| Courting Lindsey, A Tale of Two Climbs
Our paths first crossed on a cloudy Autumn afternoon, when I spotted you across a verdant valley in September 2011.
At that first encounter, you would refuse to let me even approach your base, much less your shapely slopes. This is understandable my Dear Lindsey, as we had only just met...
We managed our long distance relationship over the winter, me admiring you from afar, through photos, stories, imagining your lofty North Face from the flatlands of the east coast.
Spring 2012 came and with it, a valiant attempt to get up to meet you face to face. I had but a single day left for an attempt to win your heart in the frigid Spring air.
Lindsey was still shaking off her winter coat, forcing a long walk up the circuitous road that leads to her doorstep, where suitors wait. Once in the forest, she tested my devotion with several feet of snow blocking what route was visible, testing my resolve to continue.
Locals conveyed stories of Lindsey turning back others after she confused them with her nebulous route early on and lower down. I would not be defeated I thought...
I made it to her boulder field, though the depths of winter's remaining snow, uncertain direction and waning time would force a reluctant retreat. With no time to set up camp and greet her good morning, a turn back was in the cards.
I bid you farewell my Dear Lindsey, 'till next time...
Next time was today. Sept 7, 2012. On this day, a year after my first glimpse, we would finally meet up close.
We've had a tumultuous relationship, Lindsey and I.
Mount Lindsey, North Face
The climb up Lindsey today was like being on two different planets. The initial approach was straightforward and pleasant; the latter portion, not so much so.
I was able to drive up to the road to 10,100ft, to a spot a hundred yards or before that large puddle, so assume that was roughly 1.5 miles before the end of the road. Not too bad, far better than walking all the way from Singing River Ranch like I did in May. This would make the trip another 3 miles roundtrip and another ~+600ft gain. Very Manageable.
I suppose I used up my good weather karma on the Wilsons and the Needle this past week so was due for some bad weather before returning to New York.
On the first section of the route from the road before the trailhead up to about 12,500ft, the skies were clear, dry, visibility was great, the landscape was filled with vibrant colors, aspens turning, rushing water and the terrain was simple, warm and stress-free; A veritable Rocky Mountain wonderland.
Bambi frolicked in the grass playing with Mom
Huerfano Valley opens up to reveal an stunning backdrop of peaks, ravines and an otherwise beautifully picturesque place. It would be enough to stop the hike here and be satisfied.
The trail proper opens up into a wide colorful alpine meadow. Surely one of the best places I've seen for a picnic. I'd have to settle for a Clifbar today.
As you move higher, Aspen start putting on the show they wait all year for. Another 7-10 days, this place will be on fire.
The trail after the trailhead actually loses some elevation, then remains pretty flat for about a mile or so, where you don't gain much until well after the main stream crossing. The route in the forest in this section is a confusing place, especially in the early part of the year when the cairns placed the summer before have all toppled and snow covers most of the route. Not so today, so moving through this part now was far more pleasant.
You encounter wonderful streams and creeks lower down
You'll have to cross this one. MUCH easier to do now, than it was in May, when gushing and swollen with snowmelt. Note there are several places to cross this, depending on the water level. In the Spring I opted to go way left before and off the trail about 200 feet to hikers left coming up. Now, a bit off the right offered a better crossing than the main trail in the center.
The talus field will appear once you begin to exit the woods. Don't climb up here! (easier to know this in dry snow-free conditions)
Climbing higher in the basin and turning around you are greeted with an awesome view of the surrounding terrain in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos
Aspen are starting to turn higher up
The trail winds around some real nice scenery here
Aspens were just starting to show off their colors on the flanks of nearby peaks
An alpine ravine gurgles down meandering around spruce and fir in a colorful rich setting
Moving higher, the clouds start to come in
From the entrance to the Basin, Lindsey started to become shy, cloud cover moving in fast from the west, hiding her face. The route travels across the tundra here from right to left on the ascent. This would be a great place to camp and was my original goal in May.
A shot from a vantage point overlooking the basin showing the Blanca and Ellingwood ridge that frames the basin to the west. Marmots abound in this area. I am surprised I didn't
see any Golden Eagles. I did see a Prairie falcon though fly overhead.
Halfway up the climb to the saddle
Then, there is the rest of the route, particularly from about 13,200ft up. Lindsey's split personality is revealed.
The fact that a whiteout came in, exacerbated the difficulties and route finding and increased my general anxiety on this climb. At times visibility came down to less than 50ft.
Route finding became more of a challenge on the way down.
That gulley was brutally loose and steep. The rock to either side was a better option in my opinion, and while it turned the climb into a class 3 endeavor, was far better footing than the slippery scree and loose talus that comprise the gulley proper. I tended to veer off to the right both going up and coming down, sometimes very far off to the right looking for more stable rock.
