Mount Lindsey (14,042)

5/7/2006

The intimidating north face of Blanca Peak dominates the Huerfano River basin
This weekend, we elected to head to the Sierra Blanca to attempt Mount Lindsey, a place I hadn't visited since my climb of Blanca Peak in 2000 (or was it 2001?), before my fourteener quest started in earnest. For Sean and Brian, it was the first trip to the area.

I enjoyed the drive to the trailhead, passing through varied terrain and giving fantastic views of the king of the Sierra Blanca: Blanca Peak. I really want to go through here in the fall at some point to see this area with the aspens in golden splendor. We arrived at the trailhead around 7:45 or so, which is about what I had expected. We opted not to setup tents this week and instead just sleep in the back of the car, so we just wandered around the area a bit before night fell, admiring the views. Shortly before dark, the peaks were enveloped by low clouds, which added an ominous tone to the evening.

Clouds begin to envelope the high peaks
Sleeping in the car was a bit cramped for three guys, and we didn't sleep especially well. I was glad when the alarm went off at 4:30 so that we could end the charade of trying to sleep and just get to hiking. After a leisurely breakfast and getting ready, we hit the trail around 5:20, just as the eastern sky was beginning to brighten.

Brian looks up at the backside of Point 12,410
The first mile or so was easy and mostly snow free, which was good because it was still fairly dark at this point. When we got to the river crossing, I got over first and was going to hand my pole to Sean, but I dropped it in the river and when I picked it up, my helmet swung around and hit me in the nose.... Ouch! We continued on through increasing snow drifts, debating whether we had passed the turn off yet and occasionally finding some old tracks to follow. When we reached a creek flowing into the Huerfano, we decided that it was the one that Dawson labels as Nipple Creek and we turned upwards.

Brian and Sean hiking up the snow covering Nipple Creek
We made decent progress considering that the ground was mostly snow covered and steep. We occasionally saw the trail, but eventually came across the real Nipple Creek, which is much larger than the other stream we had found. The ice frozen over the river was a light blue and looked very interesting, but most of the drainage was covered in snow, which made for easy going till treeline. From treeline we made great progress in getting to a relatively flat area about 200 feet below the Mount Lindsey/Iron Nipple saddle. It was here that we decided to put on our wind shells to combat the very cold winds. We also put on some sunscreen, as this was the first place we had been exposed to the sun.

The couloir that we climbed on the final portion of the climb. Notice the climber already in there.
We all commented on the similarity of the view of Lindsey from here to the view of Pyramid from the saddle and headed off. I wanted to climb the ridge, but it looked simpler to just climb the obvious couloir (and probably a bit safer given that only I had a helmet). The couloir was not something we had expected, but it was quite fun, although all of us had crampon troubles at least once while we were climbing it. Unfortunately, this didn't take us all the way to the top, so we had to stop again to remove our crampons before continuing, but we were almost at the top by this time. I was the last one to the summit, arriving at about 9:50, for a 4.5 hour ascent.

Sean climbs up the couloir
We hung around for about 30 minutes, admiring the views of Blanca Peak and a distant view of the Crestones. We decided that we didn't want to descend the route we had ascended, and we also wanted to avoid the ridge proper, so we elected to descend the prominent couloir that goes directly to the summit. This was much wider than the one we had ascended and also less steep. We glissaded it, but were in the arrest position pretty much the whole time because the snow was still fairly hard and icy. I'm not exactly Hulk Hogan when it comes to upper body strength, so my arms were pretty tired by the time we finished the glissade.

Panoramic shot of the rest of the Sierra Blanca from the summit
By now we were a few hundred feet below the Iron Nipple/Lindsey saddle, as well as about half a mile of distance, so we had a bit of a traverse to do. It was rather annoying, because the rocks weren't all that stable and we had to keep our axes out because of the snow fields rather than using poles for balance. Back at our rest spot below the saddle from the morning we packed up our axes, downed some Ibuprofen and headed down. From here the going was easy and the snow was remarkably solid until we were quite a ways below treeline, at which point it was fairly miserable. We made it back to the car around 1:30, for a round trip time of just over 8 hours.

Blanca Peak in the shadows, taken shortly before I got back to the trailhead
I really enjoyed this area and this climb. I wish that I had been above the trees to see Blanca in full alpenglow glory, but so it goes. Perhaps it was the snow, but I found this "class 2+" climb to be more challenging technically than the class 3 route up Longs Peak.

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