Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sangre de Cristo Trip 2013: Mt. Lindsey

My checklist was checked and my backpack was packed. I spent the morning drinking a hot cup of coffee and listening to music. Before I knew it, two men were walking down my stairs and greeted me. I wondered, who are these two white guys coming down my stairs and how do they know me? It took a few seconds, but I realized that they were Tony and Richard, my two climbing partners for a week in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It was time to go, so we hopped in Richard's rental Jeep Grand Cherokee and started our drive south. I had met Tony the week before on a hike to Mt. of the Holy Cross, but I had only gotten to know Richard via Facebook stalking. So the conversation had its gaps, but we all had enough to talk about and were comfortable enough with each other.

After a long highway and a long rough dirt road, we made it to our campsite for the night at the Mt. Lindsey trailhead. We camped at the trailhead and had a beautiful view of the Iron Nipple.

The plan was to get a 5:00 start the next morning, so we gathered water from the creek, ate our dinner, and headed to bed early. These alpine starts suit me pretty well because I'm usually so excited for an upcoming climb that I can't sleep anyway. I can't say I'm too crazy about walking in the dark though.

Walking in the dark the next morning proved to be challenging. The trail to Mt. Lindsey had social trails that diverged then converged and it was very easy for us to get lost while navigating in the dark. As we approached treeline the sun rose and we got to see the beautiful views once again.

We walked through this beautiful valley above the trees with a great view of Blanca Peak and climbed to a saddle that connects Mt. Lindsey to Iron Nipple. From here we could finally see our route. There are two options. The first is to climb a loose scree gulley up the face that supposedly stays class 2 and the other option is a class 3 climb up the ridge on solid rock with a short easy class 4 section near the top. I was eager to try out a class 4 route for the first time, so I had already convinced my partners to do the ridge. I would say that it was the safer option. There was some exposure, but much less chance of a rock fall compared to the north face.

Mt. Lindsey's northwest ridge and north face from the saddle

At the saddle we all put our helmets on and packed our trekking poles. The ridge looked foreboding and Tony would later tell me that the scariest part of the route for him was standing here at the saddle, looking at the route. It wasn't long before it was evident that we were going to need to do a good bit of route finding to stay on route. I took the lead and kept us high on the ridge for the majority of the climb. It was a lot of really fun class 3 scrambling with a bit of exposure and, of course, really good views.

We were getting close to the crux of the route and I stayed close to the ridge crest. I saw 2 climbers ahead of us who had descended to the base of a narrow gulley that leads to the crux. I thought they had stayed too low and got themselves into a difficult climb. But it was only a minute later when I cliffed out and could not stay on the ridge any longer. So we backtracked 100 ft and traversed the ridge lower down across a pretty sketchy exposed section to get the the base of the crux gulley. The crux was a lot of fun. It took some careful climbing and time to find holds, but we all made it up. The crux was actually easier than I expected, but I must have given my climbing partners the wrong impression about the climb. Richard was pretty shaken by the exposure and told me that he didn't plan on climbing any more class 4. Tony, however was a bit surprised by the difficulty of the climb but later told me that it was one of the most fun routes he had ever climbed. It was the same for me. Right up there with Kelso Ridge.

We were nearly at the top and it was just a tiring hike to the summit. We only spent about 15 minutes at the top because clouds were starting to form. Again, we had the option of the two routes to descend, but we opted for the north face gulley to avoid the very steep sections on the ridge. The gulley was less loose than I expected. We were able to stay to the side, which had somewhat solid rock. Still, we saw several people heading up the gulley without any helmets and deemed them to be crazy for not using helmets on the loose rock.

The walk back to camp was pretty nice. I'm always pretty tired after climbing a 14er, but relative to some of the very long days I had earlier this summer, I felt great. The hike was 8 miles and 3500ft of elevation gain. We went really slow because this was Richard's first day at high altitude after flying in from South Carolina. Probably not the best idea to get him killed on his first day. The slow pace made for a good warm up hike for me and left me excited for the rest of the climbs.

That night we drove up the road a ways to South Colony Lakes trailhead and set up our tents for the night. We had another early start in the morning, so we didn't sit around the campfire for too long.

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