Sunday, August 18, 2013

UN 13,828 ("Huerfano Peak")
Iron Nipple (13,500 ft.)

6 August, 2013: After returning from California Peak the previous day, we (James, George, and I) moved James' SUV and thereby moved our camp from the Lower Huerfano TH, about one mile up the road to the Upper Huerfano TH, sometimes known as the Lily Lake TH. This is the end of the vehicle road. We got—for a change—a decent, full night's sleep.
There was rain and noisy wind during much of the night, making us reluctant to crawl out of our bags and poke our heads out in the morning. The result of this was that we once again got a late start by mountaineering standards. We hit the trail around 6:30 am.
Once again, the morning sky was largely clear early on, but we tried to make good time, expecting some clouding over later. After crossing the Huerfano River a mile or so in, we hit the section where the trail is braided and sketchy. It was still hard to follow—despite having been there twice before—untl the trail settled in alongside the river tumbling down the steep section of its drainage.
Clouds were already gathering by the time we broke out above timberline and began the steep climb to the Mt. Lindsey/Iron Nipple saddle. We met a descending climber who had gotten a more sensible alpine start (i.e., before sunrise) and successfully climbed Lindsey. He advised against attempting Lindsey in view of the incoming weather. This was something of a disappointment to James and George, who, up until that time, had harbored hopes of doing just that in conjunction with Huerfano. But, being realistic, we all agreed that the wise thing to do was make directly for Huerfano, and re-evaluate the weather when we got there to see if, just maybe, Lindsey could be done second.
I say “directly” but that's a poor description of our actual route. It turns out that the crux of a climb of Huerfano by this route is getting either over or around the summit of Iron Nipple. To avoid giving up substantial elevation to bypass “the Nipple” entirely on its south side, we had to come very close to its summit. So, the decision was easy to go ahead and climb it. Neither of my co-conspirators had previously climbed Iron Nipple, and it gave us a good view of the start of our ridge traverse to Huerfano. I installed a register for Iron Nipple, and we set off down the ridge.
That descent off the summit was definitely the toughest climbing of the day. We descended on rough—though not particularly loose—talus near the ridge crest, to and actually a little beyond the low point between the two peaks. After that, we were back on gently sloped tundra, only occasionally interspersed with small rocks, until we neared the summit of Huerfano.
There's a small, rocky summit area along a curving ridgeline, which we reached as light rain mixed with graupel began to fall. It wasn't particularly cold or windy, but we could see more clouds moving in from the south and west. It was clear that foregoing Lindsey had been, and still was the right decision. So, after a few minutes' celebration and picture-taking, we began re-tracing our steps.
Of course, we still couldn't get all the way back without, once again, having a couple of small route finding adventures in the braided section of the trail (just before the river crossing), but we did make it down in less time than up. Some pictures are at:

We made it back to the TH well before sunset, loosely packed up, and headed down the road with Westcliffe as our goal. We planned on a good dinner in town, and a comfortable night in a motel before packing into the South Colony Lakes TH the next morning.

RT: 7.9 mi.
Vert.: 3,630 ft.

Long life and many peaks!


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