Peak(s):  San Luis Peak  -  14,023 feet
Date Posted:  08/26/2009
Date Climbed:   08/23/2009
Author:  KeithK
 In Loving Memory...   

San Luis Peak (14,014')
August 23, 2009
Northeast Ridge from Stewart Creek
Elevation Gain: 3,700'
Round Trip: ~12 miles
Brian, Angela, Arlo, Cooper, Keith

"A pet is never truly forgotten until it is no longer remembered."
~Lacie Petitto

On June 15th, 2008, Brian and I set out to climb San Luis Peak, with the Boston terrier brothers Arlo and Cooper in tow. Unfortunately, Cooper fell ill early in the day, and Brian had to retreat to the trailhead to save the poor little guy from getting sicker. Arlo, strong as could be, led me all the way to the summit. It was a bittersweet way to climb the peak, and there was no doubt that a return trip would be in order. Read about the adventure here:

Arlo tragically succumbed to illness on September 20th, 2008. Brother Cooper worked hard to be a happy dog without his lifelong partner, but took ill in July of 2009, and sadly passed away as well. We had lost two cherished family members, and anyone that has lost a pet knows just how incredibly large the void can be when they're gone. Still, the world of the living continues, and there was only one obvious way to honor the puppies in a way they deserved. The return to San Luis Peak.

The last picture of Arlo and Cooper together...

Serious hiker dogs!

Having packed in to tree line on our first foray up Stewart Creek, we knew that a car camp at the trailhead would make just as much sense, as the trail is very gradual and gentle, and manageable as a one-day push. Brian's girlfriend Angela would accompany us, as would Arlo and Cooper, no longer with us in a living breathing sense, but very much present all the same. Just pulling up to the trailhead on a warm August afternoon brought back a flood of recollection, and I could clearly remember those two dogs hiking that trail. They were as happy-go-lucky as two dogs could be. The sloping trailhead parking area seemed a poor choice for a camp, so we scouted up and down the road, and chose an obvious spot just uphill, with an easy walk down to the trail.

Ah, car camping at its finest...

Gazing up at Organ Mountain...

I chose to sit next to our fire well after dark, partially to ensure the dwindling flame would extinguish, and to have some time to stare into the deep blackness of the sky dotted with brilliant stars. It was one of those Colorado summer nights, cool and pleasant, quiet and peaceful, with only the wind on the trees disturbing the silence. I relished the chance to simply be, without the influences of day to day life, to think about everything and nothing all at once. From the dogs that we were here to honor, to the trivial and sometimes absurd difficulties of the Monday through Friday life, to more personal issues, my mind scanned through its thoughts, filtering, remediating and realizing. There is likely no greater reward from the wilderness than clarity.

There's nothing like sunrise in the Colorado mountains...

After a reasonably restful night, we set off on the trail, 6:09 I recall Brian saying. It looked to be a typical Colorado morning in the high country, with few if any clouds in the sky. I realized that sunglasses would be useful today if only I had some with me. The false start forced me to climb the hillside back to camp, where I could retrieve the all important eye protection, and it was off again, following the very gentle trail along the edge of the willows and beaver ponds, many dry from the rigors of the summer. This would be Angela's third Fourteener, and by far the longest hike for her. I felt the benefits of my active summer, and found myself wanting to go faster, to push myself a bit, and to prove that the slow, horribly out of shape phantom of my past will always stay in the past, where it belongs. It was very satisfying to move along the trail at a solid pace, and I kept turning around only to see no one behind me, an unfamiliar feeling. Weaving in and out of the pine forest, the hiking was easy and enjoyable for me, literally a stroll through the woods. Bending around a stand of trees, I was stopped dead in my tracks by one of the most awe-inspiring sights of my life. I've had the privilege of witnessing many species of wildlife this year, from ptarmigan to goats to cow moose, but this was my first bull moose, and he was a BIG one. He stared back at me, and I silently waited and watched, hoping that Angela and Brian would soon catch up to share in this incredible moment. When they arrived, our friend was still watching me, not wanting to let me out of his sight. It was a rare and special experience for all of us.

Look at that rack!

The sun begins its day's work...

Reluctantly, the hike resumed, and we crossed the creek back and forth and began the first steep hiking of the day. I continued to push ahead, knowing that I'd find a good place to take a break once beyond tree line. A cool breeze washed through the valley, and the sun's warmth was very welcome as we once again crossed the creek and entered the meadows at 12,200', the beginning of the actual climb to San Luis Peak. I was actually looking forward to this part of the hike. I love the expanding vistas and visible, tangible progress that is gained on these ascents up and across the alpine tundra, as the sky draws closer with each and every step. With only a few brief pauses, I found my way to the saddle between San Luis Peak and Organ Mountain, and got my first good look at Arlo's only 14er.

Angela negotiates the stream crossing like a pro...

San Luis Peak makes its first appearance...

The view ahead from tree line...

Baldy Alto really needs to be climbed... maybe from Stewart?

