Trip Participants: Gary & Lynn Clark
We had put this climb off for a while, as we had been planning to buy a more
serious 4-wheel drive vehicle. The approach to Mt. Lindsay is typically from
the North up the Huerfano Valley. We had done the driving approach once before
to climb the N. Face of Blanca, and I remember thinking from my perspective
in the back seat of a Toyota Forerunner that I never wanted to subject my AWD
van to that road. However, we still hadn't bought a SUV, the season was getting
on, and we only had a handfull of 14ers left to bag, so we decided to go have
a look, promising to turn around if the road got too rank.
We arrived late in the evening after a noon departure from Los Alamos. The
usual traffic jam in Taos had burned even more time than usual. In the future
I will do everything possible to avoid driving through that miserable town.
Much later in the Huerfano Valley, the sign indicating you'd better have a 4x4
vehicle appeared about 6 miles before the trail head. We drove ahead cautiously
but optimistically, because the road looked surprisingly civilized. At about
one mile to go it started to get steep, but the van was still doing just fine.
Only a few hundred feet before the trailhead we encountered a ridiculously steep
and rutted section, but there was no place to turn around, so we had to just
go for it. I resolved to feed the van some premium gas when we got out as a
reward for pulling through this stretch.
We bedded down in the van and set the alarm for 4:00a. At 4:00a it was raining
hard. It's hard to be too disappointed when all you want to do is go back to
sleep. At 8:30am we were ready to get up, and the rain had abetted. Since we
were now too late to complete the climb today, I suggested we pack for an overnighter
- better to spend the day in the mountains than sitting around the van or giving
up entirely. We were away by 9:30 and into the upper basin before noon. There
are many good camping spots in this high cirque to the SW of the peak, but the
water situation was unsure. Nipple Creek drains the cirque, but it is entirely
underground until it suddenly bursts out of the rocks a few hundred feet below
the basin to complete it's journey to the Huerfano River. We camped low so we
wouldn't have to hike too far downhill for water. Later I explored the upper
part of the basin to discover there were several sources of water that should
allow year-round camping anywhere in the basin. From our camp we had excellent
views of the North Faces of Blanca and Ellingwood Peak, the former especially
dramatic in swirling mists and clouds.
It rained quite hard through most of the night, but it was clear by 6:00am
when we left for the summit. There is a good trail across the basin to the sharp
saddle between the Iron Nipple and Mt. Lindsay. Here you are faced with a decision.
The right decision is to do the NW ridge. The wrong decision is to continue
on the trail that traverses the North Face - the Regular Route. We almost opted
for this because the rock was still very wet and the guidebook indicated that
many parties use a rope on the NW Ridge. OK, we'll just start out and see how
it goes . . . if it gets too hard, we'll turn back and still have plenty of
time to do the regular route. At first, it was disappointingly easy. Rather
than the 3rd-to 4th-class climbing we had expected, it was all 'hands-in-pockets'
strolling. However, up ahead was a steep wall that promised to put an end to
that. In fact, from below I could not see a route through this that wouldn't
involve serious 5th-class climbing. We had not brought a rope.
As such things usually develop, by the time we got our noses up against it,
it didn't look nearly so hard. We traversed into a short steep gully on the
north side of the ridge (all the route is directly on the ridge or a bit to
the North), then tried to decide on the easiest way up. Lynn went out to the
left, and I continued straight up the gully. She won. She looked down from above
the short wall on which I was groveling and whimpering and asked how I was doing.
I was doing OK, but having a hard time convincing my brain that the next few
moves were reasonable on wet rock in mountain boots with no rope and with certain
death lurking below. I could have down-climbed and gone her way, but that would
have been admitting that her route-finding skills were superior - not an option.
A few character-building minutes later I caught up to her on easy ground. This
turned out to be the only psuedo-technical spot on the entire ridge!
We were on top sometime before 8:00a (didn't keep track). Although the basin
had been calm, the winds on the summit were at least 40mph and bitingly cold.
We hunkered for a while on the lee side and ate some breakfast. Then it was
back down (the regular route, loose, unaesthetic, downright ugly in spots),
grabbed our tent and bags, and were in time for dinner in Denver that night.
Synopsis & Recommendations: The cirque is very beautiful and well
worth an overnight stay. The next time I do this I'll leave Los Alamos in the
morning, hike in to the basin for the night,, and do the climb the next day.
The climb can be done easily without a rope if your route-finding is infallible
and you are comfy with some exposure.