Mt. Lindsey (14,042 ft.) viewed from the route up Huerfano Peak
Chris is my original hiking buddy. From when I first started hiking not too long ago, he has been a constant and consistent companion. Even though we are not able to get out and hike together as much as I’d like to, he has always been a solid and dependable friend who is willing to push his limits with me. I am thankful and appreciate that he trusts me enough to allow me to show him places that wouldn’t normally be inside his comfort zone. That kind of trust doesn’t come from just anybody; it’s a bond that is developed through years of experiences together or because of kindred spirits. I have not lead Chris astray and after years of hiking and climbing together, I feel I have a pretty firm grasp of what he’s capable of doing.
Mt. Lindsey, while not the most difficult 14er in the Sangre de Cristo Range, offers climbers a 3rd Class experience with a 4th Class move or two thrown in for good measure via it’s northwest ridge. After almost an entire summer of climbing Class 3, 4, and even a low Class 5 pitch, my confidence has reached a place that I never felt it would be. Climbing Crestone Needle the week before with Jodi was a lot of fun and, like Chinese food, it left me hungry for more. About mid-week before the climb, I had no plans and Lindsey’s northwest ridge came up as a last resort. I sent Chris an email and asked if he wanted to join me; I had invited him to join Jodi and me the weekend before, but a hamstring injury he sustained while playing softball kept him sidelined. He checked his schedule, cleared it with his wife, Julie, and the trip was set. I also advised him that if the weather was nice and we were feeling good, I wanted to try and summit Iron Nipple (sorry, folks, I don’t name them, just climb them ) and “Huerfano Peak” (the quotations are because although it is one of the Centennial Peaks, it is not officially named this). Chris would drive to my place from his home in Monument and we would leave from here. I wanted to leave at 1:30 AM as I knew from previous trips to the area that it took right about three hours to reach the trailhead.
Taking I-25 south to Walsenburg, Chris and I couldn’t believe how warm it was outside. Once south of Pueblo and approaching Walsenburg, the outside thermometer in my truck was reading 78°. We stopped at a convenience store so I could pick up a sandwich to take with me before heading north to Gardner. From Gardner, the trailhead is about twenty-one miles west of Hwy 69. We arrived there at almost exactly 4:30, strapped on our packs, stretched a bit, and hit the trail.
I led Chris on the semi-dark trail. A nearly-full moon illuminated our surroundings and was quite beautiful! Chris turned off his headlamp for a little while and walked the trail by moonlight. Once back under the tree canopy, though, he turned it back on. The trail is nice and relatively flat for the first mile or so and was pleasant to hike on. Once we reached the Huerfano River, I stepped carefully across it while trying to maintain my balance with trekking poles. I still ended up stepping into the water though. Chris attempted to do the same northwestsans trekking poles) and slipped a little before stepping into the water. He quickly reached the other side and winced. I asked him if he was alright. He indicated that he may have re-aggravated his hamstring injury. I was concerned by this and told him that I didn’t want it to get any worse. If he felt that he needed to go back to the truck, it would not be a big deal to me. We waited for a few minutes, Chris stretched his hamstring for a bit, and indicated that he wanted to continue on. I asked him to let me know if it got worse. I don’t think Julie would be very happy with me if he returned home in worse condition than when he left!
As the trail meandered and weaved through the darkened tree canopy, we lost it a couple of times. There was a minute amount of backtracking involved to locate the correct path, but we were always able to find it. The trail eventually parallels Nipple Creek and climbs steeply on its southeast bank. It was around here that I lost the trail for a few minutes. We hiked up a steep, grassy slope to get back on trail. I asked Chris how his hamstring was doing and he replied, “I don’t know how much more of that I can do.” I needed to be more careful about staying on-trail.
We crossed over Nipple Creek and the trail climbed steeply through thinning trees as we approached treeline. While not up quite yet, the lightening of the eastern horizon provided us with enough illumination that we were able to turn off our headlamps. Once we rounded the top of a hill, I called Chris’ attention to our west. It was his first time seeing Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point from this close of a distance and I immediately knew that he was as taken-in by them as I was when I first did this hike back in 2008. The east face of Blanca is one of Colorado’s greatest mountain walls and is awe-inspiring. Descending into a basin, we watched as sunrise illuminated some clouds behind Iron Nipple to our left, then saw first light on Blanca and Ellingwood. I stopped to take photos of both. Again, I asked Chris how his hamstring was feeling. He indicated that it was a little sore, but not enough to prevent him from continuing.