Most of the route is visible from the saddle, and a good trail traverses the gravel, scree and talus along the ridge. It was 10:00 a.m., and I was having a lot of fun hiking this route nearly break free. The grade is easy by Fourteener standards, and I was not tired. If anything, I felt better than I've ever felt on a Fourteener. Stopping only to visit with a couple of groups descending from their early summit, I gained the northeast ridge proper, and knew that I was within minutes of the summit. A nice long break sounded good, as I had managed to build quite a lead on Brian and Angela, taking their time with the altitude, neither having spent a great degree of time on the trail this summer. I didn't mind, I could sit in the wind break on the summit and watch everyone on the trail, coming up, or going down. It was a really good day.

Next stop: San Luis Peak...

Angela perseveres...

Some weather over on "Phoenix Peak"...

Wetterhorn Peak, Matterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak...

The final push...

Tabeguache Peak and Mt. Shavano to the north east...

Mt. Sneffels and the Wilson Group are over there...

A Silent Eulogy

I visited on the summit with a couple from Golden that arrived a few minutes after me. They were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary by climbing four Fourteeners in 5 days, and I was happy to point out peaks and take their picture. After all, this needed to be a day of celebration, to appreciate the gift of life that we've been given. Brian and Angela would arrive a short while later, as a solo hiker began his way down. It was the perfect timing I had hoped for, as we would have the summit to ourselves for at least a few precious minutes. Drinking and snacking took a back seat to the business at hand, as Brian reached into his pack and withdrew the physical essences of Arlo and Cooper, the brothers Boston terrier that had been his faithful, loving and loyal companions for over ten years. Emotion crept from the depths and soon overwhelmed all three of us, as we passed ashes and the eulogy that Brian had so meticulously kept ready for this occasion. None of us could possibly read it out loud, so we each read it silently, the import of the words tangible through the windblown silence of a sorrowful summit:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Author unknown...

With courageous resolve, my brother brought himself to his feet and went to the spot that I pointed to just west on the summit, the spot where Arlo and I posed for our summit picture over one year ago. This would be a fitting place to perform one final ritual in remembrance and honor of our family members that will never be forgotten. A perfect wind gently carried Arlo and Cooper to eternal rest, to the freedom to run, chase and play without fear of sickness or injury, to never again be thirsty or hungry, to be the free spirits that they were meant to be. We all said good bye.

Arlo, the San Juans are yours my little friend; run, chase and play!

Cooper, I know you're gnawing on that endless rawhide at the perfect dog park in the sky...

An appreciative embrace led to happier thoughts, and I think we all realized the importance of life and what it means. Loss is a difficult and cruel reality that must be faced eventually, and it will never get easy. Only through support, love and care can we reduce the pain to a dull place, where it can evaporate beneath the hopes and desires of tomorrow. There is only one gift to the living, and we must use it wisely, and to good purpose. So many thoughts flooded over me that day as I pictured two crazy dogs, my affectionately nicknamed "knuckleheads". They brought joy, happiness and laughter to everyone they came into contact with. If only all of us could achieve such an amazing result.

It was not lost upon me that between Brian and I we have 74 14er summits, yet this was the first one that we shared. I don't know how that happened, but I made sure that it would be remembered. I love you, my brother.

Hi mom and dad!

14,000' is a special place...

Clouds or no, the San Juans are magical...

We snapped some summit shots, finished eating and drinking and began our way down. I was energized for the descent, and made it go by quickly without really rushing. Brian asked if I was going to climb up to the nub on the ridge above the trail, and I thought "why not?" So, I nearly ran up to the top of it, and shouted "I proclaim this Arlo Point!" Brian proceeded to the next noticeable point, and we would call that Cooper Point. A perfect exclamation point to an emotional, cleansing and important day. It was all downhill from there!

I hereby proclaim this Arlo Point!

Organ Mtn. from the summit of "Arlo Point"...

"Cooper Point"!

Only five miles or so...

The descent was typical of most, but still different for me. My mind raced over thoughts of mortality, relationships and many other philosophical concepts that one might expect to encounter while they consider the meaning of this thing we call life. I realized how important it is to take advantage of every opportunity we have, to embrace every breath and to make the absolute most of each day. The short time we have is all we have, and the choices we make are all we can control, even if the outcome is not always what we hope for. Most of all, I am gracious, humble and thankful for the undeniable gift that is life.

Who says that San Luis Peak is a boring Fourteener?

Comments or Questions
Doctor No
Well done
08/27/2009 14:41
Arlo and Cooper look like great dogs - this was an excellent tribute.

My buddies...
08/27/2009 14:49
These were the best pets I could have ever had... in so many ways they were alike, but yet had such different personalities. Uncle Keith got to dog sit them on many occasions and they loved spending time with him and Irwin. They loved so many human activities... hiking was just one of them. In his final weeks Cooper adopted my new gf and they bonded instantly. He touched many people and the hole in my heart is incredibly huge. This trip was a very big step in getting passed this loss. I will never forget my time with these 2 incredible animals.

