On the trail: Enjoying Colorado’s most isolated fourteener
September 27, 2011
LA GARITA WILDERNESS, Colo. – A fabulous summer in the mountains got punctuated in a major way for me Monday with a trip to what’s labeled Colorado’s most isolated fourteener, in one of the lesser known wilderness areas in the state.
Friend Bob Ward dragged me to the La Garita Wilderness for a trip up San Luis Peak. The hike is just a Class I climb, meaning it is the easiest. But, hey, anytime you’re hiking on steep slopes at high elevation it requires a fair amount of exertion.
The trip was 13 miles round-trip for us from where we camped. We were butted up against wilderness on a thin peninsula that accommodates a road. From camp, a valley that reminded me of Yellowstone National Park stretched to the horizon. Clumps of aspens in our vicinity were going through an identity crisis – running the gamut from already yellow to midsummer green. They intermingled with the deep green of lodgepole pine and, lest I guess wrong, let’s just say other evergreens. That mix of species and colors was ideal for leaf peeping even if it was only 25 to 33 percent of peak.
Up another valley ran Stewart Creek and poking above the dark timber were the pointy tops of San Luis Peak holding court with a handful of adjacent thirteeners. Lagarita means “the Lookout,” so it’s aptly named.
The hike was pleasant because it’s alongside a series of beaver dams covering roughly four miles of stream. The last couple of miles of trail climbs out of the valley and onto ball bearings and scree. The payoff is big with views of San Luis Valley, the Sangre de Cristo, the Collegiate Peaks and more. San Luis Peak itself is the northernmost of the majestic San Juan Mountains. We topped out at 10:45 a.m. and, after 10 minutes, were joined by one of only three hikers we saw all day.
The real fun of this trip was getting there and the isolation we reaped. Each of the few trail heads to San Luis Peak is at least two hours from a paved road, so you really have to make a time commitment.
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Our commitment came after a superb weekend of cycling. We traveled to Crested Butte on Friday and rode Doctor Park, one of our favorite trails, on Saturday. Then we explored the terrain of the Hartman Rocks area of Gunnison on Sunday. From there, it was 50 miles south to our destination in the La Garita Wilderness – deep into the heart of Colorado’s nowhere.