| Hopeless Wanderers
- Mileage: 39.25
- Altitude Gained: 15,650'
I had spent a large portion of the latter half of my summer trying to decide how I wanted to spend the two and a half weeks I had in Colorado. I spent many nights trying to balance my time between reading route descriptions and finding beta and learning the ligaments in the shoulder. I really should have been focused on my PT classes, but I hadnít been in the mountains for a year and they were calling.
At long last, I found dates that work for me and my brother (Tyler) and arranged a six day expedition in the Sangre de Cristoís. It would be our first experience in the Sangres and I was super pumped. My aunt lives in Salida and graciously allowed us to use her house as a staging point of sorts. Perfect. Everything was set and we were scheduled to hit Mt. Lindsey, Humboldt, the Crestones, and finally, Kit Carson and Challenger. The weather forecast wasnít as good as it could have been, but I figured we would just start early every day and it would work out. Nothing could derail the plans I had laid out; I had clearly thought of everything. WRONG.
Our drive down to Salida went according to planned and we were at my aunts at around 8:30pm although we were a little delayed because Tyler needed a few supplies from REI. The next day, it was a 5am wake-up call to head down to the Lily Lake trailhead. The plan was to hit Lindseyís northwest ridge via the "supposed" class four wall rather than the loose north face. I planned this first to get us warmed up for the Crestones so that we felt confident if we decided to do the traverse.
- Mileage: 8.25
- Altitude: 3500'
We left a little late (guess who), but managed to get to Lily Lake by around 7:30am. I tried to snap a few pics on the way. We also caught a fawn just before the parking lot. We took our usual pre-hike picture and then we were off.
Sunrise on the Sangre De Cristos.
Fawn on the way to the trailhead.
The approach went quickly, but when I realized that we had barely gained any elevation in the first mile, I began to dread what must lie ahead. The views of Blanca and the Huerfano valley were absurdly scenic. I paused to grab a few pics, but my point and shoot wasn't cooperating so the sky is a bit blown out.
First view of Blanca from the Huerfano valley.
First view of Lindsey on our way up.
Looking back on the Crestones in the distance.
First view of Lindsey.
Looking back down the Huerfano valley from the basin
As we rolled into the basin below Lindsey and the Iron Nipple, the clouds began to look a little hostile. We decided to head up to the saddle and then reevaluate. We saw a couple of women coming down and asked them how the weather looked above the saddle. They replied that itís building, but it wasnít too bad. They said their husbands had gone all the way to the summit and estimated our time left to be about an hour and fifteen. I didnít like that. I figured there was no way that we could beat the clouds.
We decided that escape would be relatively simple up to the split for the north face and northwest ridge so we walked that direction, revaluating as we went. Nothing seemed to be getting worse so we decided to keep pushing forward. Before we knew it, we had cruised right past the split. Rather than back-up and try to correct, we decided to take the north face route. After all, itís more sheltered than the ridge and class two, instead of the class four ridge. Bad decision. Granted, I donít have much experience in the San Juans or Elks, but this route was by far the loosest Iíd ever been on. It wasnít just the scree that put me off but the appliance sized rocks that seemed to be held up by nothing. Even some of the stuff that looked solid was ready to fall with just a touch. Knowing that there were at least two climbers above us made me super uneasy, especially in the spots where the gully narrows. We ran into the two men on our way up and I breathed a bit easier. Luckily, neither me or Tyler dislodged anything larger than a golf ball, but it certainly wasnít comfortable. We ended up skirting the sides of the gully on (relatively) solid rock with class three moves rather than the junk in the middle.
On our way to the North face.
Just above a choke after meeting the two men.
Tyler cruising up.
Tyler and I navigating another narrow spot.
Steep and loose. Ugh.
Tyler skirting a refrigerator sized boulder.
