Peak(s):  Stewart Pk  -  13,983 feet
Baldy Alto  -  13,698 feet
"Phoenix Pk"  -  13,895 feet
Date Posted:  05/30/2012
Modified:  05/07/2014
Date Climbed:   05/27/2012
Author:  USAKeller
Additional Members:   letsgocu, moon stalker, sdkeil
 A La Garita Weekend: Stewart, Baldy Alto, & "Phoenix"   

Stewart Peak & Baldy Alto

Date: Sunday, May 27, 2012
Crew: moon stalker (Kelly), sdkeil (Shawn), letsgocu (Kyle), and I
Route: East Ridge > Baldy Alto via Stewart > descent of Baldy's East Ridge loop from Nutras Creek TH
Stats: 10.5 miles; 3,450'; 8 hrs RT

East Ridge on Stewart (taken from the Baldy Alto descent):

Topo of the route:

We all knew we wanted to go big this weekend - it was just a matter of what. The email chains began and ideas brewed. It's no secret that the high winds on Saturday halted plans for a lot of people; including us. So we bumped the San Juans back a day. All four of us met in Golden, condensed into two cars, and drove to the Nutras Creek trailhead for the Stewart-Baldy Alto loop on Sunday. We arrived to the TH, set up camp, and certainly embraced the comfort of car camping; Kelly cooked up a storm with grilled veggies, steak, and corn.

The un-signed Nutras Creek Trailhead; a small pull-off from FS 794:

We went to sleep early for a 5:00am alarm the next day. We were off to a cold start on the old jeep trail at 6:00am hiking southwest. We came to a little side stream where we then headed northwest up a broken trail that lead us into the basin below Stewart's East Ridge. It's easy to just want to climb up the draw right in front of you, but that does involve some willow bush-whacking. So we slightly veered hikers' right, crossed some marsh en route to a short, steep hill through open trees to gain the East Ridge near 12,300'.

In the basin below Stewart; we headed right to find a broken climbers' trail to reach the ridge:

Kyle, Kelly, and I on the steep open-tree section below the ridge:

Photo: Shawn

Looking back down at the route through the basin; Organ emerges:

Once here, the route was obvious but you cannot see the summit. We crossed a flat plain to what was perhaps may have been the crux of this route - another steep hill with loose scree/talus near 12,600'. The rest of this ridge route follows a gentle slope over a few false bumps to the summit. The summit ridge had a long strip of snow that we chose to hike on, but it can easily be avoided. We were on the summit at 9:25am (Shawn a bit earlier) and the time here would be short-lived due to annoying chilly winds.

After gaining the ridge, the route is straightforward:

Kyle and Kelly climb the loose scree section (the 'crux' of this route) and talk geology:

Shawn hikes the snow strip on one of the false summits:

On the cold summit of Stewart Peak with Baldy Alto and San Luis behind:

Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre, and the western San Juans:

Photo: Kyle

We left the summit 15 minutes later at 9:40am, descended the 1.25 miles on Stewart's south slopes en route to Baldy Alto. The traverse took an hour and a half (with a stop) - we arrived on the Baldy's summit at 11:10am. The winds calmed ever so slightly and we were able to enjoy a summit break a little longer.

Shawn, Kyle, and Kelly descend Stewart's South Slopes on the way to Baldy Alto:

Looking back at the route from Stewart to Baldy from their saddle:

Photo: Kelly

The entire route to Baldy Alto from Stewart:

Looking towards Organ, San Luis and "Phoenix" in the distance from the summit of Baldy Alto:

Photo: Kelly

We left Baldy at 11:40am and had two choices to descend back down to Nutras Creek: 1) go back to the Stewart-Baldy saddle and descend the valley, or, 2) follow Baldy's East Ridge. As long as the winds stayed relatively ok, we chose #2 to avoid a big bush-whack from the saddle - that choice proved to be just fine.

The descent of Baldy's East Ridge (larger photo taken during the climb of Stewart):

Near 12,600' we left the ridge and made a bee-line northeast down through a small bush-whack to the main trail along Nutras Creek. A couple-mile walk on flatter ground and we were back at the vehicles at 2:00pm, glad to be out of the wind!

