| Lindsey - North Face, Culebra - NW Ridge
I climbed Mount Lindsey and Culebra Peak this weekend with my friend Jonathan. We left Fort Collins around noon on Friday (8/4) and headed down to the Lily Lake trailhead. We took Jonathan‘s Pontiac Bonneville to within about 2 miles of the trailhead (near the entrance to the San Isabel National Forest) and walked in the last couple of miles. Probably most 2WD vehicles with reasonable clearance could make to within about 0.5 miles of the Lily Lake trailhead, but the last 0.5 miles of the road are pretty gnarly and nasty, although fine for a 4WD vehicle.
We started hiking around 6:30 pm and backpacked up to about 12000 feet in a beautiful little basin. The hike into the basin was mostly uneventful, although I slipped on a rock and chipped a tooth! Oh great, I‘m spending $100 to climb Culebra, and now I‘m out a few more hundred bucks to get a crown due to my own clumsiness :-( The rain held off until we had put up our tent, so we thankfully avoided starting off our weekend with soaking wet gear!
There was certainly a considerable amount of monsoonal moisture around all weekend, and it was certainly evident on Saturday morning, as Lindsey and the surrounding peaks were shrouded in low clouds and fog. It definitely felt more like a hike in the Smokies or in the White Mountains of New Hampshire then climbing a 14er! We left camp around 7am and headed up the trail. As an FYI, if you camp in the basin, there is some water available in several small drainage ponds just to the right of the trail about 0.2 miles up the trail from the first few campsites.
The climb up the Mount Lindsey ridgeline certainly doesn‘t mess around, as you climb about 1000 vertical feet in less than one mile. It definitely helps warm up the calf muscles in the morning. From there, the climb up the North Face gully wasn‘t too bad. I definitely agree with Bill Middlebrooke... it‘s much better to hang towards the rocks on the right (as you are ascending). They are much more solid than the loose scree in the middle of the gully. From the top of the gully, I recommend angling to the right to reach Lindsey‘s ridgeline. The walk up the rest of Lindsey is enjoyable.
The views from the top of Lindsey were spectacular, as you could see the Spanish Peaks just peaking above the clouds, and Ellingwood and Blanca were only occasionally visible over the tops of building clouds. Since the clouds were building, we took some pictures, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back down the mountain.
We stopped back at our campsite, packed up the tent, and headed down the mountain. There were quite a few tents at the Lily Lake trailhead (at least 7 by my count)! We were soon back to our car and headed towards Great Sand Dunes National Park.
We spent the afternoon hiking in Great Sand Dunes National Park, and then headed to the Cielo Vista Ranch gate to climb the infamous $100 mountain, that is, Culebra Peak!
As an FYI, you can now camp at the gate to the ranch and they have a port-a-john provided there as well. Also, you can pay with either a check or cash on the day of your climb. A farmhand from the ranch comes down a little before 6am and opens the gate. You then drive up the road about two miles to the ranch headquarters where you pay your fee. The road from there to Fourway and the parking area beyond is certainly fine for 4WD vehicles, but 2WD probably should not try it. Since we had Jonathan‘s Bonneville, we hitched a ride with a nice guy who dropped us off at a meadow just below Fourway (so Jonathan could obey the 3000 foot rule!)
There had apparently been another surge in monsoonal moisture overnight, as Culebra was only occasionally visible through swirling clouds and fog as we climbed up the road. The fog continued to move in and out as we ascended the steep grassy slopes of Culebra‘s NW ridge. We reached the summit exactly two hours after leaving the meadow. Soon after, another individual reached the summit and informed us that there were three bears only about 100 feet off the summit. Sure enough, they were there! It was pretty impressive, as I didn‘t know that bears would be that high on 14ers, especially since there didn‘t appear to be any berries or other foods that a bear would be foraging on.
The clouds were starting to build, and we wanted to beat the rain, so we beat a hasty retreat down the road. After hiking down the trail and walking/running down the road, we arrived back at the gate around 11:15 am. We packed up the tent and headed back to Fort Collins via the Pizza Hut in Walsenburg. The Pizza Hut in Walsenburg is a great place to stop if you want to eat pizza in quiet! I‘ve been there twice now, and the first time, there were no other customers, and today, there only two other tables full. Definitely a good place to go for a quiet meal! I-25 was surprisingly quiet for a Sunday afternoon, and we were back to Fort Fun by 5pm.
Another great weekend in the mountains. Only three more 14ers to go!