At the moment, my hands are red and raw from clinging to rocks. My feet are tender, sore, and blistered from hiking down steep terrain for miles at a time (and I might end up losing a few toe nails…we’ll see). My entire body- from my shoulders to my core to my calves- aches like it never has before.
And yet, in spite of it all, I can truly say that yesterday was an amazing day.
Mt. Lindsey is my 34th 14er summit, and I can officially say that it was probably the hardest one I’ve ever done. I mean, just look at her north face. Could that be anything but difficult?
Steep, relentless, loose rock, exposure, generally grueling. Yet, at the same time, it was an empowering, exhilarating, and beautiful climb. Simultaneously butt-kicking and awe-inspiring. In other words, it was an amazing and memorable climb.
The day started off at 4:15AM when my dad and I arose from our slumber to make the drive down to the Sangre de Christo range of Colorado. After gathering on our things, we made the three hour drive to the trailhead. The last several miles were up a bumpy 4WD road common to the Colorado backcountry. We passed by some beautiful Aspen groves, one of my favorite sites in mountain forest regions.
Fun Aspen fact: an Aspen grove is a singe organism. The roots of all the trees are interconnected, and they are considered the largest single organisms in the world. Pretty cool, right?
By 8:00 or so, we had finally launched ourselves from the trailhead. Within minutes, we were treated with this view of the Huerfano valley.
Can you say gorgeous?
Because my dad and I are navigationally-challenged, we accidentally missed the turn-off for the Mt. Lindsey trail and ended up charging onward into some random, swampy drainage area on the Huerfano trail (to be fair, there wasn’t exactly a sign indicating where the trail turn-off was). Oooops….we wasted about an hour and added a couple of needless miles to our roundtrip totals. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Luckily, the weather held for us all day, so this accidental detour didn’t ruin our summit bid. It just made our feet and legs more tired by the end of the day.
We ended up at this creek crossing and had to do some nifty balance work to make it across the logs.
After the creek crossing, the Lindsey trail began to get down to business. It climbed relentlessly steep terrain through the trees until finally reaching timberline at about 11,5000′ or so. Here, we enjoyed our first glimpses of Lindsey poking above the ridgeline.
After crossing across an alpine meadow, we had to deal with more of the steeps. At this point, my legs were screaming, my heart was pounding, and my brow was pouring sweat, but I persevered and eventually made it to the Lindsey ridge. Wooohooo!
Once on the ridge, my dad and I were blasted with wind gusts that nearly knocked us over. This, in conjunction with the imposing site of Lindsey’s upper terrain, made for a nerve-wracking arrival onto the ridge. My dad was a bit spooked by the site of Lindsey’s upper flanks, so we decided to abandon the idea of a ridge climb in favor of the “standard” route up the north face gully seen in the picture below (it’s the light grey terrain in the middle of the mountain). At this point, we decided it would be a wise idea to don our helmets. Protecting the cranium is always key in situations where rockfall is a possibility.
After traversing a climber’s trail to the base of the gully (aka. the gully from hell), we dealt with a lot of loose, steep rock as we scrambled our way to the top of the gully. It wasn’t exactly pleasant (loose rock really puts you on edge because you have to test and re-test virtually every single handhold and foothold you place your weight on). This is my dad at the base of the gully.
To avoid the loose scree, my dad and I stayed on the right hand side of the gully where the rock tended to be less loose and a little better for scrambling.
After repeatedly singing my motivational “Just Keep Climbing” motto (as adapted from Finding Nemo), we reached the upper ridge where the rock FINALLY became stable and solid. Here, we enjoyed a fun and easy rock hop to the first false summit. I was so glad to finally have stable rock below my feet!
From the false summit, we enjoyed a nifty 1/4 mile ridge walk to the real summit.
Around 1:00 PM, my dad and I finally reached the summit. A whopping five hours after we started!
Summit victory pose!
We signed the summit register….
….and I quickly got down to some important business: FOOD CONSUMPTION! It was summit sandwich time!
This time, I chose a simple turkey, mustard, and swiss sandwich stuffed into a whole wheat Ezekiel pita. Sounds boring, but it wasn’t. It was the greatest thing I’ve ever had (okay, that might be stretching it, but it was just what I needed to replenish my lost electrolytes and fuel up for the descent). Perfectly salty, chewy, and amazing. I swear to god, sandwiches just taste better when you’re on a mountain. Also, don’t mind the crazy hair or the awkward mark on my forehead from the climbing helmet. It’s my “crazy mountain lady” look.
The summit views were amazing, as always. Here, I’m pointing to another 14er in the Sangre range called Blanca Peak.
My dad was happy to reach the top, not that you can tell from this picture. He was a bit rattled by the climb. We had some route-finding issues toward the top of the gully that would do a number on anyone’s nerves.
After spending 15 minutes relaxing and chatting with other climbers (another of whom was named Lindsay!), we started the equally nerve-wracking descent downward. Getting down from the evil gully was the worst part, by far. Bottom line: loose and steep rock is the devil. Argh!
Here are some more pictures from the remainder of the climb:
After falling on my butt, cursing the mountain, navigating boulder fields, and descending endless miles of quad-destroying terrain, we finally arrived back at the trailhead after 8.5 hours and 10+ miles of hiking. Arriving back at the car was a beautiful thing….it practically brought tears to my eyes.
Someone once wrote on one of my favorite climbing websites that there are two main highlights when climbing a mountain: 1) your arrival at the summit, and 2) the return to the car. I am in complete agreement with this statement.
My dad and I then drove back home through some of the serene ranching areas in southwestern Colorado. A beautiful sight to see after a long day of climbing.
Mt. Lindsey is a climb that I will always remember for both the physical and mental challenge of the terrain. As tough as it was, I loved every second of the climb….even the moments in which I was clinging uncomfortably to the side of a mountain at 14,000 feet above sea level.
What can I say? I’m a mountain goat. I actually enjoy clinging to mountain faces….:)
For now, I’m going to attempt to stretch out my SORE muscles. I swear, hiking 14ers is the best workout there is. As much as I enjoy running, mountain climbing works your entire body in a way that running doesn’t. My arms, core, and legs are all equally sore.
And I must say, I love that feeling. I love hiking. I love 14ers.
I can’t wait for the next one….