September and October are the best 14er months of the year. The trails quiet down, colors start to change and little bits of snow dot the trails. Kris and I set out to complete our first Class 3 climb together, Mt. Lindsey, in the Sangre de Cristo range.
The drive down the night before is easy, but boring. It was different heading out to climb a 14er and the only major climb of the drive was the Palmer Divide.
We headed down the night before and we’re greeted with scattered rain showers and a pot o’ gold that we just couldn’t reach.
It’s a long slog from Gardner to the trailhead. The road is easy, even when it turns to dirt until about 6 miles out from the TH. Once you get past the Aspen River Ranch, the difficulty increases and there are some rocks that require navigating, but it can be done by 2WD. We crossed quite few puddles as well. I tried to hit them with as much vigor as possible to maximize the dirt on the car…much to Christine’s chagrin.
We camped the night in a cloud and woke at 4 am to get climbing. It was chilly, but perfect for a hike. With a hot breakfast and coffee in our bellies (Thanks to Kris’ new Jetboil), we hit the trail at 4:55 AM.
The trail initially drops down a bit and then maintains a flat profile for the first 1.3 miles. It’s a great way to start a hike, especially early. Lets the legs get warmed up and the mind get awake. After 1.3 miles though, those legs need to be warm because it is time to start climbing. And it’s gonna happen quick.
As you start to climb, a boulder field emerges on your left. From 1.3 to 2.3 miles, you pick up 1200 feet from 10,800 to 12,000 ft. The trail is solid and you can climb quickly if you’ve got the quads. Kris and I mad decent work of it, only stopping to take off some layers.
Around 11,400, we crossed over the top of the creek. The crossing was dry, but the water was rushing below us.
As you approach 12,000 feet, the trail plateaus a bit and you work your way across a basin to approach the climb up to the saddle.
The trail returns to a steep grade, but that is to be expected up this high. In .75 miles, you reach the 13,100 foot saddle that leads to decision time. Take the “Difficult Class 2” route to the left or attack the Class 3 ridge that we had planned to, even though there was spotty ice and snow. It really wasn’t a decision. We headed towards the ridge.
The ridge is a great mix of class 2 and class 3 rock. Almost everything is stable but there was a good bit of ice around so we kept our eyes peeled and made sure our footing was solid before making a move.
As we worked our way to the crux of the climb, Kris and I found ourselves on the class 4 knife edge. We worked our way backwards from it as the only way forward was back unless we were comfortable with a brief leap of faith.
Once we were a bit lower, the route was straightforward and we hopped across a few rocks to reach the base of the crux. This area isn’t challenging, but there is some nasty exposure.
Back on trail, we headed up the crack in the middle of the crux wall and tried to stay to the left to keep it class 3. Easier said than done with the snow/ice on the rocks, but we reached the top and were left with one more move to reach the summit ridge. It was a simple move, but required some one legged bounding (who know that XC drill would actually come in handy) through a crack in a rock with major exposure running out to the bottom of the basin almost 1,000 feet below.
Once we reach the top of the crux, it was relatively straightforward hiking to the summit. There were a few more moves to get to the class 1 trail, but my memory of this part is vague.
We reached the summit at 8:45, 3:50 after leaving the trailhead. The class 3 ridge was a blast and I enjoyed the challenge of finding our way through it. Having never done a class 3 before, it was the perfect introduction. Might be a good idea if you’re skittish on exposure to avoid anytime with ice on it though. We were forced into a few decisions that led to some more “airy” moves because of the slickness of some rocks.
On the summit, we met up with a couple who had come up from the gully and we compared perspectives on the route. We also soaked in a view of life above the clouds as well as the Crestones and humble Humboldt off to the north. No Sand Dunes today though. They were tucked beneath the clouds.
We chose to take the class 2 gully back to the saddle. The ridge just seemed too slick to safely down climb. As we descended, we were very happy not to have come up this way. The rock is loose and solid footing is hard to find. There are two sections where you have to work your way through some tight rock, but there is no exposure so as long as you are patient, its OK.
The hike out was one of my favorites. The basin was beautiful in the full sun. Little Bear and Blance loomed to our west and unique peaks emerged to our right. The descent was slow going, but as we reached the basin, we opened our legs and pushed the pace. The steep drop was tough on the knees, but knowing we had a flat last mile let us push the pace. It would serve as a sort of cool-down.
We arrived back at the trailhead at 11:47 am, just sneaking under the 7 hour mark for a total climb time of 6:52. Our total elevation gain was 3755 and our mileage was 9.2 miles. We are intrigued on the miles as, 14ers and Roach have the route at 8 miles. While we had to do some backtracking, it wasn’t 1.2 miles worth, so if anyone has any ideas, let me know!