Chris and I crossed the basin and began ascending the trail up to Lindsey’s northwest ridge. From my previous trip, I knew that we needed to first gain the saddle between Lindsey and Iron Nipple. The standard route up Lindsey involved a nasty Class 2+ scramble up a gully filled with loose soil and rocks. When I summited the peak the first time, I spent about five minutes trying to scramble directly up the gully before abandoning it and climbing the more-solid Class 3 rock to the right of it. It was not an enjoyable route for me in the slightest (I was also a lot fatter back then) and know a lot of people echo that sentiment. I had heard so many great things being said about the northwest face by comparison, though. The closer we got to the saddle, the more excited I became. Chris advised me, though, that while hiking didn’t seem to be aggravating his injury too much, it might be a different story once we started climbing the ridge. He graciously said that if it came to that, he would hike back down into the basin and wait for me. I didn’t feel right about the thought of abandoning him and going off by myself, but we still had some time for him to make that decision.
We exchanged greetings with a couple of hikers that we passed along the way to the saddle before continuing on. When we reached the saddle, we were bathed in warm sunlight and took a moment to rest. To our right was the false summit of Mt. Lindsey — sometimes referred to as Northwest Lindsey. The actual summit of Lindsey wasn’t viewable from there. We also clearly saw the Class 4 crux wall along the northwest ridge. From the saddle, it does appear foreboding. I’ve illustrated this photo to show the location of the crux. When Chris asked how we were going to get up and over that, I just told him, “Very carefully,” and assured him that it isn’t normally as bad as it looks from afar or in photos. It was apparent that he was nervous about climbing it, but made no indication that he wanted to turn around. He was placing a lot of faith in me to be able to get him up and down safely. The climb was going to be challenging for him; the most difficult peak we summited previously was Longs Peak. I wasn’t going to let him down, though!
Chris and I hiked along Lindsey’s standard trail for a few minutes before I checked our location on my GPS. Apparently, we overshot the turn-off to gain the ridge, but the rock just to our right looked extremely climbable. We stopped to don our helmets; it was going to be mostly Class 3 most of the way to the summit from there. Once our helmets were in place, we began to climb up the solid rock and a few minutes later found ourselves atop the ridge. The crux wall seemed to stare us down with an evil eye. Chris asked again how we were going to get up it. I reassured him that once we got to it’s base, it isn’t going to look that bad. He followed my lead as we headed up the northwest ridge.
A photo that Chris took of me on the way up the northwest ridge
I had originally wanted to stay a little bit higher on the ridge. There were a few short, exposed ledges which would have allowed us to stay high and not have to lose elevation. I called Chris’ attention to the ledges and he said that he would be uncomfortable crossing over a gully up high. I wanted him to have good memories of the trip (not terrifying ones), so I told him we could descend into the gully below us and cross low. Once in the gully, another one loomed ahead of us. It was the gully that led to the crux wall. Chris asked me how close he should be to me. I told him that he should be close enough to see where I’m placing my hands and feet and would be able to spot him if he needed some assistance finding a correct route up. I, in turn, would need to temper my ascent speed. He was doing fine so far, so I wasn’t too concerned about it. In years past, I had troubles keeping up with him, so it was an odd position for me to be in, but I also knew the hamstring injury was hindering him as well.
A few photos of Chris scrambling up the gully beneath the crux wall
Once at the top of the gully, Chris and I continued to climb up some great Class 3 rock. I saw that Chris’s confidence was slowly growing; this was the most sustained climbing that he had done and didn’t seem too bothered by his hamstring. Despite this, I new he was also growing nervous about the most difficult section of our climb. I stopped a couple of times to take photos of the route above us and allow us some time to rest. We were nearing the crux wall and it wouldn’t be long before we had to choose our route to get over it. After about ten minutes or so of climbing, we found ourselves staring up at the crux wall.
The Class 4 crux along Mt. Lindsey’s northwest ridge
According to the route guide, we had three options on how to get up and over the crux wall. We could go straight up it, to the right of it, or to the left of it. I initially chose the direct route up it. Chris decided to try and climb a route to the left of me, but still straight up. I found myself above him, but I could not see what he was climbing on due to a small rib between us. I asked him how his route was looking, but he didn’t sound very hopeful. I was not having much luck, either, and was running out of hand and foot holds. Looking over to my left, I instructed Chris to climb down from where he was and climb the wall off to the left side as the rock seemed to have more ledges. I down-climbed from my position and quickly scrambled up so I could spot him. The route over the left side of the crux wall proved to be an easier choice and once over it, we both found ourselves scrambling back over to the top of the wall without much difficulty. The rest of the ridge to the summit of Northwest Lindsey was before us. It was basically going to be a Class 2 walk-up to it, then over to the true summit of Mt. Lindsey.
