.:Getting to the trailhead:.
To get to the Lily Lake trailhead from Denver, drive is south down I-25 from Denver to the Walsenburg exit (Exit 52 - that's about 140 miles south of Denver proper). Stay right at the exit and just after the truck stop on the right side of the road, turn right onto CO 69. Drive CO 69 for about 25 miles to the little dot-on-the-map town of Gardner. At the far end of town (not even a mile), turn left (west) towards Redwing. Measuring from here, the road transitions to dirt at about mile 7. Stay on the main road until the fork at mile 12, where you'll bear left. At 16 miles you'll pass the Singing River Ranch, then the Aspen River Ranch around mile 17. Note that this is all private property, so don't start looking for places to park just yet. The road starts to get progressively rougher around the private ranches, but is still just fine for most cars & trucks. The National Forest boundary appears around mile 20.5, and from here you can camp/park at any of the numerous turnouts up to the trailhead. The Huerfano River/Lily Lake trailhead is somewhere around mile 22.7, and the last half-mile is pretty bumpy and steep (4x4 recommended). For you 14er-guide-followers out there, my distances came in slightly longer than Roach's, but the whole route is very well signed all the way to the trailhead.
Mount Lindsey is one of the more underrated fourteeners in the Colorado 54 - seems like you never hear much about it, and everyone forgets Lindsey when they try to rattle off the list of 14ers. Part of this is due to the fact that Lindsey sits in the shadow of the more popular Blanca and Little Bear. And part of it is due to the fact that you go quite a ways off the beaten track to get there (some might say 'the freakin' middle of nowhere', but not me!). However, having driven the drive and climbed the climb, Lindsey's way up near the top of my 'favorites' list now!
Despite the fact that Lindsey is at the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo range, I thought I'd try to make it a day-trip from Denver. That said, I was up waaaay before the crack of dawn on the16th of August, and on the road from Littleton just after 3am. I arrived at the trailhead right about 7:30 (which included a half-hour catnap just outside Pueblo). As you drive this route, you'll probably think to yourself, "there's a mountain to climb around here?". Indeed, from Walsenburg through Gardner and up until nearly the private ranches, the surrounding terrain is a bit on the desolate side. Finally though, the Sange de Cristo range leaps up from the horizon, and the landscape quickly goes from barren to lush ranchland to forested mountains. You'll even catch several good views of Blana Peak's north face as you approach the National Forest boundary.
It was a cool morning with a few low clouds lurking about the mountaintops when I pulled in to the trailhead. After a quick pack-check, I was off along the excellent trail along the Huerfano Valley floor. The first mile meanders along the valley, with stunning views of the surrounding peaks and Blanca looming in the distance. Unnamed points 12,410' and 12,915' are off to the left. You can't actually see Lindsey yet at this point, though. At about 1.1 miles, the trail to Lily Lake branches off to the west (climber's right). You'll want to stay on the valley floor and cross the stream a few dozen yards further on. There are a few small logs to facilitate a crossing - they were just fine for a mid-August crossing, but probably wouldn't cut it earlier in the season when the runoff is higher.
After the stream crossing, the trail angles briefly left and then continues up the valley for a couple tenths of a mile before angling steeply up a runoff gully to the left. Roach's book says to look for a climber's trail in the trees after the stream crossing, but the trail is pretty obvious. The 2/3 mile or so up the runoff gully is steep, but also along a well-beaten path. You'll notice before long that there was very recent avalanche/landslide activity here, probably during the winter of 2002~2003, and there are several places where freshly splintered trees obliterate the trail. Once you've scrambled over the debris, the trail is usually easy to spot.
The climb levels out in a beautiful basin at 12,000, where you'll get your first good look at Lindsey. No, that's not it to your left...the prominent and broken-rubble peak to the climbers' left is Iron Nipple. Mount Lindsey is the pyramind poking over the ridge beyond. Even from this distance, it's a little intimidating. The views of Blanca and Ellingwood to the south are absolutely fantastic. The low clouds of early morning were still hanging around, brushing the summit of Blanca and gathering along the ridgelines to the south. They didn't look like trouble yet, but I decided to keep an eye on 'em.
