| Where are the steps? (northface standard)
Ever since 6 weeks ago, when I started decided to do all the 14ers in the next 3-4 years as a goal, I have been having mixed feeling about coming back to the Lily Lake TH. Back on July 7, 2010 my friend from Texas and I were here. Back then, it was only my 4th 14er attempt and not knowing how to use my GPS (and I still don't know how to load more than 1 set of points) we got lost and created our own trail to Lily Lake. Only to realize after reaching Lily Lake, when an older gentleman who was fishing told me that I was looking at Blanca and Ellingwood and Lindsey was behind me. I asked him of it is technical to go up towards the summit of Ellingwood from Lily Lake and he replied that some lady's husband just died climbing up this route last week. My heart sank as I realized that we were not able to make to Mt. Lindsey that day, but the hike was still, nevertheless beautiful. Mt. Lindsey had eluded us that day and ever since then I had been dreading to drive that awful dirt road again to attempt Mt. Lindsey.
Well, after ten 14ers, and last week's gruesome windy march on to Mt. Shavano & Mt. Tabegauche, my body had ached all week and still felt depleted and sore. Furthermore, I can never seem to sleep well on the eve of a new 14er, maybe it's just excited trepidation. The phone wakes me up at 240AM, I snooze it without thinking! My body tells me HELL NO! Luckily, my masochistic mind throws me out of my comfortable bed and am on the road ~ 330AM. Insane, I pray I don't get hurt today.
I get to the dirt road shortly after 6AM as dawn breaks across the Sangre de Cristo's peaks, translated, "Blood of Christ!" The origin of its name sake is unclear, but a photo can help explain why. I can only imagine the reflection when they are snow covered.
Much rain has fallen recently, the final 10 miles stretch of road is muddy and some with streams flowing on it. But it somehow felt not as bad as I had dreaded. Perhaps it's the beautiful vista that takes my mind of the bumpy ride.
There were only 3 other 4WD vehicles at the parking lot. No tourists here today. I take off at TH ~ 645AM. Damn, I thought to myself, as I can never start before 6AM, which leaves no room for error and play.
Maximus, my half Siberian husky and white shepard had waited all week for this, and he is gleeful as ever. The wet trail and foliage make the trail hard to follow even with a GPS. Roughly a mile into the hike, I realize that 6 weeks ago, this was where we went off course. Instead of taking a left, we went right towards the Lily Lake trail. Doh! So this time Max and I cross the river and trek left underneath the gully. For the next mile, the river should always flow on your right side, if it is not, you are not on the right trail!
The ascent through the trees along the river is steep and rapid. We cross the river to clear the tree line around 800AM as the sunrise peaks between Iron Nipple & Huerfano.
We clear the treeline shortly and discovered ourselves in a beautiful valley surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo 14ers. I find myself soon off trail because of taking photos and videos. My GPS regroups us to the trail. We apparently walked 200 yards in the wrong direction.
We march onward. Then out of the shadow, "highpilgrim" from St. Louis emerges and he recognizes me from the forums. He tells me his adventure of summiting Mt. Lindsey yesterday and points me onto the right trail and delightfully in telling me that I should have the whole mountain to myself. Behind us, we see a dude in blue rapidly gaining speed and secretly I am glad that another bipedalist is on the hike with us. We hike towards the saddle in the shade. Max looks like my personal 4paw guardian angel.
I snap a quick of photo of jagged peaks across the valley towards the north, does anyone know what those are?
We reach the 1st saddle ~ 9AM. The day was beautifully calm but looking towards Mt. Lindsey's solitary rise makes my blood pressure rise. It does not seem to trouble Max.
After 10 minutes, reaching the second saddle, Mt. Lindsey's NorthFace approach comes into full view. Previous week, I had been given many good advice on the forum on the proper route to take for the maximum success of making it to the top for myself and Max. (Thanks to: "Aug_Dog,""Presto" & "highpilgrim.") Bill's guide is dead-on accurate and GPS coordinates is fool-proof, but it does look bad from where I am standing. It turned out to be manageable climb using your arms and legs. Make sure to bring some good gloves. I find the neoprene 3-5mm scuba diving gloves ( Kevlar lined preferably) get the job done but they do make your palm a bit sweaty as a side effect.
Sometimes too much thinking can be dangerous, so we harsh forward. Soon, I realize that all the discussion was true, this was like what someone had described like doing up a treadmill only sometimes you find yourself going backwards on the loose scree. My friend after seeing the picture describes it well, it's like the Incline in Manitou Springs but without the steps. I "let" the older gentleman pass me. Nah, he was a stud and in much better shape and made it to the top like a mountain goat.
