Mount Lindsey - 14,042 ft
Iron Nipple - 13,500 ft
"Huerfano" - 13,828 ft
Climbers: "Team Lightning" - George Barnes, Aaron R., Mark B., Kevin B.
"Team Mortal" - Dan F., Jon F., Chris J., Mike S., Doug S., Jerry S.
Route: Northwest Ridge, Class 3
RT distance: ~10 miles
Elevation gain: ~4,360 feet
RT time: 9 hours 30 minutes
USGS Quadrangle: Blanca Peak
The plan was to meet up with the 14erWorld group at the Upper Huerfano TH Friday night and climb Saturday morning. I had hoped to leave Denver early enough to make the TH before sunset, but I-25 traffic had other ideas. I finally rolled into camp just as everyone was heading for bed. I grabbed Snail Brother Doug to catch up on the game plan - be ready to leave the TH at 5 AM. OK, I'll set my alarm for 4:15 and get up with plenty of time to make coffee and breakfast.
Having discovered that I can completely stretch out in the back of my Liberty, I decide I'm done pitching tents while car camping. I sleep incredibly well, and I'm only woken by Doug's rapping on my window at 4:50 AM. Ten minutes to gear up and go... crap! So much for coffee!
I hastily don contacts, clothes, and my pack. Thankfully I'd taken the time to prepare my backpack the night before, so I didn't need to spend any time packing. I run/stumble down the trail without a headlamp and reach the group at the trail register by 5:02 AM. Minutes later we're moving down the trail.
I had read that the Huerfano river was flooding in previous trip reports, but I had no idea that the trail was going to require so many stream crossings! I was more than a little glad for my waterproof boots as I hopped from rock to rock across the water.
As the trail steepened it became apparent that two separate groups might be more efficient. This was ideal because it created smaller groups for the coming class 3 ridge scrambling. I'm still not sure how, but I'm feeling like 110% percent and make the cut for "Team Lightning". I suspect carrying an extra 25 pounds of unicycle and gear up Mt Elbert the previous weekend helped my pace.
Breaking out of the trees and into the basin below the Iron Nipple and Lindsey rewards us with early morning views of the sunlit Blanca Massif. After a short break above the basin we push on for the saddle.
At the saddle we pause to strap on helmets and study our route up the ridge. An abrupt notch in the ridge looks to be the crux of the route, and we soon found ourselves looking at a rather abrupt pseudo-knife edge with no easy route across. The rest of "Team Lightning" opts to back track and traverse below the obstacle, but I'm determined to complete an ascent of the ridge proper. A few fourth class moves later I reach the far side of the notch, just as everyone else does. The second picture below sort of shows my route.
We're now faced with a pretty steep climb of the headwall we'd previewed earlier. Thankfully the rock is delightfully solid and a few easy moves later we're on our way to a straightforward ridge run to the summit of Lindsey.
We summit just after 9 AM, for an ascent time of about 4 hours. The views of Blanca, Little Bear, and the Crestones are more than enough reward for our hard efforts. Mark shares some of his Australian licorice to make a great climb even better. The Iron Nipple and Huerfano don't look that far away, so we're optimistic about getting two more peaks.
Blanca Panorama (click to enlarge)
Instead of descending the bomber rock of the ridge, we opt to enjoy the loose class 2+ rock of the standard route. Why anyone does this route, up or down, is beyond me... I'd rather down climb the ridge in plastic boots and mitts than the loose scree of the gully. It's certainly not the worst scree I've ever been on (like the Elks!), but it's no match for the solid rock of the ridge above.
Back on the saddle (not in the saddle!) we stop long enough to take pictures of the marmots as they eye the leash on Jerry's cached axe for a snack. I'd had a "marmot experience" a few weeks earlier and won't *ever* cache gear again. While climbing Castle Peak, a "high altitude rat" ate a hole through my stuff sack, most of my headlamp's power wire and a few of my gummy bears. Luckily the headlamp was repairable, and I used it on today's hike (thanks Dad).
The summit of Iron Nipple only takes us 20 minutes to gain, though it involves some interesting climbing across a small knife edge to reach. Huerfano suddenly looks a lot farther away, but our weather looks good enough to go for it.
On our way over to Huerfano we're greeted by a small heard of big horns making their way down the slope.
On the summit of Huerfano (does *anyone* know how to correctly pronounce this?!), we get in touch with Doug and learn that they're just leaving the Iron Nipple - Lindsey saddle en route for Huerfano.
On our way back to the saddle we contour below the summit of Iron Nipple, and pause to snap a few shots of Blanca.
The descent is largely unexciting and by 2:30 PM we make it back to the Upper Huerfano parking area for a RT time of 9:30 - not bad for 3 peaks!