Peak(s):  "Huerfano Pk"  -  13,828 feet
Iron Nipple  -  13,500 feet
Date Posted:  08/18/2020
Date Climbed:   08/07/2020
Author:  areedhay
 Orphan Boy and a Nipple  

Finally made it back to the Sangres with a good friend, and in search of inspiring 13ers.

Not much to see when approaching the Sangre de Cristos from the high plains of Texas...

We planned on a southern centennial. I've always enjoyed the look of "Huerfano" in its namesake valley; always chuckled at the puns to be had at the expense of the Iron Nipple. I packed up and headed to the Upper Huerfano Trailhead, with my friend coming from the metro area and I coming from the high, pristine plains of the Panhandle of Texas. I recently relinquished my truck, which would have made quick work of the road to the trailhead; but I nevertheless made it to the upper valley, with only a few dicey moves, in my Toyota Highlander. It helped that my buddy led the way in his 4Runner.

Our perch for the night in Huerfano Valley. Blanca and Ellingwood (R), Iron Nipple (seemingly a gendarme on the ridge) and Eastern reaches of Huerfano Peak (L)

We didn't sleep well that night, given the late-comers to the trailhead. Still, we were on the trail by 5am. We calculated that it had been about 13 years since we were last climbing this this area; in fact, I have a trip report the still lingers on this site from the Blanca group. Time flies. Speaking of which, the sun hit Blanca and Ellingwood, and after the thigh-blasting ascent through the trees and basin, we made it to the Lindsey saddle:

Early morning moon-rise over Blanca and Ellingwood, just before the decent into the basin.
Lindsey just shy of the saddle. We could make out a duo on the crux of the NW Ridge route.

Upon reaching the saddle, we hung a left (N) and begun the boulder-hopping traverse to Huerfano. There's no trail in these parts, at least once one is past the obvious notch just South of the Iron Nipple. It was a path of least resistance at this point, skirting below the broken cliffs, up the scree and 'wobblers', until we were able to negotiate NE and reach the tundra fields stretching below Huerfano's summit ridge.

The 'trail' to Huerfano, looking South to the Iron Nipple.

I will say that I was truly surprised at the summit of Huerfano. Not only did we reach it quicker than anticipated, but we also found it a bit more dramatic than we would have guessed. And the views are absolutely spectacular: Lindsey and the Blanca group seem beckoningly clear and close; the sand dunes and the Crestones seem a mirage a thousand miles away. It truly felt like we were on an 'orphan' or forgotten summit.

A rare self-identifying portrait of an old man on rocks. Huerfano Peak summit
Looking North to the dunes and the Crestone group. One can almost feel the heat coming off the sand in the distance

We left the lonely summit and began the rock-hop to the Iron Nipple. We should have done the Nipple before Huerfano from its South side; but it ended up being a spicy end to the day nonetheless. We were probably well off-route as we ascended a steep, west-facing gully to the summit ridge of the Nipple. I'm still unsure if we should have followed the ridge south from Huerfano to the Nipple. At any rate, the gully felt 3+ in places, and there was high potential for rockfall; and I'll admit that the last 20 feet of the summit ridge to the Nipple felt all of 2+, especially given the exposure. The Nipple has a wild East face! But what a great summit to experience before heading down. It was much easier descending the Nipple's South side to the Lindsey saddle, as a spotty trail can be followed easily.


Re-drawn with our approximate route up the Nipple.
The final steps to Iron Nipple's summit, with Lindsey and the Spanish Peaks in the background

We let our legs awkwardly carry us back down the basin, through the trees, along (and over) the river, and exasperatingly uphill (yes, uphill) to the trailhead. A very satisfying climb and day--it's good to be back. I'm looking forward to returning for California Peak in the future.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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