. Really neat rocks. Erosional remnants of andesite lava flow. 22334_3022334_3322334_2922334_28

Me: "summit!!!!" Mountain: "Summit? Haha. Nice try"

Did I say false summit? Ha! Thankfully the real one is not far at all from there and reached by mellow class 1 terrain. The views were stunning when I got there, 3 hours after start.

Hello old San Luis friend, good to see ya again!

But the West (Lake City) was getting rained on and knowing the wind pattern and sketchy forecast past noon, my summit time got cut to the bare minimum.

Southern Sawatch to the East, Mt Ouray (center), Antora Peak (right) and Shavano (far left), and Cochetopa park in the foreground.
Not my favorite sight at 9.45AM when almost at 14k, notice Unc and Wetterhorn about to get rained on.

I guess I made the right call. Clouds literally chased me off that ridge in the next 20 minutes. 22334_43

Not my favorite ceiling
Thankfully lightning held off until I got back to my car campsite. Weather was almost nice again.

Lightning held off but I got eventually hailed on 5 minutes after reaching my car and campsite, right on time for lunch. Then thunder came, right on time for folding my tent. Total hike is a smidge over 10 miles, but I left from my tent ~ 200 m further up the road before Nutras Creek TH. A very nice centennial 13er, remote and scenic. I love the drive to it, these forest roads are so remote, saw one car on my way up from HWY 114! Then I took the "scenic route" to leave. From there to Lake City is a >2 hour dirt road festival, going through Los Pinos pass and down to Cathedral, and back up to catch hwy 149 almost at Slumgullion pass. Just like I saw no one during my hike, I was alone on the road until Cathedral, and there I saw only one car! I was happy to set camp again along the road to Matterhorn Creek TH. Off to an attempt at Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre I go!!! These will be for a separate TR though. Stay tuned. Thanks for reading!

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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