- Date: July 8-9, 2017
- Partner: Amandeep Vashisht
- Height: 14,042 feet
- Range: Sangre de Cristo
- Route: North Face going up (Class 2+); Northwest Ridge going down (Class 3)
- Overall Distance: 8.25 miles
- Elevation Gain: 3,500 feet
- 14ers climbed: 17
- 14ers remaining: 36
- Road Condition to Trailhead: This is a fairly long drive from the main road out of Gardner. A 2WD car could make it to the lower parking area by the landslide with few problems. It is another 2 miles to the upper parking lot and unless you know what you are doing, I would recommend 4WD due to big rocks and ditches.
Aman and I arrived at the trailhead around 5 pm to a light rain. We each put on our backpacks and set off down the trail. The first mile of the trail was flat and followed alongside the Huerfano River. There were a few streams running across the trail that had we had to cross before the trail crossed the river itself. Here, we had no choice but to take off our shoes and socks and ford the very cold waters of the river.
The trail took a slight turn toward the east and began to climb in earnest through the forest. Over the next mile, the trail climbed a mountain valley gaining almost 1,500′ of elevation — ouch! Finally, after a couple of hours, the trail broke out of the trees around 12,000′ and flattened out on a ridgeline overlooking spectacular views on either side. It was on this ridgeline, that we decided to set up camp in the fading light and get some sleep. Fortunately, the rain had stopped and we were treated to a nice sunset.
At 5 am the next morning, we arose, ate a light breakfast, and set forth from camp. The trail dropped into an alpine basin, which we crossed, and rose a bit higher into another basin, which we also crossed, before meeting the headwall. Switchbacking up onto the headwall, we crested at 13,000′ between the Iron Nipple and Mount Lindsey. This is where things got serious!
The main spine of the Northwest Ridge came down to the headwall and we veered to the left to begin our ascent of the gully on the North Face. It looked intimidatingly steep but we slowly picked our way up a mess of sand and scree, taking two steps forward and one step back … Around 13,700′, we decided to cut to our right in an effort to get on top of the Northwest Ridge and onto firmer ground. Once there, it was another several hundred feet across talus to a false summit and then an easy stroll of 1/4 mile on top to the summit. By now, the weather was sunny, around 50 degrees F, with no wind. In short, it was perfect. We were treated to wonderful views of Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point to the west.
Now, on the way down, we decided to take the Northwest Ridge instead of the North Face. At first, even though it was a more difficult Class 3 route, it was quicker and more secure than slogging through the scree-filled gully we had ascended. But our route became steeper and steeper until it “cliffed off” at the crux wall. All of a sudden, we realized we either had to backtrack up towards the summit and go another route or downclimb the crux wall. Whether it was because we were tired and lazy or because we were stubborn, we chose the later. There was a large, vertical crack in the center of the wall that required some brief Class 4 rock climbing that we carefully navigated. Once safely off the crux wall, we continued our steep descent and angled down the scoured east side of the ridge before popping back out onto the headwall. To be honest, I believe we saved no time on this route compared to if we had simply stuck with the North Face.
From here, it was a simple matter of heading back down to our camp and repacking the tent, sleeping bags, etc. Happy with our successful summit attempt, we took our time backpacking out to the Jeep.
This was a more difficult 14er climb than I had done in awhile. I wouldn’t recommend this to someone as their first 14er. I’d give it a solid 5 or 6 on a scale of difficulty and effort. In my opinion, Aman did a wonderful job, never complaining, always keeping a smile on her face, and slowly, but unrelentingly, pushing forward.
As an interesting footnote to the trip, no sooner did we start driving home on I-25, then a massive hailstorm hit, pelting us with pea-to-marblesized hail. There was easily over an inch of the stuff on the road and several cars, including mine, had driven off-road to the sanctuary of a lonely, big cottonwood tree to wait out the storm …