The guidebooks all say that half the adventure in climbing San Luis is finding the trailhead in hundreds of square miles of ranchland and national forest lands. Roach, in his guidebook made this statement come true by providing inaccurate directions for the first time in our experience. We were to run into a couple on Saturday going up as we were coming down who also had the same problem. I can picture hundreds of climbers still driving the back roads near San Luis with a Roach guidebook in one hand; the other on the steering wheel lost forever. In summary he leaves out a road and the mileage is inaccurate; Tom Vervaeke is going to write him and discuss the miscues with him.
We left Lake City on Friday at about 4:00pm after stopping at a deli for a sub. We climbed Slumgullion Pass south of town and started to embark on the 30 miles of beautiful forest service roads toward San Luis. At mile 20, the directions say turn on Forest Service Road 794 and go 3.1 miles to turn right. As this time we were following some deer hunters (bow) and they did not seem like a real friendly bunch like us climbers. They were armed, but what they did not know was that we were armed also; friendly but safety conscious climber we are! They gave us a dirty look as we turned onto the road at 3.1 miles. We followed the road for about .5 miles where it dead ended. hmmmm Back out to the main road, there was a road about .2 miles further; maybe our odometer was off…
We followed this road for 1 mile – dead end. Hey, this is starting to get interesting as this time we go by the deer hunters who are on foot stalking their prey. More dirty looks and I just point to Tom and shake my head – hey we are lost. Tom, being the practical guy he is says lets go back to where the directions were right and measure again. We do, find another road and find another dead end. It’s starting to get dark now and one more encounter with these deer hunters will likely result in a bow and arrow and gun shoot out. We both think of the movie “Deliverance…
As we are pulling out of our last dead end I suggest we just go farther down the road and after about a mile come across Forest Service Road 794 with a Stewart Creek Trailhead sign. I see Tom forming the text of his letter to Roach as we set off down the road at a very high clip! We find the trailhead as advertised by the FOREST SERVICE, survey the camping alternatives in growing dim light and choose a spot about 300 yards up the road where others had camped before. In the fading light, we throw up our tents and then enjoy a dinner of spaghetti around another “my life for yours arsonist” campfire. We decided to hit the sack early at 9:00pm.
The watch alarm sounds again too early at 5:00am but it is easier to get up because it is much warmer than the night before as it is 12 degree now… Another batch of eggs and bacon and off we go to the trailhead after packing up all of the gear so that when we were done we could head back to Colorado Springs. The trail follows beaver ponds for 4 miles up the valley After 4 miles you gain only 500′ :-(. Tom was feeling great and I kept up the best I could. This route, although long is really easy and we made it up in good time to the 13,100′ saddle and up the traversing trail that avoids the 13,700 hump. There was a little snow at the top but not as much as Sunshine and Handies group. We sat in the lee of the cairn shelter on top and soaked in the views. This was our 30+ peak in 6 months together and perhaps the last one of the 94 climbing season. It was the 37th peak for me in 12 months and the 32nd for Tom. We may each climb one or two more before winter but this ceremonious end to a summer 14er season was one to relish.
We had put in over 31 miles and 11,950 in elevation gain in over 72 hours. Counting my climb of Blanca and Ellingwood on Tuesday I had 46.5 miles and 18,950′ on my legs. And if you really wanted to stretch it in 7 days I had done 7 peaks with a total of 58.5 miles of hiking and 24,575′ of elevation gain…. did I say my legs were tired? Ready to get back to our families, we started down and found the going easy, reaching the valley within 45 minutes or so. There we met the couple who drove around until midnight reading Roach’s directions and two other hikers. Once down to beaver heaven the going was mostly gentle downhill. These beavers had constructed a virtual beaver waterpark complete with slides and channels!
Back at the trailhead by 12:20 we piled into the car and began the 5 hour journey back to the Springs. Along the way through 30 miles of forest service roads we ran into a flock of sheep on the road are tended by a Native American sheepherder and his two border collies. I admired their work as I also have a border collie at home. A quick stop at the Dairy Delight in Buena Vista for the last time in 1994 made fitful end to the climbing season. Now, we will probably by doing some winter climbs this winter but again, this fitting end to a marathon of climbing 14er’s put a cap on a good season!
Beta: Stewart Creek Trailhead (email for correct directions) 12 miles, 3,600′ elevation gain 5 hours 50 mins