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Lizard Head
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Lizard Head

Lizard Head

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: Colorado, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 37.83600°N / 107.95°W

Object Title: Lizard Head

Elevation: 13113 ft / 3997 m


Page By: noahs213

Created/Edited: Nov 5, 2003 / Apr 19, 2013

Object ID: 152036

Hits: 34437 

Page Score: 93.78%  - 52 Votes 

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Lizard Head Peak just may be one of the most coveted summits in Colorado. It is one of the 637 13,000 ft peaks.It's one of the few summits in Colorado that requires a rope to get to it's summit. Add some history to that and it's a classic!

In Albert Ellingwood's words,

A rottener mass of rock is inconceivable. The core may still be solid but the "surrounding tuffs" are seeking a lower level in large quantities. This far-advanced disintegration was our greatest obstacle. Absolutely the whole surface of the rock is loose and pebbles rain down from the sides as readily as needles from an aging Christmas tree. In many places one could with one hand pull down hundreds of pounds of fragments, and occasionally we could hear the crashing of small avalanches that fell without human prompting.

Sunset at the Base of Lizard Head


Lizard 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 There

Get to Telluride one way or another. The peak is accessed by the Cross Mountain TH at Lizard Head Pass just west of town. There is a pullout. There is no winter closure as it's right off the highway. Follow the trail all the way to the saddle between Wilson and Lizard Head. Head straight up the cone until you arrive at the base, a corner.

Red Tape

No Red Tape. Leave no trace!

When To Climb

July 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!


Mountain Conditions

Additions and Corrections

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Viewing: 1-3 of 3    
Digglerrap' anchor work


Voted 4/10

Not sure if there are other options, but the rap' anchor we used (it puts you ~30' to the R of the standard route P3 start) totally sucked- it held for us to get down, but 2 attempts to pull our ropes were fruitless- I ended up prusiking back up to the anchor TWICE to try to free the lines, but each time, it was still totally impossible to pull them. We ended up leaving a rope left by an earlier party that I'd hoped to return to its owner, & just doing a single-rope rap' off of it (because it was impossible to free our own ropes). Extending the anchor over a prominent edge just below it with some additional chains/quick links, & using a dedicated rap' ring (instead of threading the ropes through 2 chain links would quite possibly do the trick). If a future ascent party familiar with anchor set-up could bring some additional hardware & do some modification, that would be a great community service.
Posted Jun 28, 2012 7:11 pm
Liba KopeckovaHistory of the climb

Liba Kopeckova

Voted 6/10

Lizard Head has an intriguing climbing history. At the time of its first ascent in 1920 by Albert Ellingwood and Barton Hoag, Lizard Head was probably the hardest rock climb then completed in the United States. Armed with three soft iron pitons, hemp rope, and nailed boots, Ellingwood and Hoag made a couple of abortive attempts on cracks near the SW corner before rounding the corner to the west face. Ellingwood reported that "most of the enticing small holds crumbled at the touch, and large masses of the loosely compacted pebbles would topple dangerously at a slight pull." In spite of the difficulties, they struggled up and placed two of their rustic pitons in the lower cliff, saving one for the higher cliffs.

After spending about a half hour on top of the summit, Ellingwood and Hoag began an epic descent. Ellingwood's rope became stuck on the lower cliff. As he shook it, a rock cam loose and hit him on the top of the head, almost knocking him from the wall. Hoag was also hit by rockfall but was on secure footing at the time. After more effort, they had to abandon the rope and begin down climbing. Ellingwood reported that Hoag "slipped and, leaving a section of this paint behind, drifted relentlessly downward until the wall became vertical and then jumped (perhaps 15 feet) to the rock below. I followed with more caution, regretfully saying goodbye to my rope that had served me well for five good seasons."

Elingwood and Hoag's climb was well ahead of its time. This is reflected in the comments of Harold G. WIlm who made the second ascent on June 9, 1929 with Dobson West. Referring to Elingwood, Wilm noted: At the time, it was considered an impossible feat, and little credence was given his performance by many who knew the peak. For some time, therefore, Dobson West and I had planned a second ascent, chiefly as a proof of his climb, but also as a mountaineering stunt of our own."

Wilm and West did in fact confirm the first ascent by retrieving Ellingwood's old rope and finding his old rusty pitons still in place. Several more ascents of Lizard Head were made during the 1931 joint outing by members of the Colorado and Appalachian Mountain Clubs. SInce the early efforts, interest in Lizard Head waned. The horror stories have taken their toll.

The first winter ascent of Lizard Head was made on January 18, 1970, by a strong party from Colorado Springs which consisted of Art Howells, Mike Dudley, Don Doucette, Chuck Behrensmeyer, R.J. Campbell, and Fletcher Smith. Although the first 100 feet of the climb had snow on all the hold, they made excellent time and got on and off the summit cone in about four h
Posted Jul 28, 2013 3:22 pm
noahs213Re: History of the climb


Hasn't voted

Hey Liba!

Any interest in taking over this page? I've seemed to run out of time. And haven't done much to the page in years. For one of CO most famed peaks, I think it should go into someone elses hand. Cheers!

Posted Aug 12, 2015 11:42 am

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