September 10th, 2019
Monchego Creek mm 1994.5 to Creede Junction mm 2021.3
Distance in miles: 26.8 plus 3 RT to San Luis Peak
Coyotes again make a racket through the night, probably fighting over dibs on the dead cow. Their yips and yaps become a part of my dreams…white noise of the high hills. I should make one of those relaxation tapes out of it. In the early morning, I hear the soothing hoots of a great horned owl. I was just saying to Relentless the morning before that the woods are lacking any owls. Here’s the reply to my concern. They must like lower elevations.
The morning is fresh and beautiful, the low light enhancing the yellow flowers of the sagebrush prairie. We alternate between these fields and stands of aspen. The scent of the aspen fills me with content…such a lovely smell. We wind our way down to the Cochetopa River and begin the long trace (15 miles) up to its headwaters below San Luis Peak.
This watershed gets more dramatic as we go up, first with high canyon-like walls and then volcanic peaks with hoodoos jutting off the sides. We climb about 3000 feet in elevation and are eventually at the saddle at 12,618′.From this point, it’s only about 1.5 miles and 1400′ more of elevation gain to the top of San Luis Peak, 14,014′. I wanted to climb it as a side trip last time on the CT but thunderstorms we’re moving in. It’s a very exposed peak and no place to be in bad weather.This time around, there are some clouds but not the kind that carry lightning. And they are still far away. I decide to drop my pack and go for it. It’s usually folly to begin bagging a 14er at 3 pm but I will be fast. Relentless stays behind to nap and guard the packs from marauding marmots.
Moving up, it feels steeper and harder than it looked from far away. Maybe it’s because I’m also being pelted by strong wind. I plug away at it, having no one ahead to try to catch or keep pace with. I’m the only one on the whole mountain…a first out of my seven 14ers. It’s kind of cool to have this one all to myself…I just wish I had more time to enjoy it.
I make it to the top in about 45 minutes and take 10 minutes to write in the registry, take selfies, and just admire the views. As is sometimes the case at the very top, the wind isn’t as bad and I want to stay awhile. But already it has clouded up and I can see rain falling in the distance all around.The San Juans look a bit dismal but the mountain ranges to the north and east still have good weather. Often it can be raining or snowing in these mountains while the rest of the state enjoys blue-bird skies. They are notoriously wet and unsettled, so it just seems fitting that we get some weather on the very first day. Ah, the return of the wet and cold.I run down the peak to beat an incoming storm and make the saddle in just 20 minutes. So it’s about an hour and half for the round trip. We continue down the trail, traversing several bowls. It starts sprinkling just 30 minutes later and I put on layers. It’s clear we won’t make our target campsite at over 30 miles for the day (I’m tired for some reason, what could it be?), so we pick up water and head for the saddle at the Creede Junction. We hope we can find a place somewhat protected from the wind.
The saddle is pretty exposed and the wind is whipping through. There are a few spots among the willows but I keep walking towards the other side where the trail begins to ascend again. There are some scattered pines that I hope to find shelter in. A buck raises its head from the willows and I take it as a sign. We follow a game trail towards the buck and after 50 yards, find a beautiful hidden campsite. It is nestled among the willows and trees such that I park my tent perfectly protected.Just as we get the tents up, it begins to rain hard and doesn’t stop for an hour. Off and on showers last much of the night. Once again, judgement and timing have worked out perfectly. I’m dry and warm, happy with the day’s accomplishments.