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With another crappy weather day in the forecast, we decided to tackle Mt. Lindsey, one of the easier 14ers in the Sangre de Cristo Range. We figured there was a window opening in the morning that might let us get up and down before the afternoon thunderstorm show put a damper on things. Rains had started up in the evening as we went to bed, becoming torrential for a short while sometime around midnight. Another visitor camping upstream had become alarmed, packed up his camp and then came down to warn others of rising water. We were the only other folks he found camping and got the brunt of his frantic concerns. Eric and Tom were both waken by him, but somehow I had slept through the commotion. The others never bothered to wake me and after the guy left, they went back to sleep. Our vehicles were not washed away in the impending flood, and when we got up in the morning the river was indeed higher, but only by an inch or two at most. The rain had stopped before our 4a rising, and by 5:30a we had made the hour-long drive to the 4WH Huerfano TH and were starting on the trail.
About a mile to the south, the trail crosses The Huerfano River, a non-trivial exercise even in mid-summer, worse now with the overnight rains. Tom and I managed to make a dry crossing over some pretty weak logs, but Eric, not liking the way it looked, took his boots off and waded across at a wide spot in the river. After the crossing, the trail begins to climb, following a side drainage with a swollen creek cascading down to the right. The going is steep for another mile, after which forest gives way to a grassy upper basin spinkled with rocks and stunted trees. A fog marking the bottom of the cloud layer permeated the basin, hiding the peaks from our view except for some fleeting glimpses. This began to improve somewhat as we climbed higher towards the crest of the Sierra Blanca, with Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point, two 14ers, visible to the southwest. The Iron Nipple rose up immediately above us to the east, a bonus peak we hoped to visit on our way back from Lindsey. By the time we reached the saddle between Lindsey and Iron Nipple, there were large patches of blue sky and better views, with a striking one of Huerfanito rising between Blanca and Lindsey to the southwest.
Mt. Lindsey comes into view once at the crest, or rather the false summit of NW Lindsey that hides the true summit behind it. The trail ends as one turns right to start up the NW Ridge. The improving weather quickly did an about-face, enveloping our ridge and everything around it, reducing visibility to a few hundred feet. This would continue for the next four hours, ensuring we had no views from any of the day's peaks. The NW Ridge made for some decent scrambling, class 3 as advertised, though we managed to make Eric do a bit of unnecessary class 4 by not following the easiest line. Some lingering hail from the previous evening was found as we gained elevation, adding some additional contrast to the gray rocks, but not really making the scrambling any harder. The difficulties decrease as one nears NW Lindsey. We reached the top of NW Lindsey at 9a. Eric sat down for a rest, thinking we'd reached Mt. Lindsey which was hidden by the clouds to the southeast. He got up a little reluctantly when this was pointed out, but it took less than 10min to make our way through a shallow saddle to the higher summit.
We spent 20min at the summit snacking and drinking before we got chilled and needed to start down. When we got back to NW Lindsey, we followed the ducks onto the North Face to the left of the NW Ridge. This is the standard route which we hoped would be easier than our ascent route, but the combination of more snow/hail, poor visibility and loose rock had us thinking otherwise. We met up with a solo climber on this face, a trail runner in shorts making good time and not seeming to mind the poor weather at all. When we got back to the saddle and the trail, Eric decided to head back to the TH while Tom and I went off to Iron Nipple and Huerfano Peak. The Iron Nipple proved to be the more interesting of the two, less than half a mile from the saddle and featuring some decent class 3 scrambling. The wind was picking up and the clouds grew thicker, and we had to rely on the GPSr to ensure that we had reached the highpoint. We then continued northeast along the connecting ridgeline to Huerfano, another 45min further. This would have been far more enjoyable with views and more pleasant weather, but today it was just a chilly walk to get somewhere to claim a highpoint. Huerfano rises to over 13,800ft, landing it on the list of CO's highest 100 summits. There was a register at the summit, but the contents were mostly mush. The highlight of our extended bonus time was found on the way back when a small, scraggily fox made a ghostly appearance on the ridgeline back to Iron Nipple. After it had spied us, it would trot ahead and then turn to watch us. It repeated this three or four times before it finally disappeared for good into the clouds. It was the only fox I'd see in the three weeks I spent in the state. We were able to bypass the Iron Nipple on the return by traversing low below a cliff on its east side, followed by some class 3 scrambling to reconnect with our outbound route.
We finally got below the cloud layer after we'd returned to the trail and descended into the upper basin. It would take us another hour to follow the trail back down to the river and the TH where we arrived at 1:25p. Eric had been there for a while, but had had time to relax and do some reading. The solo climber had returned and offered Eric a beer, so he was in pretty good spirits when we found him.
We drove back down the rough 4WD road to our campsite and other vehicles. I was showered and ready to head out before Tom and Eric, so we arranged to meet up again on South Colony Rd, where we planned to hike the next day. After an hour of pavement, I drove up the rough 4WD road to a decent camping spot and waited an hour or so for the others. Thinking perhaps Eric was unable or unwilling to drive the road, I then drove back down to the 2WD parking area. I waited another hour there before I finally spotted them approaching. Seems they had decided to get pizza in the small town of Westcliffe to the north. I would have to make due with the cans of soup I carried in my food box. I guess that's what I get for leaving the others hours earlier from the previous campsite. For added adventure to the day, Eric chose to give the drive up the 4WD road a try. I was privately convinced the underside of his car was going to take a terrible beating. Tom has a winch, so we ought to at least be able to drag him off any rocks he got stuck on. His driving skills and Rav4 both proved up to the task. He got hung up in a few places, but the BLD (brake lock differential) feature slowly got him moving again, and in the two miles of road that we negotiated, he only bumped the bottom twice. We ended up at a primitive campsite just off the road that would fit our three vehicles quite nicely. We whiled away a few hours in camp before sunset enjoying adult beverages and snacks before heading off to bed at an early hour. We planned an early rise the next morning once again, and I needed all the sleep I could get...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Lindsey - Huerfano Peak
This page last updated: Sat Sep 5 18:04:58 2020
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