IntroductionLizard Head is a lofty volcanic pinnacle lying in the fabled San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. It has a number of accolades: it is a 13,000+' volcanic pinnacle (how many of those can you think of?!); it's surrounded by numerous 14,000 ft. peaks; it is in one of the most beautiful regions of the Colorado Rockies; there is no non-technical way to its summit; and it has a storied climbing history.
While many know of Lizard Head's existence, to reach its exclusive summit is an honor only earned by a select few. The easiest way up the formation is a 5.8 traditional rock climbing route, and the rock is far from perfect (or even reasonably good, for that matter). Its first ascent was achieved by Albert Ellingwood, quite possibly North America's greatest climber of his time, and was one of the most difficult ascents in the Americas at the time. Modern climbers with nylon ropes, sticky rubber, a good understanding of time-honored crack climbing techniques, and spring-loaded camming devices will have a difficult time imagining ascending the spire without any of these, as Ellingwood did (!!).
If you find yourself at the top of this pinnacle at some point in your life, count yourself fortunate for joining a relatively small group, not to mention being in a very special, unique, and beautiful little part of the world.
OverviewLizard Head Peak has been known as Colorado's hardest summit to reach as the easiest route is 5.8+. It stands out as a big pinnacle shooting into the sky. It almost looks like a desert tower except that it's at over 13,000 feet and the rock isn't great. The top 500 feet of Lizard Head is a near vertical pillar. Heavy erosion leaving whats left of an ancient volcano. That being said, the rock is not Yosemite like. Many that have done it, never return again due to that factor. I would do it again though! It ain't that loose, as storied. The summit is the best in Colorado in my opinion. Lizard Head also has a bit of history.
There are at least 3 routes in it's south face. The standard route is what everyone uses though and the other routes, expect massive amounts of choss. There is potential for new routes if that's your sort of thing. New routes would be steep, loose, run out, and probably require some aid.
Getting ThereThe most straightforward access to the spire is via Cross Mountain Trailhead, approximately 2 miles west of Lizard Head Pass, and 17 1/2 miles from Telluride.
From Telluride, go to the state route 145 north/south split. Go south (L) along state route 145 (San Juan Skyway) for 14.0 miles (past Lizard Head Pass) to Cross Mountain Trailhead.
From the southwest: from Cortez, go to the state route 145 junction and follow 145 north for about 57 miles to the same location.
Hike the Cross Mountain trail (#637) approximately 3 miles to its intersection with the Lizard Head trail, at the base of the formation.
Alternately, it is possible to get to Lizard Head from the trailhead at Lizard Head Pass (Lizard Head Interpretive Site); the Lizard Head trail (#505) goes to the base of the ridge, then follows it west to the base of the pinnacle.
Take the talus cone to the formation's base, using the faint trail if you can find it. Go to the obvious corner marking the start of the standard route.
Red TapeLizard Head lies fittingly in the 41,193 acre Lizard Head Wilderness, set aside by Congress in 1980 within the San Juan & Uncompahgre National Forests. In addition to Lizard Head, fourteeners Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente, as well as numerous other 12,000'+ peaks lie within the wilderness area.
The following regulations apply to all Wildernesses within the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, & Gunnison National Forests (this more or less from the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, & Gunnison National Forests website):
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is prohibited. This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters. Wheelchairs suitable for indoor use are exempt.
Be aware, there is a "Region 2 Wilderness Use Restriction, Special Order" ("Possessing or using a wagon, cart, wheelbarrow, bicycle, or other vehicle (Including “game carts”)") in effect as well, ha ha.
Weed Free Feed is required on all national forest lands in the Rocky Mountain Region.
A summary of the most applicable rules pertaining specifically to climbers in Lizard Head Wilderness is as follows:
• A maximum of 15 people, or a combination of 25 people/livestock, is permitted at one time.
• Fires are not permitted within 100 ft. of any lake, stream, or National Forest System trail; above treeline; or within Navajo Basin
• Don't shortcut a switchback in a trail.
Full regulations specific to Lizard Head Wilderness can be found here.
When To ClimbJuly to early September is the main season for climbing Lizard Head Peak. The snow is gone. That being said, take my advice and get a late start. The route is in the shade in the morning and is bitter cold. Some have got frost bite in the summer. You don't want to get too late of a start though. Make sure your off the summit by 11 or 12 at the latest as this would be one nasty place to be with lightning.
Winter on Lizard Head Peak is more of a challenge, if doing it in the summer is not hard enough. It involves a large dose of suffering. Climbing in double boots and gloves is a must making the climb feel a bit harder then 5.8. No ice screws needed as there was no ice just snow covered rock. The summit has been one of my favorite experiences in the winter in CO. That being said, I only know of one or maybe two parties climbing it in the winter in the history. It's a bit more serious but well worth the effort!
Additional Resources• Lizard Head Wilderness area website
• Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, & Gunnison National Forests website
• National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated Map ™ to Telluride, Silverton, Ouray, & Lake City
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