RT Length: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 3000’
Woohoo! Unexpected summit day! The only downside? The weather was terrible across the entire state of Colorado!!! I had a full day I could use for hiking (I didn’t need to be home until 6pm) but it seemed everywhere I looked there were storms forecasted for the night before and all day. The best forecast I could find was in the San Luis Peak area, where it was supposed to rain all night until 5am, then stop until noon (when thunderstorms would hit). I hate to waste an opportunity to hike, so I woke up at 11:45pm and drove 5 hours to the trailhead. It rained the entire way, from the time I left my house until I arrived at the Nutras Creek Trailhead at 4:45am. Oh, and I saw a bear as I was driving through Divide (high-tailing it away from me as fast as it could, why do they always run away?).
The road in is 20+ miles of 2WD dirt road, unless the Pauline Creek is high then it’s 4WD (it wasn’t). I absolutely love this road! It’s a great/solid 2WD dirt road that goes on for miles and miles and miles. I remembered to get gas in Salida this time since the gas station in Saguache is closed at night.
A plus to the rain? There were tons of puddles on the road in! I had fun aiming for them and watching the water/mud splash up past my rear view mirrors. Everyone should have a truck.
I made it to the Nutras Creek Trailhead and parked on the side of the road because what looked like the parking area had a couple of trailers set up and there wasn’t any actual parking available.
The trailers looked semi-permanent. I sat in my truck, eating Ritz crackers, waiting for the rain to stop. It didn’t. Hmmm. It was now 5am and I wanted to get on the trail, so I decided to set out anyway. It was just a light rain at this point and it was supposed to stop soon, what harm could it do?
There was a sign that said “Nutras Creek” directly over the bridge covering the creek. This is NOT the trailhead. After some searching I found the trailhead, located behind the trailers. When I arrived and parked the lights were off in the trailers, but as I passed them looking for the trailhead, swinging my flashlight back and forth trying not to make noise (there was a generator going, so I knew they were occupied and didn’t want to be seen as a prowler) l noticed the lights had switched on and I could smell coffee. There was a lot of logging going on in the immediate area. I figured they were either hard core early rising campers or loggers.
After last Friday’s fiasco with the GPX app I downloaded another one. Before beginning I started the track. Almost immediately the rain died down. I considered this a good sign and hoped the clouds would move so I could see the stars. No such luck. The clouds never lifted. Well… at least it wasn’t raining! That was a plus, right? Well, kind of. You see, it had rained all night, and the trail was covered in tall grass heavy with water. As I trekked I brushed past the grass and thus copious amounts of water droplets. Here’s a picture from later in the day
I’d worn my new hiking pants, which boasted they were water proof and bug proof. Let me tell you, they were NOT water proof/resistant/etc. I was immediately soaked: It was like I was wearing a cotton bandana instead of pants. I had on waterproof hiking shoes that I’ve trekked across numerous creeks with without getting my feet wet, but as I hiked today the water soaked through my pants, then my socks, and drained into my shoes. Within minutes I was squishing in my shoes as I was walking. This was not good on so many levels. I knew this meant I’d most likely need to turn back before summiting, but I drove this far: I wanted to at least get some hiking in. So I kept hiking.
There was a trail in the beginning, and then there was no trail. Then there was a trail again, but I couldn’t really tell if it was a trail? Then there were two trails…. Ugh! OK, just follow the creek to the right and you’ll be fine. After about 2 miles you have to cross the creek (it was a 2 foot jump but the area was full of brush so kind of hidden)
and then follow the creek again through a small boulder field. There is kind of a trail here, but if it’s not stable (a real possibility) hug the creek.
I turned back and noticed the sunrise! I love sunrises!
After the boulder field you’ll come across some bristlecone pines. At this point turn right (northwest) and make your own trail until you reach a ridge (above treeline). The area looks like this
There is no trail, but there are dozens of game trails, and after the rain I could see where elk had spent the night and left in the morning (I could tell due to scat and pushed-over grass). One you make it past treeline look left and you can see Stewart Peak. Theoretically. I couldn’t, because it was covered in clouds.
This wasn’t good. It wasn’t supposed to be cloudy!!! There was supposed to be a 50% chance of thunderstorms after noon, but none of the forecasts I’d seen said anything about clouds. 13ers and 14ers tend to make their own weather, and that’s just what was happening here. Clouds were forming in the saddle between Baldy Alto and Stewart Peak, rolling and settling at about 13,500’. I’ve seen this type of thing before, and hoped as the sun rose it would go away.
I turned and headed northwest, staying in the grassy area but aiming toward the ridge.
The clouds lifted and the sun came out! Woohoo! What a great turn of events! My feet were still squishing (I’d hoped they’d dry out by now, but there was so much water on the trail as soon as I started to dry off in an area without grass I’d pass another area full of brush and get wet again).
Once you gain the ridge follow it to the summit, passing a bunch of false summits
(or at least that’s what they looked like to me, but it could have been the clouds hiding the true summit… yep, the clouds were back).
