Peak(s):  San Luis Peak  -  14,023 feet
Date Posted:  09/23/2017
Modified:  09/13/2018
Date Climbed:   09/21/2017
Author:  huffy13
Additional Members:   Flood
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 September San Juan Seclusion on San Luis Peak-But That Wind.....   

Had a window of opportunity open up that allowed me to break loose one more time this year to do another summit hike, this time I was going to have the pleasure of hiking with a friend and coworker, Billy (username Flood) that I had not yet gotten to hike with despite years of us trying to coordinate our schedules to do so. We had discussed heading out to get Wetterhorn, but being so late in the hiking season and the fact that we had only a day and a half before I needed to be home, we opted for a closer hike, San Luis Peak from West Willow Creek. This route just made more sense and was more convenient for me because we were heading out on Wednesday morning, hiking Thursday early and then I had to be back home to get some sleep so I could start my work shift on Friday at 4 AM. We left home around 8 am central time on Wednesday and arrived at the West Willow Creek TH around 5 pm mountain time and immediately set up camp, crashed out around 8 pm, hoping to get a decent night's sleep. The small stream nearby helped soothe my nerves, but bugling bull elk nearby and the occasional sound of airlines overhead kept us from getting a great night of rest...still, a rough night in the mountains is better than most nights anywhere else.
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Our Campsite at the West Willow Creek

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View towards Pt 12,540 and the first half mile or so of the trail from our campsite


We woke up at 4 am, had some breakfast, warmed up in Flood's truck for a while and started our hike right at 5 am, heading up the first steep slope that skirts just on the south shoulder between PT 12,540 and an unnamed 13er that runs along the continental divide. This first 1/2 to 3/4 miles is probably steepest, hardest part of the whole hike, gaining close to 1000 ft in that span before crossing over a shoulder and a slight descent into the first basin to the east of West Willow Creek.
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Looking down at the trailhead from the beginning or the hike (pic was taken on the descent due to dark at the start)

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Well defined trail as you crest out on the top of the first pass-like ridge

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San Luis Peak is visible as soon as you reach the first ridge

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Early light on San Luis


Once on the crest of that first shoulder you descend a few hundred feet into a forested area, most of which is dead now, probably from the beetle kill that has been plaguing that area for a few years now. This area actually concerned me quite a bit due to the very strong winds that were going on this day, I was concerned with trees getting blown over on us....but it turned out to be uneventful.
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The trail descends into a forest area. Very short portion of the hike to be in forest. Most trees have died from the pine b

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Looking back up to the first pass near Pt 12,540

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Entering the forest area about a mile into the hike

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More trees and willows

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wading through the willows on a great trail


Once through the forest the trail gently ascends while skirting around the west side to the south and then on the east side of the first of two basins. It's a really well defined and easy to follow trail throughout. A good portion of this trail is also a span of the Continental Divide Trail and Colorado Trail.
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Trail conditions in the first of two basins that the trail skirts above.

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Looking down into the first basin

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Trail conditions in the first basin

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More typical trail conditions


After skirting the first basin you go over a second pass-like shoulder between two 12,000+ft points into a second basin that is also known as Bondholder Meadows. Just like the first basin, the trail skirts from the west side of the basin, to the south, and then along the east side, gently ascending until it reaches the base of the south ridge of San Luis Peak.
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Just after going over the second pass into Bondholder Meadows Basin

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Bondholder Meadows sign in the second basin

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San Luis Peak looks really impressive from the trail, especially in the second basin


Now, the wind was blowing a little early on the hike, but the forecast had mentioned 30 mph winds at Creede so we were expecting wind....nothing could have prepared us for the hurricane force winds that awaited us once we reached the south ridge and the shoulder that connects San Luis Peak and Unnamed 13,155. The wind was literally strong enough to knock us off our feet. It was blowing in from the west/northwest, so we tried to stay on the east side of the ridge, hoping San Luis would offer a little shelter from the blasts of cold air.
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The trail ascends to the south ridge of San Luis Peak

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The gentle, rocky south ridge of San Luis Peak

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Wetterhorn peeking a us as we hit the south ridge and the final summit push


I did not really get any quality pictures once on the ridge due to the fact that I was trying to keep from being knocked over, my hands were freezing, and I was slowly losing the ability to care about even finishing this peak....however, after a lot of encouragement from Flood (who is an absolute beast, BTW), a little cussing the wind and lots of determination, I finally made the summit around 9:30 or so, about 10-15 minutes behind Flood.
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My summit pic

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Flood's summit shot


The views from San Luis Peak are pretty amazing, most of the Sawatch is visible, all the Sangres are prominently dominating the east horizon, as well as most of the San Juans...especially Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn to the northwest.
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Looking down into Stewart Creek from the summit

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The Sangre De Cristo range always looks amazing

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Gotta love Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn

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Looking at the southern most end of the Sawatch range

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Zoomed in on Mt. Ouray and Unnamed 13,472 A

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Looking at the northern most end of the Sawatch to the North/Northeast

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The first quarter of the hike is clearly visible from the summit in this shot

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I drew the path on this one


We only spent about 10 minutes on the summit (mostly behind the rock wind shelter) and then made our descent, trying to stay off the ridge proper, instead, trying to stay slightly on the east side of the ridge. We arrived back at the TH right around 12:40 pm, giving us a round trip time of just over 7.5 hours for the nearly 11.5 mile hike, according to Flood's GPS. The trip home was uneventful, but we enjoyed seeing near peak foliage and even got to see some bighorn sheep, elk, deer, moose, tons of pronghorn, some bluebirds, marmots and pika, etc....one of the most wildlife filled trips I've ever had. I wish we had more time to be able to check out the mining history of the Creede area. I will go back when I have more time to check out all the area has to offer.
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A moose that caused a traffic jam on the county road

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Cool mine history in the area

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Gorgeous Fall colors

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Ok, as usual, my personal insights, thoughts and advice about this hike: First off, this is actually a really great hike and would have been far more enjoyable had Flood and I not been fighting the horrible winds for one third of the hike. Getting to West Willow Creek TH is on a good dirt road that only gets really rough for the last mile to mile and a half, it is very steep in places though. It is also a lot shorter drive than going to Stewart Creek TH, so if you are concerned about being crunched for time, West Willow Creek, while not quite as scenic as Stewart Creek, may be a better option. There are many cool mining structures and info along the road too, so try to make time to check that stuff out. The trail is pretty well defined throughout, there is one place at the first pass next to PT 12540 that the trail gets a little hard to discern in the dark, but a little light and it quickly becomes defined again as it begins it's descent into the first basin. The route to San Luis is also part of the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails, so it is in great shape. The trail itself is actually one of the easier hikes I've done, the weather is all that made it difficult at all...really, aggravating is more accurate a term. Wildlife was another factor from this TH, we did see lots of wildlife, and heard it all night long...but it was still awesome despite the constant bugling of the elk. There is some water on this hike and on the drive to the TH despite it being so late in the fall, but I can see the stream crossings possibly being as issue if the runoff was stronger. Once on the hike there are a few small stream crossings that you could possibly filter water if you needed to. Other than that, I highly recommend bagging San Luis Peak from this route, it's fun and really, one of the gentlest routes I've seen...especially for being a non-standard ascent route.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
JA_son27
User
Love it
09/24/2017 06:23
Great TR!


huffy13
User
Thanks!
09/24/2017 13:45
It was a fun hike that would have been one of my favorites had the wind not been in hurricane force ranges!!



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