14,042 Feet (Ranked 43rd in CO)
North Face Route from Huerfano River/Lily Lake Trailhead (10,660 Feet)
August 16th, 2009
7.8 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: 3,400 Feet
Greenhouseguy (Brian), Ian, Derek (Derek), Todd (Zoomie83), Zach (Rockfarmer), and David (Jedrejcic)
Mt. Lindsey is situated in a high and rugged part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. Fourteeners Little Bear Peak, Blanca Peak, and Ellingwood Point are within a few miles, as are Centennial thirteeners California Peak and Huerfano Mountain. The mountain was named for Denver attorney and Colorado Mountain Club guide Malcolm Lindsey (1880-1951); it was known as Old Baldy until 1953. The first known ascent was by the Wheeler Survey members in 1875. The summit is on private property, but access is permitted on the north side from the San Isabel National Forest. The Huerfano River/Lily Lake Trailhead is generally regarded as a 4WD trailhead, but a 2WD vehicle can make it if driven carefully. You will, however, get some strange looks if you show up in a Saturn coupe!
Ian and I left Boulder after lunch and began the arduous journey towards Gardner. After we passed through the outskirts of town, we followed a Huerfano County Sheriff’s deputy in a Dodge Durango up FS 580. He crept along at about 5 m.p.h., and made no effort to let me pass him. The deputy had some business to conduct with some yahoos who had allegedly used firearms to intimidate some campers. We arrived at the trailhead shortly before sundown, and Todd, Derek, Zach, and David showed up just a few minutes later. The wind was howling, so we pitched our tents in the shelter of a small aspen grove. I had a hard time lighting my archaic stove in the brisk wind, but I managed to prepare a decent meal of freeze-dried spaghetti before we turned in for the evening.
My cell phone alarm brought closure to my futile attempts to sleep in the high wind. We suffered through all of the usual complications of gearing up in the dark, and I cooked a surprisingly good breakfast of freeze-dried scrambled eggs and bacon. We were on the trail in a matter of minutes, headlamps bobbing in the pitch-black forest. There were a few route-finding challenges in the dark, but Bill M.’s GPS track helped us stay on course.
We had no trouble crossing the Huerfano River in the dark. Several braided social trails on the east side of the river temporarily confused us, but they all seemed to converge within a few yards. Shortly after we crossed the river, we started to bear to the southeast, away from the river. We followed an unnamed tributary into a narrow, winding valley.
Higher up in the valley, we met 14ers.com member Clemsonmtneer and his partner. The rock wasting on the north side of the valley gave it a post-armageddon feel.
There was a beautiful, spacious basin at the head of the valley. Mt. Lindsey’s pyramidal summit began to appear above a ridge to the southeast. Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point came into view as we passed through the highest grove of stunted trees.
First look at Mt. Lindsey (the pyramidal peak on the left)
Crossing the basin was fairly easy, but ascending the side of the Mt. Lindsey/Iron Nipple saddle turned into somewhat of a grunt. We topped out on the saddle at about 13,100 feet, and took a break to weigh our options.
Mt. Lindsey was looking pretty wicked from this vantage point. Derek, Zach, and David were committed to climb the Northwest Ridge, while Todd, Ian, and I wanted to go for the North Face. The crux wall on the ridge looked intimidating, and the steep gully on the North Face looked virtually impassable. As we grumbled about the difficulty of our upcoming routes, I was reminded of the Marine Corps commercials from the early 1970’s that featured Lynn Anderson’s version of “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” It was about to get gritty.
Mt. Lindsey from the 13,100-foot saddle. The Class 2+ North Face route goes up the gully directly beneath the summit, while the Class 4 Northwest Ridge route follows the ridge on the right.
We could see Clemsonmtneer on the ridge above us as we headed towards the gully. Derek, Zach, and David left the trail and scrambled up to the ridge crest. The trail gradually faded away and we were left to determine the best route up the North Face.
Just below the entrance to the gully
The loose scree in the middle of the gully was miserable to walk on, so I immediately gravitated towards the mostly-solid rock on the right side. Ian would have been happy to abandon the gully altogether and scramble all the way to the summit; I thought that it was wise to remain in or near the gully in order to stay on route.
The gully was plenty steep, but it wasn’t as bad as it had looked from the saddle. We took a break when we came to a bump in the gully that Roach referred to as the “tiny col.” The gully above the col narrowed like an hourglass, and it looked like a bad idea to pass through the narrow portion. We took a fun-but-tedious scrambling detour around the constriction.
The upper part of the gully above what Roach called the “tiny col.” We stayed on the mostly-solid rock to the right through this entire section. This image illustrates the obvious rockfall danger in the gully.
Higher up, the cairned route bears to the left and leaves the gully. I missed the route, and stayed in the gully all the way to the ridge crest. It involved some scrambling near the top, but nothing that I would consider exposed or abnormally dangerous.
Once we broke out on the summit ridge, a trail led us the rest of the way to the top. It was a huge relief to be out of the gully!
We were apparently the first ones on the summit that day. Clemsonmtneer and his partner arrived a few minutes later, and the rest of our group showed up 35 minutes later. Since there was no huge difference in our group hiking speeds, I would assume that the Northwest Ridge route takes a little more time than the North Face route.
The wind that had battered us all night hadn’t relented, but we had been sheltered from it while we were on the north side of the mountain. It was fairly breezy on the summit, so I found a nice soft rock to sit on in the wind shelter. We could see the stark east faces of Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point, and Little Bear Peak barely showed itself to the south of Blanca.
Summit shot: (L to R) Todd, Derek, Brian, David, Ian, Zach (timer shot by Zach)
The North Face seemed like the most reasonable descent route. A cairn marked the point where we needed to drop down from the ridge into the gully. The descent was initially pretty easy, but it got steeper and looser as we progressed. One of us dislodged a large rock that gained an impressive amount of momentum before it shattered into smaller pieces. Clemsonmtneer had safely exited the gully ahead of us, but I could tell that the rock had his undivided attention.
We regrouped and took a nice long break at the bottom of the gully. Derek, Zach, and David all seemed to have preferred the solid rock on the ridge to the looser rock in the gully. Having to pay such careful attention to every handhold and foothold was exhausting.
Cruising down from the saddle was easy enough, but we still had a lot of altitude to lose. Dark clouds were threatening to spit on us, and we were still a couple of miles from treeline. Fortunately, the storm never developed.
The side valley that we used to reach the basin was really pretty scenic. I hadn’t seen much of it in the morning, since we started before first light. Wildflower season was definitely past its prime, but there were still occasional splashes of color.
Navigation around and across the river was much easier in broad daylight. The river was really no more than a creek by this time of the season.
Just before we got back to the trailhead, we passed through a brilliant green meadow with a spectacular view of Blanca Peak and the surrounding area. Judging by the number of pictures that we snapped, I’d say that this scenery left an indelible impression on all of us.
Parry’s Gentian (Gentiana parryi), first described by Charles Parry in 1862
Back at the trailhead, we reluctantly broke camp and headed back to civilization. Derek and Todd saw a large bear crossing the road on the way out; I saw nothing but jagged rocks conspiring against my oil pan. Mt. Lindsey may turn out to be the highlight of my 2009 hiking season; the hike was challenging, the views were exceptional, and the hiking partners were nothing but the best.