After a strong push, we made it to the summit and found far more people than we expected. About 10 people were hanging out and relaxing even though it seemed as though the weather was about to make things very difficult. We werenít about to wait around to find out. We signed the register and took a few pics and then we were off again. I talked to one guy who said he was planning on coming down the North face and I suggested that we go down together so that if one of us dislodged something, it wouldnít have much time to gain speed and we could warn each other. He agreed, but then seeing how quickly we were leaving, decided to stay and come down after us. Oh well, more motivation for us to get out of the bowling alley.
After sprinting to the top of the north face, Tyler greeted me with a high five.
Summit shot for Tyler and I. #30.
Little Bear looming in the distance.
Looking back along the ridge to North Lindsey on the way back down.
Another shot just before we dropped down onto the north face.
Tyler working his way down.
Still steep and loose.
We cruised down most of it and right after one of the chokes, I let my guard down and my left foot slid out from under me, stretching my right quad in an ugly manner. It hurt. A LOT. I sat and took a bunch of deep breaths and stood up on it.
Taken as I was falling. This did not feel good.
Taking a bit to figure out if I can stand up.
My legs were shaky, but I felt like I could proceed. Tyler asked if I was okay from a safe spot and I headed down to catch up to him. Watching all of my steps carefully, we eventually made it down to the saddle. I told Tyler that after that little issue, I didnít want to go for the Crestone traverse anymore since I wasnít going to be 100%.
Look at Lindsey after getting down to the saddle.
I really should have been focusing more on what I was doing. Just after leaving the saddle, my left leg slipped again and it felt like a buzzsaw was tearing through my right quad. I flopped on the ground, sure that I had torn something. My leg was shaking terribly and I needed a minute to regain my composure. I had no idea how I was going to walk out three miles, let alone beat the weather. Plus, as an added bonus, this is the one time in as long as I can remember where I forgot to bring some kind of painkillers. I felt excruciatingly stupid.
Tyler patiently helping me assess the situation. Nothing felt good at this point.
After a bit, Tyler helped me stand up and, using my trekking poles to help lower my weight, I managed to get down to the lower part of the basin. The rest of the trip went slowly, but Tyler stayed patient and I took my sweet time. It only seemed to burt badly when I slipped or lowered myself down with my right leg. We got rained and hailed on a bit, but we didn't see any lightning or hear any thunder so we considered ourselves lucky. By the bottom, when it flattened out, I had almost forgotten that I did anything. I refined our plans to reevaluation upon our return to Salida.
Back in Salida, I picked up an ace wrap and a cold compress from Safeway and immediately elevated my leg. I worked as an assistant athletic trainer at CU for the past few years and I have seen what a badly torn quad looks like. I was overjoyed to see that mine did not look like it was torn; at least not badly. I talked to Tyler about potential options. We agreed the Crestones were a bad idea, but I suggested San Luis Peak from the West Willow Creek trailhead. It was long, but it was all class one and the initial elevation loss in the first mile would give me a good idea of how my leg would hold up on declines, which is when it tended to act up. If it went well, we would head up to Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek to do Handies, Redcloud, and Sunshine. Not the big peaks that I was hoping for but, I was hoping to at least partially salvage the trip. So it was back on!
- Mileage: 11 miles
- Altitude: 3700'
The next day, we were off at 5:15am. We made it to the W. Willow Creek trailhead around 8am and took our pre-hike picture. We found the directions a bit confusing but if you go north from town, you are basically gonna end up in the right spot. One important thing to note, you need a 4WD to get all the way up past the mine. The road through that area is now closed and there is a 4x4 bypass. We ended up driving a couple down who didnít want to descend another 2 miles to their car at the end of the day and I donít blame them at all. That extra two miles seems like a marathon after a long day. We also managed to catch a moose and baby moose (whatever those are called) on the other side of the valley.
Moose to start the day.
