The previous week (June 4, 2004), we had a good climb of Uncompahgre, so Mouser and I decided that we'd put Lindsey next on our early-season 14er tour. Uncomaphgre was fairly snowfree, but the view from the summit showed a LOT of snow on surrounding peaks, so we wanted to stay in southern CO. Plus, it's a shorter drive from Los Alamos (NM).
The drive up on Thursday night was uneventful, if you discount the internal excitement caused by an excess of beans and red chile at Joanna's in Espanola (Lesson: 12 hours before the climb, pasta=good, enchilada=bad.) The dirt road from Gardner to the trailhead is long in the dark, though! We spent a lovely (if short) night, bivvied in a meadow about 1.5 miles short of the trailhead.
6 AM, we get up. As always, dressing inside the sleeping bag (it's cold out there!) challenges my sleepy brain. Damn backpacking stove takes 15 minutes to cook our eggs, but it tastes good. We leave the trailhead at 7:10, accompanied by creaky joints and great views.
Both of us carried roughly 15-20 pound daypacks with full shell gear, 3L of water, lunch, and a few gadgets. I clipped on my lightweight snow axe, while Mouser elected to go with trekking poles instead of an axe. In retrospect, this is a good route for poles if you like 'em -- but I stand by what an older climber told me: always take an axe above 14K in Colorado.
The first mile of the route is unsettlingly flat, given the total elevation gain. Pretty, though. The river is full enough this time of year that the crossing was a little challenging. We were glad to find some logs to pick our way across on. Locating the right trail after the river crossing is nontrivial -- you're supposed to follow the river almost all the way to a creek that comes in from the left. After losing the trail in a snowbank, we bushwhacked up a talus slide (note: the trail DOES peel off the river right at this slide, but even on the way down, we lost it in a snowbank), and gained about 300 feet of elevation in very steep forest before finding the trail again. The trail is unclear and amazingly steep through this section, but it follows the creek quite closely, so it's hard to really get lost.
The trail and creek push above treeline around 11,600, and from here to about 13,000 feet it's pretty hard to get lost. We followed the trail as the valley broadened into a big, snow-patched bowl, then ascended straight up the side of Lindsey's NW ridge to the Lindsey - Iron Nipple saddle. All of our shell gear got donned along the way, since the wind was really howling -- I have a picture of Mouser leaning about 20-30 degrees into the wind at the saddle.
As we crossed the bowl below Iron Nipple, Lindsey came into sight... and we didn't like what we saw. This is probably the most imposing view of Lindsey from any direction. From the south, it looks moderate -- but from the trail, it looks like a steep, pyramidal monster. Worst of all, the ascent gully was clearly visible... 'cause it was chock full of snow. At this point, we really figured we would be forced to bail.
A straightforward trail leads up the east side of the ridge from the Lindsey - Iron Nipple saddle (out of the wind, thank goodness), right the base of the ascent gully. This is the point where we should'a taken the ridge route, but we didn't know about it. However, the standard couloir (while still steep and intimidating) looked more possible from close-up, so we headed up.
The less said about that choss-heap face, the better. I took the snow route, which was actually in very good condition (lots of deep snowcups), while Mouser seemed to have a fairly decent time scrambling on the right side of the gully. There IS solid rock on this route, but unfortunately it's all covered with a thin layer of crappy scree. At the top of the first couloir (the standard route actually links two separate gullies), we could see tracks leading across 50 feet of steep (50-degree) snow slope. We decided at that point to forget the route and just scramble to the top, which involved a lot of choss, swearing, and moderate 3rd class.
10 feet below the obvious summit, I turned to Mouser. "Ya know, there's supposed to be a false summit. But if this is a false summit, it's the most convincing `false' summit I've ever seen!" My next comment, about 15 seconds later, was four letters long, very loud, and unrepeatable. Let it suffice to say: this is the most convincing false summit I've ever seen. Fortunately, the traverse from the false summit to the real one is easy -- the worst that can be said is that it's awfully anticlimactic.
The Rest: 60 minutes on a surprisingly calm, sunny, and pleasant summit. Another 60 minutes downclimbing the unsurprisingly loose and horrible %!#@$&*! North Face -- did I mention it's a choss heap? Then, a leisurely hike down from the saddle (despite an extensive discussion of the rewards to be gleaned from Roach's "Extra Credit" ascents of Huerfano Peak and the Iron Nipple, dinner was already calling us). Running into 64-year-old "Hans the German Guy" down in the forest... who turns out to have the world record for the Most 100-mile Ultramarathons Run in a Year (this is true -- heard it from an unimpeachable 3rd-party source). Really, really big hamburgers at Carl's Jr. in Walsenburg. And, of course, the death-march drive back to Los Alamos in the dark.
SUMMARY & MAIN POINTS: I agree with the general thread re: Lindsey; this is a surprisingly challenging peak, and the "standard" route is nasty and dangerous. We had the route to ourselves (Hans took the ridge), but with other parties on the face, rockfall would be a major problem. Honestly, I'd rather climb Little Bear again -- at least the crux is very solid rock. Additionally, routefinding on Lindsey's upper 700 feet is difficult -- the only redeeming feature is that virtually the entire face is Class 3, so once you're off route, you can just keep scrambling up.