Mount Lindsey LoopBrad's Outdoor Adventures
Mount Lindsey (14,042 feet), “Huerfano Peak” (13,828 feet), Iron Nipple (13,500 feet)
Class 2-4 with some snow
Distance (round-trip): abt 9.6 miles
Elevation Gain: abt 4,600 feet
The wind was howling, and it was difficult for me to leave the comfort of my jeep at three in the morning. So, I slept in. The wind was still gusting at 5 AM, but at least I would not need a headlamp for my approach. I threw on my pack and started up the Lily Lake Trail. Almost right away I came into a meadow with great views of the Sierra Blancas, and I could tell I was going to enjoy hiking through this valley.
I had carried my flip flops with me in case the creek crossing would require wading, but I found a half-submerged log dam for passage. It was not the most stable crossing, but with the aid of my trekking poles I made it across with dry feet.
Mount Lindsey from Iron Nipple
Continuing along the climber’s trail in the forest of evergreens, I found myself once again enjoying the smell of the great outdoors. Before long, this trail turned left and angled uphill alongside a huge boulder field. As promised, this trail became steep quickly, and it included several log crossings. It did not take long to get to the other side of the slopes, next to the upper creek. The trail remained steep, but I found myself enjoying the rising view of the mountains around me, as well as the rushing creek and cliffs right next to me.
Eventually, the trail led across the creek to the top of a small ridge, then out of the trees and into the serene upper basin below Mount Lindsey and Point 13,100. Here I was met with eye-popping views of Blanca and Ellingwood, as well as my first view of Lindsey’s upper pyramid and the Iron Nipple.
As I walked along the pleasant trail, I noticed three dogs ahead of me. They spotted me a moment later, and came running at me with some growling and loud barks. As they approached, I could tell I was not hallucinating: these were the same dogs I encountered twice at Willow Lake a few weeks earlier, during my Kit Carson climb! This time I just kept walking, and as they ran to me I put out my hands and spoke calmly to them. They sniffed and growled suspiciously, but as I continued walking they started to follow me and lick my hands. In fact, they walked with me for several hundred yards before retreating to their master’s tent. Guess I made some new friends.
The trail switch-backed steeply up a grassy ramp to the ridge, then finally led across some talus to the saddle between Mount Lindsey and Iron Nipple. Here, the wind was howling, as I expected. However, as I walked a few steps below the saddle on the east side, the wind was almost nonexistent. Also, I was able to enjoy the sunshine for the first time. I sat down to apply some sunscreen and don my climbing helmet. Meanwhile, another climber caught up with me and we talked for several minutes. He was Ursidae (14ers.com alias), and he was also planning on climbing Lindsey’s northwest ridge. He remained at the saddle, waiting for his friend to catch up, as I began across the trail toward Mount Lindsey.
Indeed, the crux wall of the northwest ridge looked intimidating, but from all I had read, I knew it would not be so bad once I arrived at its base. Meanwhile, I enjoyed some scrambling over the slopes leading to the base of this wall.
Amazingly, I made my way half way up the wall before I even realized I was on it! The wall certainly was not as steep as it appeared from afar, save for the upper half of it. Unfortunately, I was unaware that I had already bypassed the easiest routes across it. I could have easily stepped back down a few steps and found one of the easier routes, but I thought the only way up the wall was above me. At first, I almost settled on a 5th class crack leading to the very top. However, the first move would have been committing, and I was uncertain about how technically difficult the upper portion was. It looked tough.
Looking up and to my left, I found a nice 4th class wall leading up to a ledge. This is the middle of three routes Bill Middlebrook describes on his 14ers.com route description
. As I climbed the wall, I was surprised to find only a few easy 4th class moves were required to reach a ledge. There was a cairn here, and a series of ledges leading around the steep slopes near the crest of the ridge. I followed the ledge a short distance, then decided to save some distance and climb some slabs back to the ridge crest. This unnecessary shortcut ended up being the crux of my climb.
From there, I continued on or near the ridge crest, before long joining the trail of the standard route. I came to the promised false summit, and it was an easy romp from there to the true summit of Mount Lindsey. I arrived at 9:30, and huddled in the little stone shelter for protection from the gusty winds. Before long, Ursidae joined me. His partner had turned back and would meet him later.
As we sat at the summit, our conversation went something like this:
: Don’t you sign the summit register?
: No, I forgot on the first 15 14ers, and after that I just decided it was no use. Now I am on #30.
: Really? Me too. When did you arrive in Colorado?
: Really? What month?
: Really? Me too!
: But I didn’t climb my first fourteener until 2004: the Decalibron.
: The Decalibron was my first climb in 2004, also!
Ursidae negotiates snow field on north face
About that time we both checked our cell phone reception. We had identical phones with the same service. Weird.
We stayed at the summit until ten o’clock, the first ones there for the day. We decided to hike down the standard north face route, and I was very curious to see what all the fuss is about. In fact, the downhill hiking was quite pleasant for the most part. There were a few loose rocks to beware of, but much of the difficulties were covered by steep slopes of snow and ice. Fortunately for us, most of these sections already had good footprints entrenched in them, allowing easy progress. Still, you would not want to slip from them.
On either side of the gully, there were usually other options of solid rock for some easy downhill scrambling. Several times, we chose to follow these solid ribs so as not to knock any rocks down on climbers below. Half a dozen people (including the lady and the three dogs) passed us on their way to the summit. Most of them were not wearing helmets.
We did come across an unavoidable scree slope at the bottom of the gully, where we pretty much skied our way down to the horizontal trail. From there it was an easy walk to the saddle. Overall, I would prefer that gully route to scree monsters like Bross or Challenger, but I am sure it can be worse when there is no snow.
Sierra Blanca Scenery
(3) California Peak
(4) Marmot's View
(5) Green to Gray
"Huerfano Peak" and the Iron Nipple
At the saddle, we parted ways, as my itinerary was not done for the day. After eating a sandwich, I started across the other side of the saddle to the Iron Nipple. My first goal was to make it to the summit of Point 13,828 “Huerfano Peak,” but after climbing through the notch next to the Iron Nipple, I neglected to find the proper route to the talus field. No big deal, I just gained some unnecessary elevation and had to cross over the summit ridge of the Iron Nipple en route. The talus field to follow was unpleasant and time-consuming, but the grassy slopes to Huerfano Peak made up for the time spent.
Iron Nipple and Huerfano Peak
I arrived at the lonely summit of Huerfano Peak at 12:10. The wind here was fierce, and I did not stay long. I turned back around and followed the ridge all the way back to the Iron Nipple’s summit ridge. Here I ran into a group of guys who had just made it to the summit of Mount Lindsey and were also headed toward Huerfano. We made our way to the summit proper of Iron Nipple, a worthy stop in its own at 13,500 feet. In fact, this summit involved a short but fun scamper, and with some of the best views of the day!
Again, the wind was nasty, and I did not stay long. I left the summit at one o’clock, and completed the short hike back to the Nipple-Lindsey saddle. From here I did not stop much, except to get water and talk to some of the late-day climbers who were just starting up toward Mount Lindsey.
I returned to my scenic campsite at the Upper Huerfano Trailhead at 3:30, and admired the view one last time before heading home.
Looking back, I had underestimated the beauty of this hike ahead of time. Though these mountains are abrupt compared to the surrounding flat landscape, I had no shortage of picture-taking opportunities throughout the hike and climb. Blanca Peak in itself was a sight to behold, and the green contrasting valley was lush and beautiful. On my drive to the trailhead the night before, I had encountered dozens of deer and elk. On top of all that, the climb in itself was a fun one, and I ended up having great company. I even made friends with the dogs this time!