San Luis Peak Trip Report

East Slopes, Class 1, 12 miles, 3600 feet, With Jen and Brian Morsony

I wanted to write the text of this report as close to finishing the 14ers as possible.  Recently I've been mostly writing smaller reports or focusing on pictures and if people use this site as beta I'm sorry about that, I keep it mostly as a journal to refer back to and for friends and family to read and while I've enjoyed a lot of the stuff I've done recently it hasn't been very memorable on a personal level.  The Culp Bossier report is case in point, it was probably the best rock route I've ever climbed but didn't seem to me to be important enough to go into great detail about.  It's a good climb and a lot of info exists so I just mentioned the salient points so that I can look at it some time down the road and be reminded of it.  I'd honestly be surprised to find out that anyone that doesn't know me would bother to read through all the stuff I write.

Finishing the 14ers however, even on a 12 mile, class 1 trail seems to warrant a lot more discussion than a 6 pitch, ultra classic alpine rock route.  If you don't care and don't know me then skip ahead to the pictures if you like or look elsewhere, there is little beta here, this is mostly a way for me to remember what this day felt like to me when I look backwards some years in the future.

I'm not really sure how I feel right now to be totally honest.  I came to Colorado as a hiker and a backpacker, rock climbers seemed like death defying idiots to me and the thought of ice climbing never even entered my mind, that level of lunacy was something a flatland backpacker would never envision.  When I first got off the plane to visit the University of Colorado five years ago all I knew was that the mountains had an attraction for me and that I wanted to move here, stay here, and never return to the filthy city I was leaving behind.

Over the course of the first few weeks of living in Colorado I would take a quick jaunt up Audobon and the local OSMP peaks and then, by chance, was told that I ought to go try Mt. Democrat. Getting up to 14,000 feet was love at first site for me and I was hooked immediately. I threw myself into the goal of finishing the peaks with abandon and focused relentlessly on it.  I would work 12 hour days to finish all of my studies and coursework for my graduate education and then try to hike and climb both days on the weekends.  It quickly became an obsession.  I was driven to think of little else. Finally winter came and I stopped climbing but I spent a lot of time on forums talking about it and trying to find partners for harder peaks because I was pretty fit and hiking the easier ones seemed trivial.  

Over the summer of 2004 I would scare myself pretty badly on the Crestone Needle and realize that fitness did not equal any real understanding of safety or knowledge of the high country (on one occasion I headed towards Mt. Gilpin thinking it was Sneffels and had a near epic.  My friend Brian Morsony and my wife refer to it as the Mt. Not Sneffels incident.).  This incident spurned me to hire a guide to teach me the ins and outs of rock climbing and instilled in me the need to learn as much as possible to be a safe competent mountaineer.  Over the rest of the summer I would finish all of the Elk range peaks with a fellow named Brian Espe as well as do the Little Bear - Blanca Traverse and Wilson Peak.  

After finishing most of the 'hard' 14ers within slightly more than a year of living in Colorado I realized that they were in fact pretty easy technically.  Sure, they can be objectively hazardous, loose, present bad weather, etc. but once you get a bit of sense about weather, rockfall, etc. along with a decent sense of self preservation and knowledge of when to turn back they are really pretty timid peaks (outside of winter at least). By the end of my second summer I had done something like 35 14ers and grown bored with them and the thought of returning to slogs like the Sawatch peaks made me cringe.  It was time to try and up the ante.
Over the following years I began to rock climb, lead rock climbs, ice climb, take avalanche courses, take WFR courses, climb internationally, do many alpine technical climbs, and, occasionally, hike a few 14ers here and there mostly just to rack up numbers or get some exercise.  Somewhere along the way I managed to both learn a few profound things and, at the same time, lose sight of some really simple things.  I learned that it is absurd to judge yourself against others.  Between the true hard men rock/ice/mountain climbers and the geniuses I met while climbing in Colorado and  pursuing my PhD I realized that we will never be as good as the next, better guy/gal in whatever we are pursuing so our pride should come from our own sense of validation and our own goals.   I also managed to forget how to enjoy myself in the outdoors, something that was an integral part of who I thought I was for a long time.  I hiked/climbed 14ers to finish 'The List' and did more challenging things just to test myself.  This isn't to say I didn't enjoy myself but I'd stopped enjoying being outside for the sake of being outside.  I always seemed to need a purpose or challenge when heading outdoors.