The trail crosses this little basin from right to left and you get a brief respite from climbing - for about 1/2 mile the trail is virtually flat. Once on the left side of the basin, the trail abruptly angles upwards again as you gain the northwest ridge of Lindsey at 13,160'. As the summit pyramid gets closer, it starts looking worse and worse, at least compared to the mild trail-hike up to this point. The summit pyramid looks steep and forbidding - much more so than it really is! I encountered three other climbers on their way down, and all had the same advice - stick to the ridge, stay out of the gully.
This approach to Lindsey (which is the only one not on private property, by the way) has two variations from the saddle point on the ridge. From the saddle, you can either angle into Lindsey's north face (the trail is still strong here) and ascend a steep gully full of loose rock (Class 2/2+), or leave the trail and climb straight up the ridge, which is a Class III climb on excellent, solid rock. The consensus seemed to be that the ridge was a better climb due to the loose rock and rockfall hazard in the gully. Based on the this feedback, and the fact I didn't have a helmet to ward off potential rockfall, I too opted for the ridge.
Walking from the ridgeline towards Lindsey, the intimitation factor decreases as several possible routes up the ridge become evident. I spotted a couple of climbers scrambling up the ridge and loosely followed their line, eventually catching up with them. Cliff and Deb turned out to be from Westminster, and had car-camped last night before the climb. With their permission, I joined them for the remainder of the ascent, and together we picked our way up the ridge. The exposure is not bad at all, and the rock is very solid. The best routes seemed to be just to the climbers' left side of the ridge. After a few steep pitches, the angle eased up and we were walking on the ridgeline, the summit just within reach!
And of course, the first summit is a false one...I think that's in someone's rulebook somewhere. The true summit was about 200 yards away, an easy hike across the last of the ridgeline. The three of us made the summit at about 11:30, making for a climb of just under four hours.
The summit of Lindsey gives stunning views of Little Bear, Blanca, and Ellingwood, with the pancake-flat San Luis valley just beyond. An excellent view of the Crestones to the north was obscured by clouds, although a good chunk of the Great Sand Dunes was evident. Immediately to the west we could look down on the 13,500' summit of Iron Nipple and beyond into the San Luis valley as well. To the east, the gentle foothills leading up to the Sange de Cristos faded into the grasslands and prarie that were so daunting to drive through earlier in the day.
The summit register gives a true indication of how infreqently Lindsey is visited...names and dates going back to 2000! After signing in and scarfing some Clif Bars, it was time for the descent. Cliff and Deb and I decided to see how rotten the aforementioned gully was on the descent....some of the route we climbed would be a bit of a chore to downclimb, and so long as the gully was empty of people, it should be relatively safe. Turned out to be very rotten, in fact! Every step sent scree and talus down the face of the mountain. On one occasion, Deb sent something the size of a couple bowling balls crashing far down into the drainage below. We found the best descent to be just to the climber's left of the main gully itself (as you descend), where the rock was slightly more stable and easier to downclimb.
It took just under an hour from the summit to the saddle at 13,160', and this was where we parted ways. Cliff and Deb were going to bag Iron Nipple while in the vicinity, and I was ready to get back down and back to civilization. After a couple hearty handshakes, I scooted on down off the ridge and into the basin, then down again into the Huerfano Valley. It seemed like no time at all I was back at the trailhead!
Reflecting back, I certainly wouldn't recommend Lindsey as a "first 'teener', but I would definitely recommend it as a great intermediate climb...it's basically 3 miles of scenic trail-hiking and 3/4 mile of solid scrambling, which is excellent experience for some of the harder peaks like the Wilsons or Crestones. While it's a shame more people don't take advantage of this excellent climb, it's also refreshing to be able to spend a day in the hills and see less than a dozen people!