Looking over at the summit of Mt. Lindsey from the direction of Northwest Lindsey
Once we walked onto the summit of Northwest Lindsey, we stopped for a few minutes and I heard Chris breathe a sigh of relief. The difficult climbing was over. Mt. Lindsey was only a short walk away, so we quickly strode over to it and sat down for a well deserved rest. I turned on my phone and found that I had full cell service up there. I called Julie and let Chris talk to her for a few minutes before breaking out some snacks. Of course, I couldn’t leave without a few summit shots.
Blanca, Ellingwood, and Little Bear
Chris looking cold on the summit (it was a bit nippy)
Iron Nipple (l) and Huerfano Peak (r) viewed from Mt. Lindsey
Panorama taken from the summit of Mt. Lindsey
We must’ve been on the summit for about 20-25 minutes before the hikers that we passed on the way up arrived. Chris and I packed-up our thinks, bade them farewell, and headed back down. Chris wanted to take the standard north face gully down, so we started descending that way. It wasn’t long before we encountered more hikers. For the most part, we stayed along the Class 3 rock on our left until we got down to the col (notch) at the top of the real nasty gully. We crossed over to our right and descended the rock there while avoiding some hikers that were coming up. One of them had a dog that knocked loose some rocks that fell down the gully. Luckily, it didn’t cause too big of a slide, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be under it. Continuing down, Chris and I crossed the gully again to our left and began to descend again. Chris commented that maybe we should have climbed back down the way we went up! It wasn’t as bad as I remember it being, but I wasn’t in as good of shape two years ago, either. We passed a few more groups of hikers on our way back down to the trail. When we reached it, both of us breathed a sigh of relief while heading toward the saddle. On the way, I asked Chris how his energy level was. He replied, “I know exactly what you’re thinking.” Yes, I wanted to hike over to Iron Nipple and Huerfano Peak. He indicated that his energy level seemed to be fine as was his hamstring. Once at the saddle, we continued along the ridge toward Iron Nipple.
On our approach to Iron Nipple, we encountered a couple of hikers on their way down. I remembered spotting someone on Lindsey’s northwest ridge far ahead of us earlier, but had forgotten about it. I asked if they went over to Huerfano Peak as well and they indicated they did. We parted ways and Chris and I continued our ascent of Iron Nipple. Instead of climbing up a small gully we saw them descend down, we traversed over to the right of the rock formation between us and the Nipple. The route had a little bit of exposure; once across the rock, we traversed back up to a green, grassy area. In this photo, you can make out a rocky gully heading up the center of Iron Nipple. We ascended this and worked our way slowly to summit (which is off to the left and not quite visible from this vantage point). It must’ve taken us about twenty minutes to reach the summit ridge. Once I topped-out on it, I was treated to as sight and sort of a surprise: Iron Nipple had a mini-knife-edge! It was maybe about twenty-five feet across with exposure not even approaching what I encountered on the southwest ridge of Little Bear or on Capitol Peak, but it still kind of tickled me. “How do you feel about a knife edge?” I shouted down to Chris as he approached me. It was completely walkable. I asked Chris to take a couple of photos of me as I crossed and I would do the same for him from the other side.
Here I am crossing Iron Nipple’s knife edge
Chris crossing Iron Nipple’s knife edge
We reached the summit of Iron Nipple and stayed only for a few minutes. I did some goofy things up there that I wanted Chris to take a photo of, but he accidentally took a video of it (which I won’t post here because it’s kind of silly). I did take a photo of Chris, though.
Looking back down toward the Huerfano River Basin from the summit of Iron Nipple
Chris on the summit of Iron Nipple. Mt. Lindsey is in the background
Chris and I didn’t dawdle. We quickly crossed back over the knife edge and descended down toward the ridge leading up to Huerfano Peak. Since I was going to be near another land feature named for Albert Ellingwood, I once again brought my copy of Albert Ellingwood: Scholar of Summits by Jeff Arnold. When we were about half-way to Huerfano’s summit, I stopped and asked Chris to take a photo of me with it with Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point behind me. In the photo to the left, you can almost see the entirety of Gash Ridge, the Class 5.4 southeast ridge route to the summit of Blanca Peak. In the photo to theThe week before, I took the book with me to the summit of Crestone Needle and did the same (Ellingwood has a route up the Needle named after him). It really doesn’t mean a lot, but I do have a published photo in the book (page 22), so it’s a novelty to me.
