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"Huerfano Peak" (Un. 13,828)

July 18, 2010 - South Slopes


My original plan was to head south from Cheyenne on Friday night, camp near the Lily Lake trail head and then take a shot at Huerfano the next morning. Back in the day, I used to think nothing of driving 6 hours from Baltimore to southern West Virginia on Friday night, cave hard for the whole of the weekend and then drive six hours home, arriving an hour or two before work on Monday. I was 24 years old then, now I'm . . . 'er . . . 'ah. . . 49. Times sure do change . . .

The plan was that Debbie, a.k.a. Sra. Pinga, was going to camp sit on Saturday morning and then we would take off for Westcliffe, grab dinner at the Uruguayan place and then camp somewhere nearby before heading north, via the Phantom Canyon Road and by way of the old mining town of Victor. Hell, by the time Friday night arrived, I had another 40+ hours of practicing law under my belt and little energy reserved for a drive to an unknown campsite at 0:dark:30. We decided to flip the trip upside down and leave the next morning for Victor and then end up in the Blanca by Saturday night.

I'll spare the story of Victor other than to say if you have any interest in mining history, it is a must do if you are near Pikes Peak. As a recovering mining engineer, I love the sight of muck piles, the whiff of sulfide laden mine air and the specter of a head frame silhouetted on the skyline. We scored Victor's annual town festival and ended up spending a half day wandering about. By about 3:00 we did however make our way down the Phantom Canyon Road to Florence and then on to Westcliffe for dinner at the Cel Dor Asado restaurant (Traditional Uruguayan Wood Fired Grill - 213 Main Street in Westcliffe). I am a huge fan of this place as the gals who operate it deserve the title of Asadors, or perhaps more rightfully Asadoras. I'm always up for a chivito sandwich and they know how to do one the right way (I'll confess to being one to shun the egg option). We dined and then, while we still had light, made our way south to Gardner and on up past the Singing River Ranch to find a campsite for the night.

We picked a spot no more than 100 yards from the Lily Lake trail head and set up camp for one night. The plan was for me to get an alpine start and for Debbie to hang around camp until my midday return. She is self entertaining and would kill time messing with constructing inventory for her crafts business or taking a short hike here or there. Regardless, iI figures that if I got an alpine start and she slept in until sun hit proper, she wouldn't have too much waiting to do for a short climb like Huerfano via its mellow southern slopes.

I set the alarm for 4:30 and was geared up and on the trail at 5:00. A truck had passed at about 4:00 and another slipped my me as I left the camp site, indicia that at least some of the other folks on the trail would not be complete bozos. I signed the register, seeing that a party of one and another of four were ahead of me, both Lindsey bound. I'd been to the summit of Lindsey three times so there was not going to be much route finding for this climb, which utilized the same course as a climb of Lindsey until the saddle connecting Lindsey with Iron Nipple. I crossed the open meadow just beyond the register, knowing the view to be incredible but alas it was still dark and I would be on the headlamp for another quarter to half hour. I'd catch that view on the way back.

I stuck with the familiar trail, stopping once to think about where the crossing to the other side of the Huerfano was but at the same time recognizing a slight jog in the braided trail. I crossed on logs and stones and soon enough stated the cut up through a bit of tight forest before skirting the edge of the large talus slope that announces one's arrival at the toughest part of the climb. I've been up Lindsey three times and the steep slog up the draw the leads up Nipple Creek away from the Huerfano and into the upper meadow is always the worst part of the climb. The track is steep and offers little opportunity to escape the challenging grade. It is over soon enough, but it is, to me, the hardest part of a climb of Lindsey.

I passed the expected old mine adit and then crossed the creek to tackle the last steep section before I arrived at the flattish knoll that overlooks the alpine meadow that I knew to cross to ascend a rounded fin leading to the Lindsey/Blanca ridge. I dropped off the knoll to traverse to the base of the fin and begin yet another slog but this one is out in the open and with views that are the equal of any others in the Blanca. I made the ridge line and rested a bit before climbing the last bit of slope to reach the Lindsey/Iron Nipple saddle. I knew there was a scree and a talus option for this short climb and I chose the talus course. I rock hopped my way about 2/3 of the 150 or so feet of necessary vertical before dropping into the scree track for the final yards to the saddle.

I'd been up Lindsey three times but never given Huerfano a second glance during the course of any of those earlier climbs. I had my mind either on a solo climb up the North Face Couloirs the first time or on the class 4 terrain that lay before Ed and I on a later pair of climbs up the tougher Northwest Ridge. But that should come as little surprise, given that Lindsey was offering hand and foot climbing as compared to Huerfano's class one hike with a short stretch of class 2 talus hopping thrown in to keep you from doing the climb in your sleep. I left the saddle and hiked along the ridge line, using a strong climber's trace to work may way over to the flank of Iron Nipple. I knew from the guide book that there was a slot crossing that gave passage through the buttress that leads down from the Nipple but I missed it on my way up.

Instead, I did a class 2 climb up through the rock, following a traffic scuffed course and arrived at the top of a class three down climb that would land me on the other side of the buttress. I did the short down climb and looked across a talus slope to a more sedate grass slope that would grant passage to the summit of Huerfano. I love to talus hop so off I went, two feet, two hiking poles and a sense of balance that rarely fails me. I hopped and jinked and pivoted my way across talus for 15 or 20 minutes before arriving at the grass slope on the far side. Time for a Gu and then a slow relaxed hike on up the grass slope to a narrow band of talus that seemed to guard the last steps to the summit proper. The summit was in fact not the first high point but a second, accessed via a minor class 2 talus jumble. I was soon on the summit.

The view from the top takes in Lindsey, the Blanca Massif, and then stretches up the San Luis to the Crestones to the north. A great panorama of past climbs and a climb here and there ye to come. I sipped some Cytomax, shot another GU and then left to track my way on back to the Lindsey saddle and down the trail to the camp below. On the way back, I stayed high to avoid the class 3 stretch I down climbed on the ascent and found that I'd barely missed the correct course through the Iron Nipple Buttress. I descended through the advertised squarish slot and popped out on the ridge leading back to the saddle. From the saddle it was all familiar territory and at 11:20 I arrived at the truck to find the camp broken and my compadre ready to hike a bit herself.


Across the valley . . . a snow climb of California Peak