| Mt. Lindsey solo via North Couloir
My solo climb of Mount Lindsey: my first 14er in at least nine years…
(First, I apologize for the lack of photos- I took only a few and I don't have them offloaded from my camera yet. Perhaps I can add them to the report later.)
I left Lawrence, KS at 5:48 AM on Thursday, August 27th and arrived at the Lily Lake trailhead at 4:53 PM local time. Total distance: 693 mi and almost exactly 12 hours driving time. Two notes worth mentioning- 1, I really dislike driving through/around Colorado Springs. I missed my turn for 24 (to connect with I-25 south of town) and wound up going right through downtown instead, losing a good twenty minutes in the process. Two, I tried a shortcut by taking exit 59 on I-25 as a means to reach CO 69 without having to go through Walsenburg first. According to the 1998 DeLorme Colorado Atlas and Gazetteer, this is supposed to be a straight line. This dirt road does eventually reach CO 69, but it sure ain't straight. Better just to skip the "short cut" altogether.
The trailhead road was bumpy, but serviceable (absolutely nothing compared to the Lake Como road I drove the following day). It might make me nervous to drive a real low-slung 2WD vehicle all the way up, but anything else should make it fine.
I pitched my tent right next to where I parked and unfortunately spent a relatively sleepless night alone at the trailhead.
I woke up at 4:15, gathered my wits and gear, and signed in at 5:10 AM with only a hint of dawn visible from the East (and lots and lots of stars!). In retrospect, I think of the ascent in three separate parts, each of which wound up taking almost exactly an hour each. The first part was walking along the valley, crossing the river, and topping out of the Nipple Creek gully at treeline. Having read about the difficulty of finding the trail in the woods, I was super-vigilant about not getting started up the Lily Lake trail. In fact, I walked right past it and up to the river's edge (although you step over various rivulets on the way, the main river is to your left until this point) before backtracking and confirming the place where the sign had been torn off.
After gingerly rock-hopping across the river, I set out to begin the climb up the Nipple Creek gully. The trail here is pretty twisty and turny, and I had to backtrack a few times to make sure I was on-trail. The most reliable sign was not looking for the trail at your feet, but aiming for spaces between the trees that had all of their branches removed. Shortly (ten minutes?) the trail gets a LOT more steep and you can begin to hear the creek off to your right. The trail then winds in and out of the trees with a large boulder field to the left for maybe 2/3s of the way. You then cross the stream and the trail runs through thinner trees on the right hand side of the gully until it tops out on a rocky knob above. I was able to turn my headlamp off around 6 AM, just about as I was making the cross from the left to right side of the creek.
I began Phase 2 of the hike at 6:22 AM, which consists of ascending a series of alpine hills separated by short but pleasant flattish meadows, ultimately topping out at the Iron Nipple-Lindsey saddle. The trail here is excellent, though it does braid a little. I reached the saddle (and my first sunhit) at 7:17 AM. The saddle was a bit breezy (though the day was perfectly clear) and I wound up wearing my gloves for the next twenty minutes or so as I began Phase 3.
Phase 3 begins by following a slightly ascending trail along the saddle to the north face of Lindsey. I gazed up at the crux of the ridge route and while it looks like a lot of fun, I went with my instinct and did the standard couloir route instead. I was alone and all of my "technical" skills are nearly 20 years old. The first couloir is the longest and nastiest- I zigzagged back and forth until reaching the top. While not ever feeling like I was in danger of sliding down the mountain, it just isn't much fun. At the top, I followed something of a fuzzy trail heading leftwards and upwards across several more couloirs. I found that it was fairly easy to get into some dicey territory (unstable rock with pretty decent exposure) and picked my way slowly to the summit ridge. From there, it was an easy walk across to the true summit, which I reached at 8:13 AM.
I only staid on the summit about 10 minutes, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous and I got a good hard look at Blanca, my goal for the next day. Only on my descent did I see other people down in the saddle- to that point I had the mountain to myself.
The initial downclimb traversing the face was easier, if only because the route was a lot more clear. This time, I descended the lower couloir on the stable rock on the left side (the right side going up) and, while still a bit dodgy, it worked ok. I didn't have a helmet and am glad there wasn't anyone else around. I would have been nervous had there been people above me.
The rest of the downclimb was non-eventful. I met the group I saw on the saddle and two were doing the ridge route and two were doing the couloir. I met several others on the way down and was amused to find the trail through the woods at the bottom of the Nipple Creek gully just as difficult to follow in daylight as it was in darkness. Still, I made it out to the register by 11:08 AM, an approximately 8 mile trip with about 3,300 feet absolute elevation gain in 6 hours. Not bad for a flatlander with 12 hours of acclimation after twelve hours in the car and only a few hours sleep! Still, it shagged me enough to not be able to do Ellingwood along with Blanca the next day, but that's another story…