July 9, 2011 - East Ridge via Nutras Creek
My better half had a business trip to Jackson, WY . . . so I elected to head in the opposite direction to the la Garitas of the San Juan Range. Tetons vs. Stewart Peak . . . some sort of a fundamental disconnect, well . . . the trips did not exactly overlap one another, hence no Jackson Hole for me.
I took to the road a bit later than I'd like to have but I did manage to clear Denver and enjoy daylight all the way from Cheyenne to Monarch Pass, not a bad stretch before dark set in. I made the turn south on Colorado 114 and after 20 more miles cut off the main road onto the county and forest service roads that lead to the Stewart Creek trail head. I caught all the requisite turns and after a solid hour of dirt roads in the dark, I was not only at the Nutras Creek trail head but was presented with an optimum camp site. It was 11 p.m. so I got the tent up and hit the sleeping bag with the alarm set for 5:30 the next morning.
The alarm went off too "early" (on time) and I was up and moving smartly up the Nutras Creek trail by 6 a.m. The trail runs the left side of the creek drainage, which at the start is wide and has many beaver ponds. Those who have done San Luis Peak from Stewart Creek would recognize the terrain and like Stewart Creek, I was looking for moose but seeing none. Regardless, the trail starts as the remains of a jeep road but the right hand track is pretty much gone at this point. An experienced hiker can see the remnant but for all it matters I was looking at a solid single track heading up the valley.
The valley narrows after a mile of so but the slope is tame, which told me that I would pay more dearly for the promised 3000 feet of elevation when the time came. After about 3 miles, a side stream entered from the right and the trail cut to the right, following the in feeder. I had a different plan, figuring to go further up Nutras Creek and then make a climb of the flank of the peak after I'd broken tree line. I crossed the side stream and looked for the trail to continue onward. I did not find a solid trail but was able to connect fairly obvious trail segments that would rise and fall on the wooded slope until I went far enough up Nutras Creek that the trees came to an end and willows filled the lower reaches of the valley.
Oh joy . . . I love willows. I found game tracks here and there, I pushed my way through here and there, I got stuck, I got scratched, I got ticked and frustrated, but after about 15 minutes I got through, cutting a 45 degree angle from the creek to break out of the willows at the last of some higher trees. Now I had only to take on the mountain's flank to gain the ridge . . . I continued on a route that passed through a last stand of trees here and there as I diagonaled up the flank in order to break the ridge about a half mile short of the summit.
Once on the ridge, I traversed the ridge, crossing patches of grass here and there but mostly crossing class 2 talus and holding shy of the occasional snowfield that occupied the ridge proper. The summit came after a number of ridge bumps and I soon enough took in the view of the La Garitas, including San Luis Peak and Organ Mountain. It had taken me three hours to make it to the top and I was in no hurry to make it back to the truck as I still had clear skies without the threat of a late morning monsoon storm. I chose not to return by the same route but instead I dropped off the summit and took a hard falling diagonal to a clear alley through the willows far below. I dropped down across the flank of the peak and hit the top of the open lane, the bottom of which deposited me at Nutras Creek. I headed downstream on a clear stream side game trail, a game trail that led me right into willow hell. The inbound willow bashing was tolerable, this one was a bear. I made my way through willow gaps, trail segments, solid willow walls and across bogs that wanted to soak my still dry feet. It came to an end after about 3 years and 6 miles, OK perhaps it was only a 20 minute adventure over a few hundred yards but you get the idea . . .
Once through the willows, I was back on a track, or segments thereof, until I hit the in feeder stream which put me back on solid trail. I made good time from that point until I was back at the truck, with one stop to look at the cow moose (without young) midway across the stream bottom, grazing in a beaver pond. This was my first La Garita moose, even after two trips up San Luis in the moose popular Stewart Creek drainage.