I took a bit to re-wrap my quad for the day and then we were off. The route was pretty straight-forward; there was one spot shortly up the hill where there was a large stick and two seemingly solid trails. I didnít read anything about a split in the trip report and the Above the Timber maps loaded on my GPS showed a trail going left around the prominent point in the saddle to meet up with the Colorado trail. So I chose that way. After a quarter mile, it was obvious that we were going way out of the way so we backtracked to the stick. We went RIGHT this time and that put us right at the saddle in the trip report.
Tyler checking out San Luis from the first saddle.
So far, my leg felt fine, but it wasnít uphill that had been the issue. Here it was, the moment of truth, time to descend into the basin and pray that the ace bandage had magical powers. Turns out, it did; I got down without incident and then we spent the next few hours cruising around and up to San Luis.
About halfway there resting at the Bondholder Meadows.
That ridge is LONG, but we made good time. There were clouds growing so that may have sped us up a bit. Especially knowing I was going to practically crawl down the mountain. At the top, I hi-fived Tyler on our 31st 14er. I was quickly humbled by the other man on the summit with us who was from San Antonio and had completed the 58. A texan and a finisher? Crazy.
Tyler taking in the views on number 31.
Anyways, we didnít stay long as all 6 miles of our route back was above tree-line and the clouds looked angry. Off we went.
Looking back up the ridge.
Clouds shading the valley.
Tyler cruising back down after the ridge.
Looking back at our route.
San Luis from the first overpass.
We're headed to the only shaded spot.
Once again, my poles were invaluable and we hauled back through the multiple valleys. I only had one instance where I tweaked it again and it was nothing like the pain on Lindsey so I was hopeful for the remainder of the trip. Regaining the 400 feet back over the saddle was exhausting but I loved it because I didnít have to worry about wrecking myself.
After the woods, last uphill of the day.
Pano from the saddle.
The clouds looked terrible all around us, but a clear spot seemed to follow over us all the way back to the car. We got back safely without getting wet and then made the long drive back to Salida from Creede.
So happy to see the car.
Rolling out of Creede back to Salida.
At dinner that night, we discussed options for the next day. The views and food at Boathouse Cantina were fantastic but we managed to refocus on the following day. With the success I had on San Luis, we decided to drive up to Cinnamon Pass to try for Handies the next day. It wasnít too long, but it was steeper, at least from the route we chose. I wanted to maintain the 3000í rule and I had heard the views from Grizzly Gulch were awesome so Grizzly Gulch it was!
View from our table at Boathouse.
Boathouse burger and Lefthand Milkstout to end the day. Not bad.
- Mileage: 8.00 miles
- Altitude: 3650'
We were supposed to be off by 5:00am the next day, but once again we were delayed because Tyler wasnít even out of bed by 5. Oh well, I figured I would make up the lost time on the drive to Lake City. Praying that the deer were sleeping in, I flew to Lake City in just over two hours. By the time we got to the trailhead and headed out, it was 8:36am. Later than I wanted, but still manageable. The views from Grizzly Gulch were amazing, but we didn't have time to sit around and gawk. Once again, the clouds started looking ominous around 9:45am.
Looking back at Whitecross mountain on the way up.
Looking up for the final stretch of Handies
We made the summit at 10:30am in just under two hours, passing a number of people who didnít seem to be too bothered by the weather. At the top, there was a whole crew of people just hanging out. I heard one lady say, "as long as Iím not on top when the storm rolls in, Iím fine." We were a little more concerned. Last year, when Tyler and I were on Mt. Columbia, weather developed from nothing in less than an hour and chased us off the mountain. Even after we were down in the basin, I still remember running for treeline and counting the seconds after lightning as the storm crashed down on us. So maybe we are slightly hypersensitive. Either way, that is an experience I NEVER want to have again.
Pano from the summit. #32.
