NW Ridge from Lily Lake TH
Saturday August 25, 2007
After work Friday night I drove way south down I-25 and took the Red Rock Rd exit about 5 miles north of Walsenburg and headed west (right) to route 69 north (right) and to the small town of Gardner. Seeing as how it was nearly 11:00 pm, Gardner was sound asleep as I drove through and on to the Nat. Forest Service sign for Lily Lake TH and a left hand turn heading due west. From this sign it’s nearly 23 miles to the TH at the very end of a long dirt road; dirt road (580) is in very good condition and 2-wheel drive vehicles have little trouble reaching the TH.
The weather was absolutely perfect and the moon and stars created shadows on the ground as I made ready to sack-out in the topper of my Sonoma. There were two other vehicles at the TH and I was really tired and soon fast asleep; it was just after midnight.
I was awoken about 4:00AM by a small truck and two guys making ready to hit the trail. I had planned to awake at 5:00 (set my watch alarm) and start up the trail at 6:00. However, soon after these two guys started up the trail I got up and made a short breakfast, readied my pack, donned my headlamp and started up the trail at 5:10AM.
The darkness was complete and the stars above so endless that the sky seemed almost misty and the Milky Way was like a painted swath across the heavens, I’m never bored by such sights and it’s an uplifting feeling to experience. Way gorgeous.
After a very short distance I reached the registry and signed-in, the trail then descends down a road of sorts and I soon reached an open meadow. Directly in front was an awesome view of the Sangre de Cristos with Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point unmistakably silhouetted against the skies. The sounds of rushing and gurgling water were all around as I headed back into the black forest, the trail was very confusing and a couple of large downed trees didn’t help. I crossed either the same creek many times or many small creeks along the way, with the rushing sound of Huerfano Creek on my left. Shortly after the Lily Lake sign pointing right as I went straight I crossed Huerfano Creek on some rickety logs and then crossed Huerfano Creek (I think) again as I headed up a large valley.
Little did I know, but at this juncture I was now on the wrong trail and heading due west towards Blanca Peak. I should have looked for the trail to turn left after crossing Huerfano Creek instead of crossing it again; like I said the trail confounded me in the dark and my eyesight isn’t the best to begin with. Up the valley I went until I reached an old abandoned mine on my right with two old boilers and stacks of cord wood for fuel. Here I rested briefly and stored-away my headlamp as the day was dawning, five large deer greeted my arrival and the lush valley with the peaks all-around was a spectacular sight.
I then continued up the thin trail that was all but consumed by the lush, green growth and made my way right of the creek and up along the side of a hill on the right, here were four more large deer. I rounded the hill and here saw two huge Big Horn sheep crossing a large boulder field on the left. At this point I knew that this couldn’t be the right way as the trail all but disappeared. I looked back over my left shoulder and saw Iron Nipple way up and began my retreat back the way I came, I had probably hiked a good mile and a half the wrong way! Although I regretted the extra miles and footsteps, a certainly didn’t regret the scenery; Colorado at it's beautiful best.
Backtracking all the way to where the trail crosses the creek took a bit of extra time and it was nearing 8:30 when I finally got on the correct trail for Mt Lindsey. This trail is quite obscure and loaded with rocks and tree roots as it climbs steeply in places to the left of yet another rocky creek. There is a rectangular mine entrance about half way up this gully across on the right as I hiked on the crooked trail higher up to where it then crosses the creek and I climbed up to where it breaks out above tree line. Here I saw a large herd of juvenile big horned sheep and before me was a vast opening where I could clearly see the trail heading up to the right of Iron Nipple and on up to the saddle between Iron Nipple and the approach to Mt Lindsey. Mt Lindsey stands pointy and tall beyond the saddle, and Blanca Peak & Ellingwood Point dominates the view to the right.
The sun was now high in the sky and making things much warmer as I crossed the large open tundra with many marmots and grasshoppers along the way. I paused to remove my leggings and get into short sleeves to make the ascent up along the trail as it climbs up in a series of small switchbacks, around a rock outcropping, and then up on to a rocky approach to the saddle. I was now following two groups of two people through the saddle and up a traverse to the left of the ridge. Ahead I could see a steep gully with two people reaching the top and also two people about midway up moving in single file. A rather stiff breeze was helping to cool things down.
Going up the gully was very loose with lots of broken rock and testing every hand and foot hold was most essential to keep from breaking something loose and staying to the right of the scree-filled center section was the only way to go. I was glad to see how the others had approached this part and it made the route finding better for me. I took things slowly through this area and waited until the last two had cleared the top before heading up. Two guys were now heading back down I as got to the top and we bid our a dues as I found another shorter gully ahead with much the same conditions and procedures before finally gaining the summit ridge and a faint trail. One person was heading back towards me and said the summit was about 10 mins more. The trail becomes much more defined and I reached the summit at 11:30 sharp.
Met up with a guy and his son from Littleton and we took each other photos and exchanged pleasantries for a little while before they started back down and I had the summit to myself for about another 10 mins. The weather was ideal and the views amazing as I found this to be a very pretty peak with the mountains north & south and the plains & San Luis Valley east & west respectively. I signed the summit log, took several photos, a long drink and a bite to eat before heading back down at 11:50.
I passed 5 other people heading up as I went down and I hiked with the guy and his son for a little while as the day was very warm once I got back down to the tundra area. I enjoyed the beauty and took more photos along the way as the weather remained perfect. I was glad to get back into the trees and the shade as I’d had about enough sun for one day, and I dipped my hat into the creek and cooled myself off some before the last push back down to the TH. I reached my truck at 2:48PM after a rather long day on the trail, my 31st 14’er……..sweet!!