13 April 2010

San Luis Peak

San Luis Bench Mark1 July 2005

Dome LakeI was hopeful our climbing partner Andrea would write this trip report, but her husband Ferenc asked me to take the honors. He’ll likely be focusing his translation energy on the Wilsons, and Andrea is committed to composing a Hungarian version of San Luis. I hope I can capture the magic of her first 14er.

The Lizard and I had just finished Ride the Rockies. Ferenc has been cycling at least three days a week and climbing as many peaks as he could on weekends before he must leave the country again next month. Andrea, on the other hand, full-time mother of four, had just returned from two weeks at close to sea level in Hungary. The highest elevation her feet had ever taken her was about 2,000 feet.

We’d discussed potential peaks for her first climb for a couple of months and finally picked San Luis because it would be exciting for all of us – a new mountainscape and hopefully moose-laden territory.

Our drive to the trailhead from Denver took only five hours. We hit the fairly level trail about 5:30 a.m. and kept our eyes sharply on the beaver ponds the first couple of miles for any signs of movement. Alas, breathtakingly designed grassed terraces sporting occasional tufts of wildflowers were all the ponds displayed.

The weather was gorgeous the entire day. The wind was ferocious a couple of times, but never debilitating. A few puffy white clouds gathered distantly during the early afternoon, and smoke from the Utah fires blurred what might have been an excellent view of the San Juans, but the 10% chance of showers forecast played out in real life with a few scattered drops casting rings upon on the windswept surfaces of beaver ponds and Dome Lake on the drive out at the end of the day.

Sky pilot and San Luis PeakLanguage barriers make spending time with Ferenc and Andrea a continual adventure. Never a cliché moment! As we began noticeably gaining elevation, Andrea delighted us with her tales of wildlife sighted in Yellowstone… including a prairie wolf! As we passed by gardens of sky pilot, cinquefoil and marsh anemone, she asked the names of the colorful blossoms and described European equivalents. Apparently, forget-me-nots have long stems in Hungary.

Andrea began feeling the altitude as we cleared treeline, and I was soon to follow. Ferenc and The Lizard easily could have left us behind to sweep up Organ and still beat us to the summit of San Luis, but they patiently held our pace and eventually even our packs. Ferenc really, really, really wanted Organ. He actually drooled when we passed under the north buttress on the lower of San Luis’ three shoulders. But, he explained, as if convincing himself, he couldn’t leave Andrea because he didn’t want her to get discouraged.

Iris and Organ PeakKnowing Andrea’s fear of heights, I worried she might want to turn back when we left the Organ/San Luis saddle to begin the traverse on the mountainside. To experienced mountaineers, this is not steep at all, and what we were doing was not climbing but merely walking. Andrea, however, was uncomfortable with exposure. What would this do to her?

“I’ve made it this far,” she bravely announced. “I’m not turning back.”

Ferenc kept enthusiastically churning out, “Only 300 meters to go!” “Only 200 more meters!” “We’re almost there! Only 100 more meters!” Somehow, hearing how many meters of elevation remain as opposed to the same distance in feet seems to make the hardest part go so much faster!

San Luis Peak in AutumnThe funniest part of the day for me was just a few hundred feet from the summit, when I wobbled, and The Lizard assumed I needed to turn back. He asked me to take my “poles.” I thought he said “pulse.” So I checked my pulse, and jokingly told him I didn’t have one. I was dead. He wanted to turn back immediately, thinking I was delirious.

When I lost sight of Ferenc and Andrea circumnavigating the false summits, I assumed Andrea must have turned back. My heart sank. But then minutes later, I caught a glimpse of the two of them again between two of the lower sub-summits. She’d made it! She’d conquered her fear!!!

Happy AndreaAtop the summit, Andrea high-fived me and collapsed into Ferenc’ lap for a promised 30-minute nap. But she never slept. She excitedly bubbled about remembering this moment forever.

“Now I know why Feri likes to write trip reports,” she exclaimed while drinking in the view from 14,014. “Now I know why he wants to do this every weekend.”

So, will she do it again?

“Not a chance!” she moaned as she laid her head back to rest. “This was very hard for me.”

TuckeredI told her it was hard for me, too, just for different reasons.

“What was your first peak like,” she asked, intent and sincere. “Was it this hard for you?”

Yikes. I felt cornered. I didn’t want to give her any reason to NOT seek another peak. I hesitated before answering.

Longs was my first.” I almost winced as I whispered the answer.

“Oh.” She closed her eyes as if she was allowing fatigue to seize her soul, but then she let out one incredibly visible sour grimace. “I’m never climbing another mountain.”

Yep, that’s what I said, too. For a whole 48 hours!
San Luis Summit


  1. In reading your post and enjoying the photos I felt a strong sense of admiration for you and Lizard. You live in the center of a place you love and spend your free time biking or hiking through beautiful country. Better yet you share these wonderful experiences with those of us who can only enjoy them vicariously. Thank you.

  2. Great photos as usual :) I love the one with the cloud reflecting in the lake :)


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