Cheers to you and your dogs!
08/27/2009 15:27
Wow -- so powerful. I lost both of my dogs (labs - 14er companions) last year. This was just so cool. Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

Great report...
08/27/2009 17:49
of a great tribute. I remember hearing you talk about Arlo on our way to Massive last year, and could tell that he was a great friend to you, and I was sad to hear about his passing. What a great way for both you and Brian to remember Arlo and Cooper.


Good writing Keith~
08/27/2009 20:09
Wow- hard to find words sometimes. I had not forgotten Arlo, and still think he should be awarded the mascot title.

Incredible moose sighting!! Sounds like you‘re in great shape and will run circles around me

I also lost a close K9 friend this year- and know how tough that is. Keep your chin up, and look for new surprises on the horizon! (mine is my new avatar)
Hope to see you on a peak soon~

08/27/2009 20:30
this report was very touching, it choked me up.

Mel McKinney
Thanks for sharing
08/27/2009 21:33
I didn‘t realize Cooper had passed away too. I‘m so sorry for the loss of two of your best friends, but I‘m glad you all were able to pay tribute to Arlo and Cooper in such a special and appropriate way.

Saw you there.
08/27/2009 21:53
Really didn‘t know you folks were on such a mission. Sorry for your lose. I know it hurts. I‘m the guy that sumitted from the willow creek side. You took my photo. Some of my picture turned out. Would you help me with the summit photo that you took. It would be appreciated. Hope I didn‘t interupt your service.

man‘s best hiking partner
08/28/2009 00:16
solid report Keith. Thats a tough pill to swallow, but it sounds like they lived, long fullfilling lives. You and Brian‘s next dog should be a Jack Russell, they live forever and never, ever get tired. Boston Terriers are great dogs regardless.

08/28/2009 00:27
Hard to look at the photos of those dear little ”guys” and realize they are no longer here - fighting back tears as I look down at my 19.5 yr old (young!) Himalayan Cat sitting at my chair - her brothers died at 16...I know the feeling (sigh)

Peace to you all - KG

Our children.....
08/28/2009 03:24
For those of us without children, our dogs ARE our children. I cried forever after seeing ”Marley & Me” (my child is a yellow lab) and I‘ve certainly shed some tears reading this. However, it‘s so comforting knowing these little beauties had a life full of love and happiness. My dog is getting extra hugs and treats tonight.....being even more spoiled than normal.

Thank you....
08/28/2009 04:22
For a great and touching report. So sorry for your losses.

Thanks, Keith
08/29/2009 05:48
I just hugged my dog after reading this.

Thank you!
08/31/2009 20:07
Thanks for all the comments. This was a day that we knew would come, and it was as close to perfect as it could be. Pets are so important in our lives, and we need never forget them. Paying tribute to Arlo and Cooper in this way was very fulfilling.

Awesome TR...
08/31/2009 22:19
and great way to honor both of those losses. That photo of you spreading ashes is wonderful! You‘ve had quite a summer climbing, Keith! Again, awesome and well-written report!

Awesome TR
09/02/2009 16:20
I feel honored that I was there on that hike last year. Great way to honor your pets. I don‘t look forwad to the day when our weener of 14 years passes...


sorry for your loss
09/30/2009 06:00
I have a human child and 4 rescued furbabies... they are all my children. I have lost 3 dogs over the last 2 years, one died way too young. It is very heartbreaking. I still have all the ashes in my house, haven‘t found the strength to let them go.

10/03/2009 02:16
TR my friend. What a honoring tribute to your 4 legged friends! I can relate.

When I lost a special dog unexpectedly a short while back, I grieved like I haven‘t experienced for days. It was hard! May God give you, Brian & Angela freedom from the pain of loss.

You are quite the poetic writer. I really enjoy reading your TR‘s. Hope we can climb together some day.

Got my kleenex ...
11/30/2010 17:28
What a special trip report. I don't know how anyone who loves animals couldn't be touched by this one, Keith (and Brian). Thanks for reminding all of us of those special creatures that we call our pets and the positive, happy moments they bring to our lives. Happy trails!

Ridge runner
Keith and Brian,
02/01/2011 00:24
What a touching way to honor Arlo and Cooper. I think this is the first time I‘ve ever teared up over a trip report. I don‘t know what I‘ll do when the time comes for Zion to pass on. I‘ve also spent many nights watching the campfire dwindle down to coals and thinking about ‘everything and nothing at all‘. Beautiful report, and I hope to see you two out more together!

Thanks Keith
02/05/2011 00:22
Sorry for your losses ... being on a peak with a pup is a great moment ;-) Wonderful trip report.

scott goldberg
Sorry for your loss
01/24/2013 15:47
Brian and Keith, our thoughts are with you...and thanks for sharing your trip, a great piece of writing Keith.

We had to put our yellow lab down over the 4th of July, and now we and our remaining black lab are adjusting to life without him is a tough time...

11/20/2014 17:31
Thank you for bringing this TR to light was a wonderful tribute to two very cute pups that I’m sure were amazing in life.

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