Just before the Iron Nipple-Lindsey saddle, you encounter talus to hop over, which this morning was a bit wet due to the cloud cover that had now lifted, at least from
this portion of the route. There are some nice cairns marking the route here before the saddle. Climbers can be seen on the saddle here.
The lower west face of Lindsey dominates the view now, though clouds obscures the North Face.
In a brief moment of reprieve, a gust of wind blew all the clouds away, revealing the entire North face of Lindsey's summit This short three minute period would be the only and last time I'd see the entire summit for the rest of the day. In a fleeting moment of photographic opportunity, I snapped a quick shot. Although only bare rock, her majesty was evident. My objective was just left of center in the photo, targeting a slight diagonal line up the Face.
Moments later, cloud cover moving from the east would come in, enveloping the area above 13,200ft for the remainder of the climb.
Lindsey's summit in a sinister looking image. From this point on, the upper mountain would be covered in a thick blanket of clouds and fog with an occasional break.
The forecast however, had not changed and precipitation was still only at a 20% chance of snow higher up. I figured I would keep going until I sensed it getting worse or too difficult to routefind. The clouds would part intermittently, which was when I quickly took some shots of the area.
A shot of the remaining route, up to the false summit (yes, there is a false summit, errrr)
Almost as soon as I topped out on the saddle and started my way East towards Lindsey's North Face, the "challenging button" got turned on.
I crossed the saddle and continued on the route, cloud cover was intermittent coming and going on the way up, but settling in on the descent.
Before the clouds came in, a climber can be seen here, venturing off to the right of the gulley, then coming back down.
As the photo below shows, visibility here was maybe 30-40ft at times. I couldn't see the summit, the gulley, cairns and barely could see the northwest ridge
that works its way to the summit. In the far right of the photo, you can just make out the ridgeline.
Compass in hand, I kept an East/Southeast bearing, but it really didn't help much, nor did a map for picking my way through the finer points in the terrain.
My stellar new smartphone turned into a dumbphone as the GPS and GPX reader decided to stop working here and was just useless extra weight from this point on.
Lindsey was playing hard to get.
Visibility was not getting much better, actually worse. The idea of turning around starting entering in my mind.
And closer look up gulley during a moment of clearing; two climbers are seen at the bottom of the image.
I inched across the terrain, rock by rock at this point. Lindsey would drop some rocks on me occasionally. WEAR a helmet on this route.
The below shot shoes two climbers going up to the point where on the other side is a short steep dirt section followed by a class 3 scramble up.
I veered off right from the gulley several times on the ascent in search of stable rock to climb. As I was climbing off route most of the way up, I don't remember seeing any cairns after that one marking the beginning of the gulley turnout. It was cooler now and the moisture in the air made it feel cold. Another layer went on.
As I climbed higher, the clouds thickened.
Moving higher, I found the summit and rejoiced! I had no view more than 20 meters or so, but I was happy to be on top. I thought it was odd that there was no register, no cairn and an absence of that semi circle rock shelter found on many peaks. Hmmmmm. I looked around but nothing in the area seemed higher. My altimeter was also reading 13,800, not odd as it's usually not perfect but was coming in a little low, so I thought something was fishy. I walked to edge and possibly saw the route continuing down further to the east so I slowly walked on. I was now descending which didn't comfort me.
As the clouds opened a bit, I could make out a ridgeline continuing higher up as I walked. OK, THAT has to lead towards the summit.
I heard something in the distance, I waited a few minutes and it was the poles of another climber, confirming that this was indeed the way up. Good!
The clouds cleared just enough to see a bit more now, maybe 100-150ft.
With a bit more walking, I "found" the summit!
There was another climber there waiting for his partner, so I asked him to snap a photo of me.
Although there were no views, it was very satisfying nonetheless to be here! This *IS* Lindsey's summit, really. You'll have to trust me!
Unfortunately, I have no scenery photos from taken higher on the mountain except the two above, since it would have been just white with nothing to show, so most pics in this report are from further down.
Being cognizant of the weather and the fact that snow flurries started falling, without sitting down, I turned back and made my way down hoping before the cloud cover got worse.
The clouds were still thick and route finding on the way down proved more challenging than on the way up due to the whiteout from low 13,000s up.
There was one cairn I spotted right on the north edge of the summit, in the direction of the gulley area, so I went down here.
About half way down to the saddle, I ran into a group of climbers coming up.
The GPS in my phone proved useless, which I suppose was my suspicion all along with these gadgets. The battery lasted though, for what it’s worth! This is the reason I always carry a map and compass, but even today, these were of little help. The compass helped more, but only to an extent. As usual, your head is the best thing to bring with you on a trip.
The crux of the route in these conditions, was getting on the right line to start down to hit the gulley, or at least the rock nearby and then making it down to the Saddle where the cloud cover dissipated, as did the stress level.
Lindsey proved to be one tough cookie.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):