Oh, and it started snowing. Ugh!!!
The snow didn’t look like it was going to stop (it didn’t) but I was close, so close to the summit! I decided to trudge on. Oh, and remember how my socks were filled with water? As I gained elevation and the temperature dropped the water in my socks turned to ice. Just as I was nearing the summit I lost all feeling in my feet (no worries, I have Raynaud’s, so I have intense reactions to cold and know how to handle them: I’m sure it wouldn’t have been such a big deal to anyone else). You know that feeling you get when your foot falls asleep and you try to walk but you can’t feel your foot so you’re clumsy and over step? That’s what this felt like. That feeling just before the pins and needles set in, but it didn’t end. And this is what I was walking on…
It was icier than it looks. And slippery. I was not a happy camper. I wasn’t prepared for ice/snow. Rain, yes (I had an umbrella, poncho, and my North Face Jacket) but snow? Nope. I needed warmer clothes. All I had warm weather wise were two pairs of gloves, a knit hat, and a heavy jacket. I needed better boots, socks, and pants. My pants weren’t keeping any heat in (or ice/rain/wind out for that matter) and my shoes were soaking wet. I carefully limped to the summit… but I made it at 7:50am.
I’d love to give you a better view, but this is what I got. I did see a confused ptarmigan at the summit
And despite not being able to feel my feet I wanted to continue on. It had been my goal today to summit Stewart Peak, Baldy Alto, and Organ Mountain. I’d gotten a good view of them from the basin and knew which way to go, but once I’d summited Stewart Peak this was my view
I knew to angle left/south, but I’d also see bits and pieces of the ridgeline(s) and figured in the clouds/fog it would be way too easy to get lost. Plus, I couldn’t feel my feet. I hiked about 20 yards towards the ridge and told myself not to be stupid: I turned back. I hate turning back!!! It hurts on so many levels, but it was the correct choice. On the positive side, heading back down meant sunshine, warmth, and eventually feeling in my feet and fingers again…
I kept seeing the clouds roll in and out and in and out and hovering around the peaks. Yes, descending had been the correct decision, but that didn’t keep me from mentally calculating time to figure out if I could skirt the ridge and still summit Baldy Alto… I actually had to stop myself from doing this after turning to try it out… reminding myself my feet would freeze again and I planned on coming back again soon.
Here’s the path back down the ridge
I was saddened by all the dead trees!
Once you get to treeline just head towards the creek and turn left.
The sun never came out, so once I made it back to treeline I was soaked all over again. Here’s one of the better trails
Oh, and the cows! One of the reasons there are so many trails are the free range cattle. I encountered a bunch of them on my way out. I’m a fan of cattle: I used to raise them. However, these cattle weren’t too fond of me. There was a lot of mooing, running as a herd (stampede! OK, not really) and one mama got separated from her calf and was quite vocal about it. I told her to go get her baby. None of this was intentional on my part: I was just hiking and following the trail, they were the ones taking it out of proportion. The downside? When cattle aren’t happy they poop. Immediately. And it’s sloppy poop. It’s some sort of defense mechanism. Fight or flight or some such nonsense (since they always run). In any event, there were slimy cow patties all over the trail, and while I tried to avoid them accidents happen. I had to wash my boots and pants as soon as I got home.
I made it back to my truck at 10:30am, making this a 10 mile hike in 5.5 hours.
Oh, and my GPX file failed. Again. Even though it was a different app. This time even though I started it the app failed to record anything. I may have to either give this up or bite the bullet and actually pay for an app. Or a GPS. Oh well. Here’s the path I took:
When I made it back to my truck I immediately took off my shoes/socks and did an assessment on my feet: they were bright red and almost done thawing out, but functional (and thankfully not white or black or purple). I’d been a little bit worried I’d caused them some damage with the frozen water (a quick complication of Raynaud’s).
I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit disappointed with my day. I’d planned on 3 summits, and only completed one. It’s not fun to turn back, but it was for the best. In any event, I was able to plan out my route for Baldy Alto and Organ Mountain (I’m thinking Nutras Creek again, up the saddle to Baldy Alto, and then over to Organ Mountain).
On a positive note, I got to drive that fun 2WD dirt road for 20+ miles back to the highway. In the light of day I could see the creek crossing and all the logging that’s been going on. Also, I waved to the loggers as I passed.
Oh, and the clouds never lifted, they just intensified. Yes, it was a good call to head back.
2 thoughts on “Stewart Peak – 13,988”
Love the sunrise photo with the gray clouds and the hint of blue sky ,and tree lined ravine.A picture worth framing . I’m glad you made the wise decision to call it a day because of the weather and those things that work against all your efforts to accomplish your set goals.Please don’t end up a fatality as I have seen on the net. It saddens my heart to know of their loved ones who more than likely will never see their faces again. Please keep your wisdom and knowledge intact as you seek new challenges.I would dearly miss your writings and pics.Your a very wise and conscious hiker and climber. Thank you Wild Wanderer and Lady Laura .