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Sunrise from Mt. Lindsey

Sunrise from Mt. Lindsey, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, Colorado

Sunrise from Mt. Lindsey, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, Colorado

I had one last Fourteener shoot to do in the Sangre de Cristo Range: Mt. Lindsey. The standard route climbs a steep, loose gully on the northwest face with a nasty reputation for rockfall. A much more appealing possibility, in my mind, was the elegant northwest ridge itself. The crux of that route is a steep 4th-class headwall. As usual, I hadn't done the route before, but an airy ridge sounded like more fun, even in the dark by headlamp, than groveling up some dangerous gully. I was still using the battery-binging Petzl Zoom headlamp that had almost cost me my sunrise shoot on North Maroon Peak when my out-of-date batteries died, but this time I had plenty of fresh batteries.

After a final very windy night at South Colony Lake, I hiked out, drove to the Lily Lake/Huerfano trailhead and hiked to a spectacular campsite at about 11,900 feet. Once again the alarm jarred me awake at midnight. A thin but serviceable trail lead me to the base of the northwest ridge. Gradually the ridge steepened and narrowed. The hiking ended and the scrambling began. I was traversing just below the ridge crest on the north side when the terrain forced me onto the very crest of the ridge. Suddenly I realized I was clinging to the summit of a pinnacle that was only a foot thick. I looked down. Sixty feet below me my headlamp beam revealed a well-worn traverse line that completely bypassed the exposed pinnacles I had inadvertently tackled. I considered back-tracking, but hated to lose elevation. After another few minutes of exposed scrambling, I reached the notch beneath the crux headwall.

A direct line continuing straight up just left of the ridge crest looked like the steepest option but also the shortest. I started up carefully , testing holds, making sure I could reverse any move I made. I was assuming, of course, that I could see those moves to reverse them. I had just reached a six-inch ledge immediately below the hardest sequence of moves when my headlamp battery suddenly died, plunging me into the complete darkness of a moonless night. There was no way to climb back down to the notch in the dark and no way to take off my pack and dig into it for my headlamp bag while I was perched on a tiny ledge. Fortunately, I had thought ahead far enough to stash a tiny, one-ounce backup headlamp and a spare Petzl Zoom battery in a pouch attached to the shoulder straps of my pack. With utmost care, I retrieved the backup headlamp from my chest pouch and pressed the on switch. To my great relief, the headlamp powered on immediately just like it had when I had tested it the night before. Focused intently on not dropping anything, I changed batteries in the Petzl Zoom and turned it back on. The limits of my vision expanded instantly to 100 yards. Emboldened, I pulled through the crux moves and reached easier ground. I gained the summit three hours after leaving camp.

I had arrived so early I was able to shoot the Milky Way over Blanca Peak before the brightening sky washed out the stars. The sun rose into thick haze. I had smelled wood smoke several times quite strongly at South Colony Lake, and I learned later that eight wildfires were burning in Colorado on the day I climbed Lindsey. I shot the eerie scene looking straight toward the rising sun, then made a few record frames of Little Bear, Blanca, and Ellingwood as the first rays of the sun bathed the highest ridges in an amber glow.

Soon it was time to descend. I debated my choice: descend the ugly gully on the northwest face, or descend the northwest ridge, my ascent route. Although the crux moves had been harder and more exposed than I had expected, I didn't want to feel like I had climbed up something I was unwilling to descend. Cautiously, I started down the ridge. After drawing several long breaths to steady my nerves, I reversed the crux moves on the headwall, traversed the jagged pinnacles I had climbed on the way up, and reached gentler terrain. The remainder of the descent was routine. As I was driving home on I-25 that afternoon I passed through Colorado Springs. The Waldo Canyon fire had erupted just the day before. Leaping flames and ominous plumes of smoke were already clearly visible from the highway. Two days later 65 mph winds created an inferno that destroyed over 300 homes.

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