So we were off again, slow down the steep stuff so I didnít re-injure myself and then slightly faster once it flattened. The weather always looked bad but didnít hit until about 6:30 that night. This trip may be the first time I have ever averaged the same speed going up as I did going down. Oh well, I tweaked my leg twice but nothing terrible. We got back to Grizzly Gulch and spent the rest of the day relaxing and setting up camp. I wanted to ice my leg but we didnít have any ice so I did the next best thing. Sit in the Gunnison River! Totally worth it, especially with the Easy Streets I had packed for the trip.
Next days goals.
Uncompagre and Wetterhorn in the distance.
Tyler headed down.
Looking back up at Handies. Clouds looming.
Weather looked good over Sunshine. Unfortunately, it did not over Handies.
Last patch of blue over Handies.
Tyler snapping some pics.
Tyler with Sunshine straight ahead.
Last shot of Handies with clouds rolling in.
Enjoying the beer and views.
Tyler doing the same.
- Mileage: 12 miles
- Altitude: 4800'
We were so tired of running from weather, we decided to start the climb to Redcloud and Sunshine early. The plan was to be up at 4:30am and then we were going to hit the trail as soon as we were ready. Unfortunately, I didnít sleep too well because there was a nosy deer that seemed to like the willows just next to our tent and I was convinced it was something more dangerous. We ended up heading out the next morning around 5:30 because of some issues I was having with the JetBoiler. The first two miles of the hike was by headlamp and I was hyper-sensitive to any sounds from the woods because of the previous night.
Sunrise on our way up. No tripod so I did my best.
Some friends on the way up.
We made solid time up to the saddle below Redcloudís Northeast ridge.
View from the saddle. Some low lying clouds.
That ridge is loose, long, and really just no fun but we made it to Redcloud at 8:00am. We were completely socked in on the summit but it was nice to have it to ourselves.
Socked in. First little peek over at Sunshine.
We rushed off to Sunshine because we had no idea what the clouds were going to do and we didnít want to wait around to find out. Midway down the ridge, the clouds opened up for a bit and we were greeted with some awesome views of Uncompagre and Wetterhorn. Sneffels had some DARK clouds over it though and we were determined to make sure they didnít become an issue. 50 minutes later we were standing on top of (lack of) Sunshine Peak. A few summit pics and we were back off to resummit Redcloud.
Summit pano from Sunshine
Summit shot on Sunshine #34
Looking at the ridge back to Redcloud
Tyler on the ridge
About halfway across the ridge we saw the first people we had seen all day pop up on Redcloudís summit. The weather seemed to be moving towards Uncompagre and not us so we relaxed a bit, but were surprised to see about 4 different parties setting off for Sunshine just before we returned to Redcloudís summit. We took our summit pics, had a snack, and took time to admire the San Juans for the first time all day.
Happy to be back on Redcloud.
Weather held out, leg held out. Good day.
#34 that Tyler and I have done together.
We didnít stay long and slowly descended Redcloudís northeast ridge.
Steep and long back to the saddle.
By this time, we were both pretty wiped. The 40ish miles from the past 3 days was catching up to us and my knees werenít used to absorbing so much on down-climbs. I was getting better at getting down with minimal use of my right quad but I could still feel myself getting sloppy. I refocused, keeping in mind that one slip and the hike out would be much more difficult. The march took forever but we managed to make it back to the car without an issues.
Another friend on the way down.
Tyler taking in the views of Handies on the way back down.
So, since you stuck around to read my novel, I suppose I should end with the lessons I learned and what-not.
- An ace bandage and some ice can work miracles.
- Clouds that look ugly may not ever develop, but assuming they will is still better than hoping they wonít.
- All the plans in the world donít mean anything until they are executed.
- Deer really donít like it when you clap and scream from your tent.
- Always to plant your feet intelligently, you canít get away from weather if you canít walk.
- Donít wear a helmet on Lindseyís North face IF you have death wish.
- Keep your mind in the present, on what you are doing in THAT MOMENT. Looking ahead not only robs you of the current moment but may preclude you from reaching further ones.
- Gunnison River isnít THAT cold.
Thanks for reading! Safe travels.