The below photo illustrates a small section where Max had trouble pawing up. In the photo, he's staring at it to his 11 o'clock. A close up is Photo #21. I call this the hot gate, where lifting my 60 pound husky over my head, almost loosing balance few times, completely exhausted me. I check my GPS, it still shows 40+ more points to clear and we are about 13,000 feet in altitude only! Great $#@!
We reach the final saddle ~ 10AM, and a small gentle approach on the ridge remains. I can see victory at last. Now, looking down and back at that last mile and 1000 feet ascent was one of the toughest I had the pleasure to encounter.. so far. Last time I had to scramble this hard was on the ridges of Snowdon, Tryfan & The Glyde as much younger lad.. without a family to worry about! I try not to think about the return-down trip and march forward.
We summit at 1015AM and had the whole peak to ourselves. I take goofy action poses. For every 1 good photo, 10 were deleted.
I snack on some Rice Crispy snacks and pistachios. Max is stout and needs no water nor food, although he happily eats half of the Rice Crispy snack. Max does not like to be picked up for photo opportunities. Hook'em Horns!
Here's Maximus posing
Towards north I spot Lily Lake, sooooo much smaller from here. I am glad that today I am looking at it from here.
The cloud briefly rises and I take a quick snap of San Luis Valley towards the South
Looking southward, there are 2 lakes stacked on top of each other, something I don't see everyday. Does anyone want to venture a guess what their names are?
I do not want to leave the summit. It is sublime. I am no longer tired, my back no longer hurts and I crave for more. Which 14er will I do next? But what goes up must come down and it is lonely even in nirvana. So I yearn to return to my supporting wife and 2 babies at home. Knowing that going down is the most dangerous part of the trip and not to mention having a 3 hour drive back time will require some state of alertness, we leave summit at 1030AM.
Shortly we reach the impasse. Max is timid and only looks down at me from the ledge. I climb back up and carry him in one arm and scramble down while jack-knifing myself between the boulders. I release him at my waist level. Max leaps and gains traction thus avoids rolling down the scree. Amazing! Of course, he is Maximus. This is the same section as photo #11, but looking up just beneath it. For dog owners, your dog can make it here up and down, provided a little assistance, although I doubt I will bring Max along during the winter or on any Class 3 or above in the future.
Going down takes just as long as going up, with less huffing and puffing...
With the sun almost at high noon, I look back at the beast... It is scary as it looks, the most important part of not getting hurt is to take it slow, trek on solid rocks, be prepared to use both hands and feet, and you will be fine! Oh yeah, try to keep some distance from each other, I sent so much loose rocks and boulders down on during the descent enough to cause an avalanche. I manage only to fall on my butt half-a-dozen times! I find, personally, when going down, it is best to dig in with your heel with toes pointing slightly up with back parallel as possible to the slope. This allows for better traction and sliding and less chance of tumbling forward or having your toes getting stuck in a crevasse leading to some disastrous injuries. And if the area is wide, I also try zig-zagging down trying to distribute shocks to one knee at a time.
At the saddle, we take a look back at Mt. Lindsey for the last time. We soon meet Zoe (a black lab?) and his master from New Mexico as they contemplate where to play. I tell Zoe's dad that Zoe can make it to the top with a little lift, especially Zoe being 20 pounds lighter than Max. They were the last set of hikers we meet.
We make to the valley ~ 1145PM. I run out of water with 2 more miles to go. It's okay I say to myself and take out my MP3 player to keep pace with the rhythm of music. Buddha Bar is on the play-list.
Poor Max dashes to the dry creeks for water, not realizing waterfalls and rivers are just ahead.
I have never seen a purple pine cone, have you? I thought I was hallucinating from hypoxia and dehydration.
Rehydrated, Max charges ahead and chases every rodent on the trail again. Where does he get that energy?
A much deserved play and bath for my wonderful champion. The trail is hard to track in the willows and the mud in this section as I briefly get lost again.
We make back to our 4Runner ~ 115PM. Tires still with pressure, a young lady's 4paw companion mingles with Max. Max is a lady killer. They are packing to go home as well after a great day in the Sangres. We make home ~ 430PM after eating some road dust, snack of 14ers...grrr! Thanks for reading.
PS. If anyone who lives along the Front Ranges especially near Colorado Springs / Castle Rock area and share similar ambition of completing all the 14ers and want to share a ride / overnight trip to conquer some of the Elks and San Juans, PM me!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):