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Sunrise from San Luis Peak

Sunrise from San Luis Peak, La Garita Wilderness, Colorado

Sunrise from San Luis Peak, La Garita Wilderness, Colorado

San Luis Peak, the highest peak in the La Garita Wilderness, is one of the most isolated of the Fourteeners. Just reaching the Steward Creek trailhead south of Gunnison requires more than 25 miles of driving on dirt roads. The peak itself poses no technical challenges, but the trailhead is low and the trail long, so I packed in through three miles of beetle-killed spruce and camped. The forecast called for a 70 percent chance of rain that night. Fat drops drummed intermittently on the tent roof for several hours after sunset, but all was quiet when my alarms sounded at 1 a.m. Before I could get rolling, however, the rain resumed. Since I was camped in dense timber, I was safe from lightning, and I decided to hike up to timberline and check the weather there.

Fortunately, the rain eased off before I started hiking. At timberline I doused my headlamp and paused to let my eyes acclimate to the dark. Time for a decision: do I venture upwards into the night or wait for more stable weather? As my eyes adjusted I saw that stars filled the night sky. Just as I was congratulating myself on my good fortune, a single flash of lightning – or rather, the glow from the flash, since the stroke itself was hidden behind a ridge – ignited the sky to the north. I heard no thunder, however, and couldn’t see storm clouds blotting out the stars, so I decided to head upward cautiously. Periodically I paused, turned off my headlamp, and searched the night sky for ominous onrushing clouds, but the night remained calm and clear. I reached the summit at 5 a.m., one hour before sunrise and exactly on schedule.

As the light came up I could see a rain shower to the north, beyond Stewart Peak. The high, rolling mountains of the La Garita Wilderness were very green. Expansive fields of tundra crept high on the flanks of the peaks. The light at sunrise was spectacular, with clouds to the north and east lighting up in turn. As dark and threatening clouds began forming to the west, I headed down to my campsite, then back to my truck. I had just three peaks left in my epic seven-year Sunrise from the Summit project.

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