*Rather than going back out onto CO 114 to get to Creede for "Phoenix", we took the back dirt roads described in Roach's 13ers book.* It was pretty cool to be in the middle of nowhere in the San Juans. However, we encountered obstacles #1 and #2 of the trip pretty quickly - Kyle got a flat tire and a huge tree branch fell across the road! Eventually we made it to Slumgullion Pass on CO 149 and 120 miles later we arrived in Creede.

Obstacle #3: Our original plan was to head up Forest Service 503 and camp near Phoenix Park but due to a movie being filmed, that road is closed. A local resident told us FS 503 is closed through June and gave us directions of about a 9-mile detour on FS 504 to reach the trailhead. We chose to camp lower at Marshall Park Campground adjacent to 149 and the Rio Grande River just outside of town.

Kyle changes his flat tire while Kelly pulls the giant tree branch out of our way in the middle of the dirt backroads!

More fun car camping at Marshall Park Campground!

"Phoenix Peak"

Date: Monday, May 28, 2012
Crew: same as above
Route: South Slopes from 10,000' just above E. Willow Creek TH
Stats: 11 miles; 4,000'; 7 hrs 30 min RT

Topo of the route:

The alarm went off at 3:00am, we tore down camp, and took the detour on 504. We found a clearing about a mile below the top of the Phoenix Park 4WD road and parked there (10,000'). We started up the road at 5:25am and at 10,350' we made a hard right east and crossed a small creek. We came to the old Center Stock Driveway as Roach describes. A cairn shortly after this mislead us to cross E. Willow Creek too soon (at 10,400', like Roach says not to). There is a very faint broken trail through a lot of down trees along the north side of the creek where you really do cross it at 10,500'. After this creek crossing on the south side of the creek, the trail is easy to follow. Near 11,750' we crossed back over the creek to the north side and hiked northeast up grassy slopes to reach the bottom of the south slopes.

Hiking through the fallen trees on the north side of the creek:

Looking back down the grassy slopes:

Photo: Shawn

There are dispersed cairns and, again, pieces of a broken trail. We continued north up a small ridge to where it dropped us off at the bottom of the south slopes. From here, we angled north making an ascending traverse to the saddle between "Phoenix" and PT 13,780'.

Hiking to the small ridge to reach the south slopes. Summit is not visible:

Another photo of the ascending traverse to the south ridge (summit still not visible):

We reached the south ridge, glad to be done with the side-hilling. The summit ridge is straight-forward, but the summit it still not visible and farther away than you think. But, it's a pretty sweet ridge walk! We topped out at 9:35am and met forum member Bethie on top. Beautiful day for sure.

A false summit - the actual summit is still a ways off:

The real summit and giant cairn on top:

On the summit of "Phoenix" with the San Luis group behind:

Looking west again, Rio Grande Pyramid on the far left:

Photo: Kelly

This was a really cool summit and has a great vantage point of other San Juan Peaks. And, the east face of "Phoenix" looks like a sweet ski line to boot! We took a longer break up here soaking in the views and calories and left the summit at 10:15am. We made quick time down the south slopes, crossing paths with a few others back to the creek crossing and to the car where we arrived at 12:55pm. Back in Creede, we ate at a local restaurant before making the drive back home; the slow drive since we couldn't go over 50mph with Kyle's donut tire!

Kelly in mid-air crossing back across the creek - Shawn called it the "Kelly-crux":

Photo: Shawn

A nice end to Memorial Day weekend in the La Garitas - local grub and live music in Creede!

Camping, peak-bagging, road-tripping with friends - aren't some of these the moments we live for? Absolutely. Thanks for a great Memorial Day weekend everyone! Now time for a little R&R in the islands.

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

Comments or Questions

Must've just missed you guys
05/30/2012 16:54
on Phoenix--were you part of the large group heading down around 10 AM?


05/30/2012 17:22
That was us. I think Kelly and I were the ones who shouted down to you?


Quite a spread at the campsite!
05/30/2012 17:27
Wow! Quite a spread at the campsite! Good food, good friends, and a great climb! Good thing it's almost lunchtime, as now I'm hungry! Thanks for the report!


05/30/2012 17:29
I‘ve gotta say, that feast Kelly prepared puts our usual pre-hike Jimmy John‘s dinner to shame. Looks like you guys enjoyed the weekend in style.

