| Mt. Lindsey NW Ridge
Considering I had only done two Class 3 hikes previously (Sawtooth last summer and Kelso Ridge a week prior), to say I was nervous about my first class 4 hike was an understatement. Reading the trip reports and recent forum posts about Mt. Lindsey's NW Ridge encouraged me and made me feel more confident that a successful summit was a possibility.
My fiance (jmc5040) and I left our apartment in Lone Tree around 3pm on Sunday, 9/2/12 after I got out of work. After a 7-Eleven stop and a stop in Castle Rock for a late lunch/snack for me, we were on our way down I-25 by 4pm. Traffic wasn't bad at all, and before we knew it, we were getting off I-25 near Walsenberg. We took a quick pit stop in Walsenberg to grab some Subway for dinner and then headed west on CO-69 towards Gardner. We were in and out of Gardner in the blink of an eye and made our left onto the access road to the TH. The access road was great for quite awhile - after 7 miles, it turns to dirt but is still very smooth. Once you pass the two ranches along the way, the road begins to get a little more rough. It's listed as a 2WD road, but I know I wouldn't have tried to take my Mazda 3 very far up that road (but I tend to baby my car). We had no problem in my fiance's Subaru Outback. After what seemed like an eternity on the access road, we were at the Lily Lake TH at what I believe was around 7:30pm or so. We found a fairly level spot to park the car and set up our sleeping bags in the back of his Outback. We laid in the back, chatting for quite awhile and fell asleep around 9:30pm.
It rained off and on throughout the night and was raining when the alarm went off at 6am the next morning. We laid in the car, hoping the rain would stop and luckily it did around 6:30. We took that opportunity to get out, change, eat some breakfast and hit the trail. The first portion of the trail was wonderful - very flat and scenic - a nice "warm up" for what was to come. The creek crossings were pretty easy - there isn't much water flowing in the creek (especially compared to some photos I saw in a trip report from 2008!) and trekking poles definitely help to keep your balance. I was very surprised at how steep the trail became once you get to the gully area in the trees. You definitely make up for the lack of elevation gain in the beginning of the hike - that's for sure! There are some down trees in the wooded areas, but it is obvious where the trail detours around them. I definitely wouldn't try to navigate the trail in the woods in the dark. I can see how it might be easy to get off the trail here and there.
Crossing the creek
It began raining on us again when we were in the trees, just before the last creek crossing. We donned our rain jackets and decided to push on and re-evaluate when we got to the saddle between Mt. Lindsey and Iron Nipple. I was really hoping the rain would stop and the rocks on the ridge would dry up enough to allow us to ascend the ridge, let alone summit at all. Just after we exited the last section of trees and got our first good glimpse of Mt. Lindsey, we saw some sun breaking through the clouds and before we knew it, the rain had stopped. We pushed on up to the first saddle and made our way up to the saddle between Iron Nipple and Mt. Lindsey. At this point, we could tell a lot of the rock had dried up and decided to head for the ridge. Ahead of us we could see a group of people ascending via the gully.
First view of Mt. Lindsey
On the first saddle
On the saddle between Iron Nipple and Mt. Lindsey
As we reached the ridge, we put away our trekking poles and put on our climbing helmets. The clouds were definitely breaking up and the sun was making a glorious appearance just in time for our ascent up the NW Ridge. We stayed just left of the ridge the entire time, until just before the crux wall, where we dropped a little farther down. Basically, we kept the crack in the crux wall in our views the entire time and just aimed for that direction. Before we knew it, we were climbing up the crux wall. I didn't even have time to get nervous about the class 4 rating, because I was climbing it before I even realized I was. I easily made my way up along the crack, even taking a few breaks to snap a few photos of my fiance. At one point along the crack, I made the decision to hang a left up and over some rocks, as continuing straight up along the crack seemed to increase the difficulty over class 4. I was then standing on a pretty exposed section of rock, looking at a narrow crack. I stood there for a bit, trying to figure out how I was going to get up and over it safely. I finally decided to try to wedge myself in the narrow crack (to give myself some foot holds) and I was able to pull myself up and over. At a few times, I was using my knee or elbow as my third point of contact.
Reaching the crux wall
Making my way up along the crack
Looking down from the crux wall
From here, it was a pretty easy class 2 scramble up and over Northwest Lindsey to Mt. Lindsey's true summit. We passed the people who came up the gully on their way down off the summit and chatted a bit with them about how the NW Ridge was. We had the summit to ourselves - the weather couldn't have ended up more perfect. I was very thankful Mother Nature cooperated and allowed us a successful summit via the ridge. After eating some snacks and regaining our energy, we started to make our way to the gully for our descent.
Views from the summit
My fiance and I at the summit
We must not have studied the gully route as well as we should have because we ended up in the wrong gully going down. We followed the trail to a gully and just started making our way down, assuming this was the standard route gully. We forgot that the standard route crosses one or two more gullies near the summit. About 1/3 of the way down this very loose, steep gully we realized we were too far to the right. From here, we decided the best decision would be to traverse over and across some rock ribs to get to the right gully. My fiance took the lead and safely led me across the gully, over a rock rib, across another gully, over another rock rib and into the correct gully. As we crossed over the final rock rib into the correct gully, we encountered a group of three people ascending the gully and gave them some advice. I don't think the route we took to get to the correct gully was any more difficult than the standard route would have been, but my mind got the best of me. Knowing we weren't on the trail and not knowing what we would walk into had me really nervous and scared. My fiance knew my ability and wasn't concerned based on that, and he really helped to push me along mentally to get me safely back on track.
Carefully traversing out of the wrong gully
In the correct gully now
Making my way back down to the standard route
Once back on the trail, we made our way back down to the saddle and took a minute to breathe and reflect what had just happened. In retrospect, we wished we had paid more attention and looked for cairns (as it sounds like there are quite a few leading you to the correct gully). Moral of the story is, don't let your guard down simply because it's the descent. "Getting to the top is optional, but getting down is mandatory." Once you've summited, you still have to safely get back to the TH. Don't get lazy. if you're taking the gully down, make sure to look for the cairns.
After our quick breather, we continued on down the trail. We passed only two more groups making their way up and it wasn't long until we were back to our car at the TH around 3:15pm or so. Overall, it took us 8 hours from car to car, including a 30 minute summit break, which isn't bad.
Despite our descent partly down the wrong gully, Mt. Lindsey quickly became one of my favorite hikes. I was very nervous about what the Class 4 crux wall would be like, but it was definitely within my abilities and I had so much fun that I led the way up the wall the entire time. The exposure was definitely there, but it didn't bother me much at all - I can definitely see how it might freak some people out who are more afraid of heights than I am. But check your holds before putting your weight on them and be confident in the moves you make. Don't take breaks anywhere you don't feel 100% safe and just focus on staying safe and reaching the summit.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):