"Huerfano Peak" - 13,828 feet
"Huerfanito" - 13,081 feet
"Huerfano Peak" - 13,828 feet
"Huerfanito" - 13,081 feet
|A Tale of Two Orphans|
A Tale of Two Orphans: Huerfano & Huerfanito
"It was the best of snow; it was the worst of snow."
This tale takes place on two different dates (events of the story shall illustrate the reason for that): Huerfanito on May 23, Huerfano on June 4.
May 23: Huerfanito, The Best of Snow & A Crag Snag at the End
Taking time for a "Sibling Road Trip," my sister and I drove down 25 to Walsenberg, to Gardner, and then up to the Lily Lake TH. The weather was warm but it takes a long time to melt the kind of snowfall we got this Spring, so we were stopped about a mile from the lower trailhead. My sister doesn't hike much and she was just going to stay close to the road and explore the lower elevations, while I made my way to Huerfanito and, I planned up to Lindsay's NE saddle for a trip to the bigger orphan, Huerfano. It was not an alpine start; I left my sister's car sometime between 9 and 10 am.
The tree shade along the road sheltered patches of snow that I could either bypass or walk atop, as it was still firm. I didn't need snowshoes until after passing the Upper TH. After reaching the Upper TH, I took in this view of Blanca and Ellingwood Point, with the unnamed 12er looking prominent and fierce in the foreground (far left). From this far-off vantage, the Gash Ridge looks benign, and I recalled that fun scramble of nearly five years ago.
From a little further up the trail, here is the Iron Nipple at top left, 12er in the middle. This picture gives a good idea of the route, as it climbs the snow slope just to the right of the formidable 12er.
I kept on, following the boot pack in the snow. I'm not sure where the route crossed the creek, as it was completely hidden in snow, but the tracks I followed cut SSW up a steeper slope to gain the upper basin. At this point, there are two possible routes: one can climb higher to hug the cliff formed by the twelver and the ridge from it that leads up to the Iron Nipple, or one can stay lower. I prefer not to gain unnecessary elevation (unless a scramble is involved), so I followed the tracks that stayed low.
Then I came to this pleasant shallow gully.
It was 11:45, a bit more than 2 hours after I'd begun. The snow as compact and provided easy progress. It only took 20 more minutes for Lindsey to come into view, "peaking" from behind the ridge line. As you can see in this next photo, the shallow gully proceeds first southward, but then takes a pretty sharp turn westward. It made for quick travel.
It definitely seemed easier to walk on this compacted snow than what I recollected of my late Spring trip from 2010, and, when I got back, I looked at my photos from 6/13/10. The snow leveled out the broken ground of this basin seen from 6/13/10:
With the snow cover, the easier ground lay to the south, and I pressed on, loosely following Lindsey's standard route. In doing this, I bypassed the easiest and most logical ascent route for Huerfanito, which is to climb the broad, plateau-like ridge that leads just to its right (western) flank. Instead of following the easier ground to the SSW, I should have struck for steeper ground heading due west. (I say this in the case in snow; in dry conditions, my route to the east flank might be easier, if one then traverses behind the mountain to its west side on the ridge.)
These next to shots who Huerfanito's crags before me and the proper winter route behind me.
As I pressed on up the basin, I arced gradually west to leave the Lindsey route and gain the low-slung saddle just east of Huerfanito. I reached the saddle just a couple minutes before 1:00, unslung the pack and sat down on a rock to enjoy the sunshine and a snack. Looking to the southwest, I saw a snow ramp into the crags, and I thought I saw a simple path to the summit. Accordingly, I decided to leave the pack here to make the climb easier, and advanced with my ice ax. The snow ended up being perfect - just soft enough to easily kick steps. If that hadn't been the case, I'd have had to find another way, as I'd not brought crampons.
The rock at the top of the ramp was steep and covered in various sections with either ice or rubble. I took some steps on some narrow ledges and explored various options, before reluctantly retreating. This is the view back down:
I contoured around to the SW side of the mountain and lunged up the first gully on that side. It looked like this:
I eschewed the ice at the left and got up, only to find that I still did not have a good ridge route to the summit. From here, I negotiated a maze of narrow snow alleys between the rocks and I steadily contoured around the mountain, as I would take snow to its terminus, test for a rock route, then make a descending traverse across ledges or snow to another gully. I could hear the yodels and shouts of joyful skiers on Lindsey.
Finally I could now see what I was nearly certain was a clean route to the summit. It was, and, two hours after beginning this climb from the saddle, I found myself looking up at Blanca's majesty from this tiny but tenacious orphan.