Sorry we couldn‘t meet up with you down there... we were thinking of your crew as we dealt with those ”chilly, annoying winds.” Good call on pushing it back a day - we braved it on Saturday but it wasn't exactly what I'd call fun!

Congrats on the successful summits! Hope to get out with you soon...


Good Work...
05/30/2012 18:06
That was a fun trip with a great group! Good work on the TR!

scenic area...
05/30/2012 18:29
it was nice meeting you guys on the summit! you guys seemed like a fun group of close friends!! thanks for the laughs.
we too crossed the creek too soon even though we read in roach's description not to.
jealous of your car camping dinner spread compared to our mac n cheese w/ tuna & a cupcake for dessert
kipps grill was where we enjoyed good eats, beers & live music after our backpack out of RGP on sunday.
bummer about the flat tire! we thought FS 503 was closed due to construction, didn't know if was for the filming of johnny depp's movie the lone ranger! would've been so cool to see him in creede!!


Good Stuff
05/30/2012 18:47
That's a sweet area! I like that you're thinking about ski lines on Centennials, Caroline .


What we live for.....
05/30/2012 19:10
Eating meat. Tried it lately Caroline? Looks like you had some stuff goin on the grille and at Kip's.

Way to take advantage of the long weekend. Cool solitude.


Looks like a great trip
05/30/2012 19:38
I'm itching to get the pup down there soon. Thanks for the TR.


05/30/2012 21:43
You let someone else take the splatski for you!! I did a quick search to see if theres a trail that follows Stewart Creek...are you aware of such a thing? Thanks for putting this up.


Team C-Love strikes again...
05/31/2012 00:55
Looks like the San Juan 13ers generated a lot of interest this past weekend. I was amazed at how chilly it was on Sunday despite the clear skies. Way to overcome the obstacles on the drive. I got a flat tire up in Yankee Boy last year and it really zapped my morale.

re: meal

Where is Kelly hiking this weekend? I'd like to time my arrival with when she sparks the grill.

Congrats to all.

moon stalker

Car camping is the way to go!
05/31/2012 05:22
I've had my fair share of unsatisfying meals on long weekends in the mountains. I learned from others that car camping is the opportunity to splurge! So all you need are some grills, gas, good food, and good friends. The rest comes naturally.
Great trip report as usual Caroline. And thanks for starting the email train that ended in a great trip, even after obstacles 1 through 3. And you were gracious to not point out that my whimpy nerves prevented us from getting all the way to the 4wd TH on Phoenix. Next time I'll let Kyle bring his 4runner and he can use his man-card.
And yes I'm short so the jump over that stupid little creek was a bit intimidating after a long hike!!! So 'kelly-crux' is acurate. Good grief.


Nice report
05/31/2012 12:05
Right! Car camping is hard to beat. Looks like you guys had a great time.

Fred Moore

Great Memorial Day
05/31/2012 16:20
Way to go Sug, another excellent report -
you had the perfect Memorial Day weekend in Colorado!


Thanks so much!
05/31/2012 19:05
MtnHub: Yes, we had quite the spread both nights camping! They all had steak, whikle I ate my measley oatmeal with P.B. and protein powder!

Sarah and Kevin: I'm not telling you where Kelly is hiking this weekend! Looks like we'll be fighting over her - her cooking was so good I just started eating right out of her plate on the second night! Oh wait, why don't we all just get out!

Beth: Really nice to meet (and laugh) with you guys on the summit! Kips was pretty nice - I was looking for Johnny Depp! And thank you so much for those links!

Ben: I like that fact too! I'm down to ski a bunch next year!

Brian: I was soooo close to trying some of their steak both nights, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. Soon, though!

Floyd: Thanks! Definitely a great place to take your dog hiking.

Fire: Haha - yes, I had to give my arm a break from all the splattski pics . Yes, we knew about the Stewart Creek trail, but Nutras Creek was somewhere we've all never been and one drainage farther than what we wanted.

Kelly and Kyle: Very nice to get out with both of you again! Your word choices still crack me up - good grief! Looking forward to more trips this summer.

Dad and Bill: Thank you!

Thanks again for your comments yall!

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