I'd like to say the 14ers brought that sense of loving the outdoors back to me but it wouldn't be true.  What really made me realize that the key is to simply enjoy what you do outside without the need to obsessively focus on things or compare exploits was Green Mountain in Boulder.  I started hiking Green Mountain a few times a week in 2007 as a way to get in and stay in decent shape and came to realize that just watching the seasons change and watching the animal life and plant life was about as enjoyable as anything else I did.  When it dawned on me that I was happy to just hike up and down the same peak, hundreds of times, with nothing more than the odd 2nd class step, I realized that I'd been pursuing the outdoors the wrong way (for me at least). I've managed too see Cougar footprints in fresh snow, the turn of the seasons, bears, fledging falcons, flowers, mist shrouded days, streams come and go, and much more on that one little, easy Boulder Peak.  I figured it was time to finish the 14ers and see how that made me feel.

I did Mt. Wilson with my friend Tim and while it was fun it was sort of a chore, more like ticking a list than anything else, I guess this was mostly due to the long drive to and from the San Juans.  The ridge was loose and a fall would be deadly but we still did it car to car with plenty of time to read, drink, and BS at the days end.  The next and last peak was to be San Luis.  I had picked this as my last so that it would be relaxed, anyone who wanted to come could, and so that I could jog to the summit and down if weather threatened.

I just came home and think that San Luis is my favorite 14er behind Longs Peak.  The peak itself is trivial.  It is 12 miles or so and 3600 feet and has one of the absolutely easiest trails to follow.  I imagine that I could jog it in under 5 hours pretty easily but what would be the point of that?  San Luis, from Stewart Creek TH has beaver dams and lodges for the first two miles.  The creatures have terraced the creek quite masterfully for a long stretch.  It also has beautiful trees, views, and an abundance of wildflowers.  It also has a beautiful stream and fantastic views from the summit.  In short, it had just about everything you could want if you just want to be in nature and enjoy it.  

Jen, Brian Morsony (my friend who I will miss when he goes to his post-doc), and myself headed out to San Luis on Friday, July 11th, 2008.  We arrived at the trailhead and went to sleep.  I slept out on a air pad, under the stars with no tent and awoke occasionally to marvel at the stars and the Milky Way above me.  When the alarm went off  we woke and headed down the trail at 4:40 AM.  Along the way we came across a couple beavers swimming near their home. One beaver spent a good bit of time swimming towards us then looking at us and then swimming away only to return shortly to see us again.  I wish the lighting had been better so that I could post a picture.  The creature was clearly as curious about us as we were about it.

After the beaver we continued on and headed for the summit.  We were quite leisurely and arrived after four hours.  The whole trek up was beautiful and punctuated by flowers, streams, and wonderful weather.   It felt a bit odd to be up on the summit and done with a five year journey .  On the summit a group of four came up and the invariable 'How many have you done' question came up.  I wanted to avoid this topic because I've come to believe that asking this question sort of cheapens the experience.  Sorry to be a bit odd about it but I don't think the numbers of 14ers you've done or not matters much, what should matter is the experience and how you view it.  I've sort of come to hate that question because it seems a bit like a contest.  It might seem odd that I keep a site documenting what I do and still have this feeling but I do.  The number of peaks should be un-important, what should matter is the peak you are on at the time.  I've certainly not taken as much from it as I should have.  I also think people place an unreasonable emphasis on skill and numbers of these peaks done.  I know several finishers that shouldn't be allowed in the wild by themselves and have friends with a handful that are true alpinists.  Your experiences are the sum of your learning, doing,  understanding, skill, and judgment.  While the number of peaks done does sometimes loosely correlate to the above I wouldn't use it by itself in any way.  

If you read this, please do Capitol as your second to last 14er.  It is objectively hazardous, a bit nerve wracking and you don't want to end the journey with summit fever and nerves.  End it with something easy and beautiful that the people you hold dear can experience with you.

We headed down and took our time to take pictures and look for more beavers.  We got back to the car in just under seven hours. We were also fortunate enough to see a large eagle soaring over the valley right before returning to our truck.  It was a nice way to end the last of my 14ers. I started out doing the 14ers as a backpacker, became obsessed, a technical climber, dissilousioned by the 'List' and ended back up sort of where I started five years ago. How much of that is getting older and how much of that is the 14ers I don't know but it was a worthwhile goal. I've seen so much of the state and so many things that I wouldn't have if I had never done the peaks.

 I'll make a point never to do the centenialls because I think the very act of pursuing a list distracts from enjoying the pursuit.  Just enjoy yourself, try to not harm the natural world you are walking through, and be safe.  I guess if I had to start the whole process over again I'd try to spend more time enjoying what I was doing at the time and not thinking about numbers, the next peak, the next course, etc.  

It's been an interesting trip and I think finishing with San Luis is a good way to go.

Back To My 14'ers Page