The labyrinth of snow and rock had taken its toll. It was 3:15, and I knew that the older orphan would have to wait yet again. Reflecting on the stunning beauty of my surroundings, I didn't feel bad about that. I descended the pedestrian route to Huerfanito's west side, then traversed on the south side to return to my pack. It was nearing 3:30, and with the sun hitting this gentle, wind-loaded slope, I sank into the thigh. After regaining the saddle, I reversed my route, getting back to the car at just a few minutes after 6. On my way down, I looked back and admired the grandeur of the mountains in westward-wheeling sun:
June 4, 2015, Huerfano: Nieve Maldito, Huerfano Encontrado
John and I had planned a trip to the San Juans over this coming weekend, taking the 4th and 5th as vacation to get out to Yankee Boy Basin. We were both leery of the sloughing snow conditions, though, and so planned a trek in the Sangres instead.
This time, we could get to the lower Huerfano TH with no problem. There's a campsite on the left just past the lower trailhead, and we had it all to ourselves. We hiked up the road as far as the upper TH just to get the views, but we had a great view of Blanca from our camp:
Besides views of Blanca and the neighboring peaks that hide shy Lindsey from view, the vicinity of the upper trailhead provided some views of picturesque waterfalls:
Before settling into camp, I explored the Huerfano trail to the creek and determined that fording it in the morning would require us to drag some more fallen timber to span the rushing water. That did not worry me too much, though, as there was plenty on-hand. John was up and moving faster than I in the morning, and he'd already located the same log-stack between willows that made it 2/3 of the way across the creek, as well as a log to drag over to complete the latter 1/3. This spot is only thirty or forty feet downstream.
We continued on the trail as it switch-backed up the south rim of the valley. At the top, we found ourselves in "Suckfest Primero:" woods with some deep snow that was too soft and sloppy to even consider snowshoes: they'd just make the post-hole extraction harder. Luckily, the woods thinned out quick and we found ourselves on a broad east-facing, mellow grassy slope. At this point, we'd lost the trail - either it had petered out or we missed it in a snow patch. This is what our way ahead looked like:
Huerfano is the peak at the left, not the closer one behind the treed ridge at right. We dashed down the grassy slope to plunge into the tree-sheltered snow traps - Suckfest Segundo - shooting on a course southwest, aiming for the snow gully in the shadow just upper left of center. Both John and I began zigzagging among the trees to try and seek out the bare patches or at least spots of less deep snow. So it is that we both ended up going our separate paths that led eventually to a creek bed that held good snow, where we found it helpful to strap on the snowshoes. I knew I was behind John when I stumbled on his track. Overall, the Segundo woods held less slow, making for easier going than the woods of Primero, but the distance was greater. After an hour, the narrow creek had opened to a gentler, compacted snow slope that looked like this:
Soon we found ourselves in a broad rocky basin. Still far away from Huerfano, the ramparts of unranked and unnamed 13.555 looked much grander.
.555 and its eastern battlement:
Huerfano (left) and .555 (right)
I tore my eyes away from those graceful ridgelines and continued southwestward, linking broad stretches of firm snow with small bands of talus. John paused for a snack and also I think removed his snowshoes, but I was happy to still have mine on. Here's a look back down our route, with John catching up.
Huerfano's summit appeared abruptly. I found myself there at 10:45, only 35 minutes from my prior look back, 3 hours and 22 minutes after the plunge into Suckfest Segundo, and somewhat less than 4 1/2 hours from our ford of the creek by the lower trailhead. After the broad northeast face, the summit narrowed surprisingly. I took a few minutes to enjoy the views.
Blanca and Ellingwood Pt across the way NW:
Lindsay looming large directly W:
The sunny day was perfect, but we knew it would also worsen the snow conditions for the descent, so we agreed to pass on repeating Lindsey, but did allow for the quick and short side-trip to the jutting Iron Nipple. Then we followed the ridge down to the Lindsey saddle, and descended the Lindsey standard route, enjoying a short glissade before donning snowshoes to traverse the basin. The snow was not too soft, and we sunk only a few inches. After having been here just two weeks ago, I got a little overconfident and careless in my route-finding, just barreling recklessly down the slope. But before we get to that, here's this fine view of two Sangres celebrities as we descend out of the upper basin:
So, back to my carelessness, I kept following easy snow and strayed too far northward, missing the cut east. At this point, the snow was growing much softer; I sank more and John, being lighter, sank less and soon passed me by. I caught up to John a few minutes later as the snow melted away into this:
This side creek spilled into the Huerfano creek. We looked around and John made the astute observation that the north side of the creek looked more passable. So we forded the creek and picked our way through the comfortably spaced trees on the northern bank, avoiding the snow where we could (and usually we could), as it was slush soup by this point. Soon after we paused to pull out the topo to try and guess where we were relative to the Lily Lake trail, we found ourselves on it. From here, it was a pretty fast cruise down to the trailhead, with only a couple snow-cone drifts to wade through.
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