Trail: Northwest Ridge, Class 4, ~ 8 miles, 3500 ft elevation gain
This report is written from memory six months after the climb so it will be short. After a large number of technical climbs over the spring and summer of 2006 that culminated in a trip to Peru and an ascent of the Petit Grepon I decided to head back to climbing 14ers. I figured that September and October would be good months since the weather would be turning cold and the tourists would be staying home. Lindsey would be the final peak in The Sangre De Cristo range for me and had a ridge which was supposed to be an interesting scramble. With this in mind Jen and I geared up and headed out to give it a shot. The road to the trailhead was long and the final portions would be unpleasant without 4wd or high clearance. On our first attempt we made it to the saddle between Lindsey and The Iron Nipple but the winds were horrendous enough that a gust took my feet out right from under me. This seemed like a really good sign that we should turn back. Given that the winds were blowing at 40-50 miles an hour consistently and gusting much higher than this we passed by about ten other people who had come to similar conclusions. On the way back to the car we passed a group of ill equipped people who were dressed entirely in cotton, carrying no axes, and carting a puppy they were holding in their arms. I made a comment that they would lose their dog to the wind if they kept on and then passed by. I've come across enough really stupid people in the peaks to know better than try to change people's minds and just hoped they had the sense to turn around before killing the poor dog.
We made it back to the car and headed back to Boulder. Not being the types to give up easily Jen and I headed back two weeks later. This time the weather was much nicer and we made decent time getting back to the ridge (although I lost my glasses on the way which would cost me a few hundred dollars later on). The path to the climb was quite memorable and began in the expansive Huerfano Basin which was ringed by interesting peaks, wandered across streams and through trees, and eventually climbed up a path by a stream before opening up into the upper basin. It was, in my opinion, one of the pretier hikes I've encountered on my way to a summit. Once on the ridge we scoped out what we could see of our route and the standard route. The standard route was covered by just enough snow in the gully that I guessed it would be a slippery, ice covered nightmare and we opted to head high up on the ridge and aim for the NW ridge. The scrambling was straightforward and the weather was holding beautifully. We finally arrived at the base of the NW Ridge and had to scramble up, across, then down a very neat 4th class knife edge to reach the base of the real climbing on the ridge.
At this point we had several options to choose from but the hardest line also seemed to be the most solid and snow free so we opted to climb it. I offered to belay Jen up the ridge but she declined and climbed up it with ease. It was harder than any of the lines on the 14er standard (note - easiest) routes and made the trip worthwhile. While it was a fun scramble it may have been as difficult as 5.0 or so in portions and was sustained for fifty or so feet. As such I would not reccomend it for people's first foray into 4th class climbs. Fortunately easier options exist farther to the left of the ridge so it is possible to choose easier alternatives. See here for an excellent description of this route. Once past the technical bit (which was way too short) we came across a group that had ascended the standard route, gotten off track, and scared the hell out of themselves on the icy rock. As has been the case with myself when I was much less experienced these people got in over their heads and were fortunate not to have really hurt themselves. Hopefully it will spur them (as it did me) to learn some technical skills. With a bit more experience they probably wouldn't have bothered ascending that chossy, icy gully. Learning to recognize something is going to be bad before starting it is one of the key traits to develop in the mountains.
Once past the technical bit it was just a half mile walk over to the summit. We spent a short time on the summit and enjoyed the views of The Blanca Massif and The Great Sand Dunes and then headed back. The descent was a bit sketchy due to snow and ice and involved some careful 4th class downclimbing and contouring down a steep, snow filed gully but we got down quickly enough. On the way back we met up with another fellow who was heading back and the three of us took a short cut down a snowy gully to avoid any additional elevation gain. This fellow mentioned that Backpacker magazine is doing an expose on the 14ers which is going to include GPS coordinates, topos, etc. These peaks already attract enough people and I think opening them up to whole new groups of hikers who are bound to hurt themselves is going to cause a serious increase in restrictions unfortunately there isn't much to be done about this. I believe that rampant legislation, spurious lawsuits, greedy landowners, easy access information, tax cuts, demagogues in the forest service, and a gullible society are all trending to make this the end of an era insofar as access to our wild places.
Once back at the truck we headed out. On the way down I was fortunate to come across some of the lovely people who live on the road and feel no one else has a right to be there. These guys, in their huge truck drove at less than 5 miles per hour and refused to allow the line of cars which formed behind them to pass at any of several opportunities. This irritated me enough that I passed them on a pull off using a Dukes of Hazard move. This clearly pissed them off which amused me a great deal. They had been trying to dictate the flow of traffic for ten miles so as far as I'm concerned a face full of dust is a decent punishment.All in all I'd say the route was a very good one. The Huerfano basin has great views and is punctuated by multiple stream crossings. While the actual technical section was very short it was quite fun and The Huerfanitos, Blanca, and The Iron Nipple provided great backdrops. I don't remember what this puts me at as far as 14ers go but think it is around 50 for me and 30 for Jen. While we didn't camp I think the basin would make a PERFECT place to spend the night.
Cool Mine Around Treeline
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