Mt. Lindsey - 14,042 feet
Mt. Lindsey - 14,042 feet
|Lindsey up the gully, down the ridge|
Having hiked into the Lake Como basin and climbed Blanca, Little Bear and Ellingwood in 2017, I drove around to the other side in hopes of checking Lindsey off my list. I found, contrary to advice in the most reputable guidebooks that "passenger vehicles" can reach the Lily Lake Trailhead, that I couldn't get within several miles of the place. Suggestion: Given that much of the long, dirt road to the Huerfano TH is (IMO) impassable for lower-profile 2WD vehicles, and there is no camping allowed until you get within a mile or two of the trailhead (private property belonging to Singing River Ranch), I would not suggest attempting that road in anything but a 4WD vehicle with relatively high clearance. No, it's not the Lake Como road (for which you basically need a monster truck/jeep) or even South Colony Lakes road (which is a giant pain, even in a Subaru Forester), but it gets fairly rough and steep.
Fast forward to 2019. With just a handful of summits left on my list, I found myself waiting and waiting for the snow to melt. Finally, I had an opportunity to buzz down I-25 on July 19, pop up Lindsey the next day, and head back home. Not efficient, I know, but it may turn out to be the only 14er I hike this summer.
As a Colorado native, I am continually (and no doubt, naively) surprised by the constant traffic. I expected traffic on a Friday afternoon at 3 to be slow through Denver, but not all the way to Pueblo. I got to the trailhead parking area right at 8 p.m. and was surprised (again: naive) to see dozens of vehicles, tents and so on. (Like me, I suspect that many of my fellow hikers/users had been waiting for the snow to melt, so there was a bit of a rush; nonetheless, I didn't expect such a crowd for Lindsey.) I found a great place to park, threw up my new Six Moon Designs tent (testing for a website), ate a tortilla with tuna and cheese and hit the hay.
I woke with the birds, as usual, and headed out of camp at 5:22 a.m., assuming I was ahead of the crowds. Not so. I quickly passed my first two hikers on the flats down by Huerfano Creek and continued to pass hikers all the way up to the saddle at about 13,000 feet, just north of the northwest ridge to the summit. With more than 3,600 feet of climbing in about 4 miles, Lindsey seems steep enough.
But then you have to figure in that the first mile is downhill/flat, so basically, the rest of the way up you are gaining an average of around 1,200 feet/mile — in other words, it's steeper than I'd imagined. For some reason, having done the others in the Blanca Group, I expected Lindsey to be a breeze, but I wouldn't say that now.
The trail is clear and easy to follow down in the Huerfano valley, and currently there is a sign to the Lily Lake Trail turnoff, so that makes it easy. Once you cross Huerfano Creek — it was running pretty high, and I had to go perhaps 50 yards south to find what appeared to be a downed beaver tree (perhaps human-caused?) that I teetered across. I noticed other hikers milling around the other side, trying to decide what to do. On the east side of the creek, the trail becomes a tangled nest amid trees, small rivulets and quirky twists and turns, and I thought I might get off track.
But sticking to the most obvious line, I wound through the trees (sorry to the guy who was, um, "using the privy," whom I startled) and followed a quite-steep trail to the south of a broken boulder field. The trail is fairly easy to follow as you climb steeply through the trees, alongside the unnamed creek (if you get "lost" in the trees below, just listen for the roar and head that way).
Not quite two miles from the trailhead, the trail crosses the unnamed creek and continues to climb up the gully to reach a thinly forested plateau, then dips down to a spectacularly situated grassy meadow at around 12,000 feet. I continued to pass hikers, and was surprised how many had started before me — at least 20, I'd guess.
After the meadow, you have another steep slog, this time up a mostly grassy slope, to a saddle, then a more moderate climb through a talus field to reach the saddle between the Iron Nipple and Lindsey at around 13,000 feet or so. The views from there are fantastic, with Blanca behind you and a valley stretching eastward toward Walsenburg.
I passed the last of the humans I would see until after reaching the summit at the saddle. I'd decided to climb the northwest ridge (Class 3) in hopes of avoiding the slushy Class 2+ northwest gully. But following the only trail I saw, I ended up in the gully anyway. Rather than going up the gut, and losing a step for every two I took in the rubble and dirt, I worked my way up the more solid rock just to the right. Again, quite steep, but fun, almost-Class 3 scrambling in places.
At the top of the gully, the trail became obvious and I traversed upward toward a couple of false summits before hopping along the final kinda-catwalk to the top. I summitted at 8:02, and to my delight, was the only one on top (I'd heard from a couple that camped in the 12,000-foot-basin that four people had gone up the night before ahead of them; no clue where they went). After about 15 minutes, a runner appeared whom I had not passed and seemed surprised to see me there. We chatted briefly while I ate half a PB&J and drank some water, but he soon turned to descend (I assume he is the guy who posted the impressive 3:15 round trip climb time for July 20).
Just because I was curious, I decided to descend via the Class 3 ridge, where I encountered numerous climbers on their way up, many of them a tad stressed by the exposure in places. I also advised one guy with a dog that it would be a pain (not to mention dangerous) to try to get the dog up the ridge, and advised he traverse over to the gully. From afar, the "face" in the middle of the northwest ridge as you look southeast looks genuinely imposing, almost vertical. It's not, but it also requires some concentration and the exposure is very real. For some reason, I had left my helmet below, imagining Lindsey to be a cakewalk, but whether you go up the gully or ridge, I advise wearing a helmet (indeed, though nobody was above me, I had several rocks come hurtling past me in the gully).
Descending the ridge was painstaking work, too, but thoroughly enjoyable; I did the whole thing face-out, so it's not that crazy. As I was coming down, I saw the runner whizzing off from the 13,000-foot saddle at a full lope.
I couldn't bring myself to take a photo of the marmot who was flouncing away at full speed, with someone's collapsed hiking pole in her mouth. I had spoken to some hikers who had rescued one of the poles already, and planted it firmly in a pile of rocks, but the wee beastie disappeared into a hole and I (mea culpa) decided to let it go. My poles have been gnawed by a porcupine at South Colony Lakes and the saddle above Lake Como on the way to Little Bear by a marmot. You have been warned....
Passing through the basin, I took a photo of someone else's tent to show what a great place it is to camp. Really nice, and just about 1.3 miles from the summit. The trip down was fairly hot, and by the time I reached the trail in the Huerfano valley I was fairly tired. I hustled along, worried about getting out ahead of the inevitable traffic jam (the night before I drove the last mile or so behind a molasses-slow lineup of five 4WD vehicles; I bet the afternoon "commute" out was a mess).
I reached my vehicle at 10:11, so just under five hours' round trip.
A few observations:
1) The road in to the Lily Lake Trailhead gets rough and steep. If there are a lot of vehicles, it can be slow.
2) The northwest gully is certainly "easier" than the ridge, but not nearly as much fun. If you enjoy scrambling at all, and aren't afraid of a bit of exposure, I highly recommend going up the ridge rather than the gully.
3) Summer conditions finally prevail, at least on Lindsey.
4) This mountain was more strenuous than I'd imagined. Just 8 miles roundtrip, but your 3,600 feet of climbing are in essence packed into about 2.5 miles (at most), so it's a fairly steep haul.
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