The rest of the way up Huerfano Peak wasn’t really challenging other than the fact that we were both tired from having just climbed Lindsey and Iron Nipple. Once there, I found a PVC tube. There wasn’t a CMC register inside of it; someone left a few sheets of paper that were print-outs from Gerry Roach’s Colorado Fourteeners book. Chris and I signed the back of one of the sheets and placed everything back inside before taking a long-needed break.
Chris loungin’ around on Huerfano’s summit and his official summit shot
My obligatory summit shot
Back in June, I had dubbed California Peaks East Ridge “Two-Mile Ridge” due to the fact that it is right around two miles long. The ridge looked massive from Huerfano Peak.
360° panorama taken from the summit of Huerfano Peak
There wasn’t really any hint of weather on the summit, so we probably stayed there for a good twenty minutes while we rested and refueled. There was barely any wind and it felt nice and warm. Once we were rested enough, we began the long trek back to the Lindsey/Iron Nipple saddle. Chris asked if we could skirt Iron Nipple below it so we wouldn’t have to regain the elevation and I didn’t see why we couldn’t. The talus beneath it looked a little sketchy, but not impassable. Once underneath the Nipple, I spotted a boulder that was about to tip over and slide hundreds of feet down into the basin, so I quickly ran across the talus and held it up long enough for all the hikers below to get out of the way! Actually, it was just leaning and I highly doubt there was anyone on that side of the mountain. The boulder had probably been in that position for a long time, too, but it made for a goofy photo opp.
Chris and I hiked back up to the green, grassy saddle just beneath Iron Nipple on the other side and took a brief respite before descending down to the saddle the way we spotted the hikers doing it from. It was actually the easier way around, but the other side was more interesting! We quickly hiked down from the saddle and into the basin below. By that time, there were dark clouds rolling-in from the west. It felt like weather was approaching. We had already been on the trail for over eight hours and were fortunate enough not to have encountered inclement weather, but were pushing our luck. We needed to get back down to the trailhead expeditiously.
Colorado has had an unusually wet summer this year. As a result, there have been mushrooms growing EVERYWHERE. The trail to Lindsey was littered with them. Chris and I didn’t notice hardly any on the way up because it was dark, but were seeing them all over the place on our way down. Along the trail next to Nipple Creek, I spotted a humongous growth of mushrooms that I couldn’t help stopping for. I’m not sure how to identify the species, but it appeared that four or five of them had grown together into a giant cairn-like mushroom. It was actually pretty cool. I had to put my left hand over it to be able to illustrate how large it was. On my way up to Capitol Peak with Brian and Brad, we spotted some really colorful mushrooms that I neglected to take photos of, but they reminded us of the 1-UP mushrooms from Super Mario Brothers.
Chris and I found some logs to cross over Huerfano River and walked over it without incident. I felt random sprinkles of rain on me and quickened my pace. We crossed an open meadow, took one last look back at Blanca, and returned to the trailhead at around 2:00. While we were there, the sky opened up on us and it really started raining at a good clip. Some hikers had just arrived at the trailhead and were about to hit the trail, but I’m not sure how far they were going to get in the rain. We drove through a heavy thunderstorm on our way back out to Gardner. From there, we headed south into Westcliffe. Chris’ neighbors gave him an envelope with some of their dog’s ashes they they wanted to have scattered somewhere in Westcliffe. I took him to a city park that I knew of and he scattered Annabelle Starr’s ashes to the wind. Afterward, we had pizza at a local eatery, then returned home.
This trip had the unfortunately distinction of being the last one I took before being laid-off by my employer. After over five years of employment there, they decided to close operations here in Colorado Springs and my position was eliminated. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find new employment soon.
GPS stats taken from our trip up Mt. Lindsey, Iron Nipple, and Huerfano Peak
Google Earth .KML file of my route (right-click and “save target as” to save the file). NOTE: For some reason, if you’re using Internet Explorer, when you “save target as”, it changes the file extension to .XML. This is incorrect. To be able to view this in Google Earth, change the file extension to .KML before saving the file. It downloads correctly in Firefox.