San Luis Peak (14,014')
RT: 12 Miles (est.) and Unknown gain (due to avoiding avy terrain, maybe 5k?)
March 7th, 2013
Team: Matt (I Man)
Left TH: 6:50am
San Luis has been on my radar for some time and was one of my main goals coming into this season. Not only would it be a new 14er for me, but it was a remote peak with a well deserved winter reputation. On Wednesday night, I found myself in Lake City staring at a decent weather forecast and a conditions report. Time to head to Creede I figured, though I had serious doubts that the summit would be available. A trip to scope out the TH and the initial route seemed worth the time though. I headed south on CO-149 around 4pm.
The Equity mine taken from the road
The rocky peak on the right is where the initial 'non descript' saddle is
Heading up the drainage towards the saddle
The road for the Equity Mine is difficult to find and I had to resort to asking some locals. Finally, I located it and made the8.5 mile trip up in my Subaru Imprezza without incident. I pulled into the only spot (next to my friend ‘The Bombadier’) just as the sun was setting ad settled in for the night. My nerves were off. I knew I didn’t have a good chance at the summit, but heading into that kind of terrain solo was sobering. Sleep did not come easily.
Arriving on the saddle, the rest of the route comes into view
Heavily corniced, took some creativie thinking to drop into the next basi
San Luis and her 'postcard view'
As has become the norm for me, I woke a bit after 6 and was moving up the road by 10 to. The road is groomed and the going was easy. I enjoyed the views and the warm temperatures and wondered how the day would go. I wound up going a bit too far down the road and had to back track just a bit to enter the drainage that gains a “non descript” saddle next to San Luis pass. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not post holing every step. I thought that was promising and when I arrived on the saddle I caught my first view of San Luis and the Valley of Death that lay before it (two of them, actually).
Some of the initial terrain in the first basin
My route traversing below some sketch terrain
The second traverse in the first basin
The view did not do much to help my confidence. There was a huge cornice and San Luis seemed very far away when I didn’t even see a way into the basin, but after some poking around I found a route that I felt comfortable with. This was a big decision though, as once I dropped into the basin and started tempting fate I would be more and more inclined to push on. This is a very committing way to climb.
The 12,400' saddle between the first and second basin
Climbing towards the 12,400' saddle looking back at my track
Getting closer now...still so far away though!
The initial descent was uneventful but I soon came face to face with the first major traverse. There was the remnants of the ski track from AP_Snow up high, but I was not that brave. I dropped nearly to timber and held my breath as I traversed below. I was ever vigilant, waiting for any sign of movement, but I also tried not to focus on the danger. Luckily before too long I was in an island of safety and continued traversing on mostly good snow. Before long I was at the second big traverse which also went by without incident.
After gaining the saddle I get a disheartenig view....the maze continues
The second basin and the 12,600'saddle
Heading North up the ridge to find a place to drop in
From here the route turns East towards a 12,400’ saddle that accesses the second basin. The route from here is safe and I made my way up to the saddle. At first, I was fooled. I thought there was barely any elevation loss and that I saw a dry route. Who was I kidding?! This basin turned out to be much more complex than the first. There was a serious cornice with loaded slopes. I did not see any options. I seriously considered calling it a day, but I had come so far, and like I said…committing. It is these times when I wonder what the heck I am doing. I took a few minutes to rest and settle my nerves. I then decided to hike North up the ridge, adding a ton of gain to the day to access the safest drop in. Once I was off the ridge I felt comfortable with my route choice.
This second basin was much more complex than the first and the terrain traps were not as obvious. This section inspired the title as it was a complete maze…up and down, left and right ad even with all of that, I still found myself in some precarious positions…but finally after what seemed like an eternity, I topped out on the 12,600’ saddle and had a clear path to the summit of San Luis. I felt out there, really out there. At this point, I had taken the risk to get to the ridge, so I knew that I should continue to the summit. I stashed my snowshoes and axe and headed up. It was a welcome change of pace and a great mental break – but of course the mountain would not let me off that easy. The wind picked up quite a bit just to keep me on my toes. Luckily it was a very warm and sunny day though and the wind was little more than an inconvenience.
This saddle is also heavily corniced
Most of the route in the second basin
Looking back at my track through some of the Second Basin Sketch
More cornices. A Winter Wonderland!
Finally on dry (and safe) terrain. San Luis's South Ridge
Looking back down the ridge towards the 12,600' saddle
The higher I got, the better the views got. One foot in front of the other, you know the drill. Today the altitude seemed to be getting to me more than usual, but who knows, maybe that was all in my head. As I neared the top the universe seemed to take a second to grant me serenity. The final climb was gorgeous, a snow covered narrow ridge. The wind died down. My favorite song was playing in the show I was listening to and they seemed right on cue to peak as I topped out. I took out my SPOT to let my friends know that I was approaching the summit.
Final sow covered push
San Luis summit. Winter 14er #34
“…You can feel good, I feel good, good about Hood…”
I don’t know about that, Trey, but I sure feel good about San Luis! Just before noon I stepped onto the summit o a beautiful March day in the remote San Juans. I had achieved a major goal of mine, and I had done it alone. The emotions were hard to control. I felt truly lucky to be alone. I called Sarah to let her know that I was safe, but that I had a very serious descent ahead of me. After a quick drink/snack I headed down the ridge…nervous for the path ahead.
I was down the ridge to my stash very quickly. From there I retraced my steps, being ever diligent of the warmer temperatures and the dangers ahead. I fought the urge to cut corners and remained disciplined, adding all the extra gain to stick to the route that I felt was the safest. Regaining the first saddle was a big milestone. Just one more basin to go, I thought to myself. I knew that once I topped out on the initial saddle again a tremendous amount of relief would wash over me as the route was entirely safe from there to the car. Luckily the snow stayed pretty firm and the trip back went even easier than I had expected. Of course there were a few tense moments just before reaching safety.
Baldy Alto and Stewart. I had some delusions of going for Stewart, but homeboy is 2 miles each way!
Some of the more complex terrain in the second basin (descent)
Approaching the ridge/saddle to regain the first basin
Looking back at the first basin and the route to safety
I don't think I have ever been so happy to see a mine!
Once on the saddle, I allowed myself to relax. I took in the final views and reflected on the day. It had been an intense one, that is for sure…and not something I would likely to solo again. I was very lucky to enjoy 3 days in a row of fine weather in the San Juans and grace the summits of some new 14ers.