Into the Light - An Ascent of Mount Lindsay

by

Arthur Vyn Boennighausen - Webmaster @ http://sangre-de-cristo.com

 

The alarm clock went off much too soon at 3:30am. Our plan was for Dianne " The Huntress " Whalen, my wife Marty and I along with our dog Shogun to meet over at Wilbur Miller's house at 5:00am. We knew we had about a two hour drive to the trailhead in the Huerfano Valley which would give us a 7:00am start to what looked like a 8-10 hour day.

The approach road past the Singing River Ranch was smooth by Sangre de Cristo standards and we arrived at the end of the road and the start of the trail right at 7:00am.The Sacred Mount Blanca's East Face at Sunrise The digital images have captions that appear if you let your mouse hover over them.

The first rays of the Sun had just turned the East Face of Mount Blanca to gold as we started down the trail. Considered by some to be one of the most Sacred places in the world I remembered an excerpt about Mount Blanca from Dr. Edwin Bernbaum's book " Sacred Mountains of the World ":

For most Native Americans these mountains serve as cosmic pillars, defining the world in which they live. Each peak is associated with a color corresponding to the direction in which it lies: blue or green for North, yellow for West, red for South, and white for East.

The Navajo, the largest tribe in the United States, have expanded the scheme of four mountains to cover an enormous area, extending from the San Francisco Peaks of Arizona in the West to the Sangre de Cristo Range of Colorado and New Mexico to the East. According to various versions of their creation myth, when First Man and First Woman emerged from a hole in the earth, they brought with them the soil of the Sacred peaks that had given light to the worlds lying beneath ours. With this soil they fashioned the Sacred mountains of the four directions, along with two or three others, depending on the version of the myth. One account describes the creation of the western peak, Doko'o'slid, or the San Francisco Peaks, in the following way:

The mountain of the West, they fastened to the earth with a sunbeam. They adorned it with abalone shell, with black clouds, he-rain, yellow corn, and all sorts of wild animals. They placed a dish of abalone shell on the top, and laid in this two eggs of the Yellow Warbler, covering them with sacred buckskins. Over all they spread a blanket of yellow evening light, and they sent White Corn Boy and Yellow Corn Girl to dwell there.

 

The Sacred Valley of the Sierra Blanca

 

First Man and First Woman created the mountains of the other three directions in a similar manner, fastening them to the earth with lightning, a flint knife, and a rainbow and spreading over them coverings of white dawn, blue sky, and darkness. Sis Najini, which is identified with Mount Blanca in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, they placed in the East. Tso Dzil, or Mount Taylor, also in the Sangre de Cristo Range in the South; and Dibe Ntsa, which seems to be Mount Hesperus in the La Plata Range of southern Colorado.

Each mountain has its inner form, a deity or Spiritual essence in human shape, who acts as its Soul or Spirit, imbuing it with a Power and intelligence that makes the peak itself a supernatural being. One Navajo with whom I spoke at the college where he teaches used the analogy of an instrument and its music to describe the relationship between the mountain and their indwelling deities: " If you ask a person where music is in a violin and he takes it apart, he will find nothing. In the same way, if we excavate and take apart a Sacred mountain, we will also find nothing. But with belief we can find the Holy person and his Power in the mountain. "

We knew from Louis Dawson's guidebook " Colorado's Fourteeners - The Southern Peaks " that 14,042' Mount Lindsay was to the South of Mount Blanca, hidden from us at first by a 11,000 foot forested ridge. According to Lou's guidebook we were supposed to leave the Huerfano Valley drainage at the point where Nipple Creek came into the Huerfano River.

 

Terminal Morraine as we approach the "Iron Nipple"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The guidebook warned us " There is a well-traveled trail in this area but it is easy to miss ". We managed to miss it anyway in spite of Lou's advice and ended up bushwhacking over a steep ridge until we picked up the trail again at the base of a terminal moraine near a rock formation called the Iron Nipple.

 

Dianne and Wilbur step Into the Light just above the Moraine

 

Just above the moraine Wilbur and Dianne stepped Into the Light filling an Alpine basin with beauty. We all enjoyed taking off our sweaters and letting the rays of the Sun lift our Spirits.

 

Shogun - Hard Dog from Westcliffe, Colorado As usual our three year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever whose name is Shogun was in the best physical condition of all of us for the ascent.

On most outings Shogun will run up and down the mountain several times for our one relatively plodding effort.

We chose the Chesapeake Bay breed years ago for their stamina, intelligence and loyalty to those who they consider their Friends and consider them the ideal mountain dog.

Shogun is the fifth Chesapeake that we have owned and the second with this name. All the others passed on in the last couple of years between the ages of 14 and 16 dog years ( that's the equivalant of 98-112 human years! ) " Old and worn out..... Happy inside..... " to quote a section of a poem I wrote for one of our beloved dogs.

 

Dianne and Marty encourage Wilbur to catch upThe hours passed by in pleasant conversation and we were eager for our first glimpse of Mount Lindsay. I was starting to wonder if we were going to have the energy to climb to the summit after such a long approach and Dianne was already suggesting that we should have set aside 2 - 3 days for this outing with a basecamp set up somewhere near where the image to the right was taken.

Personally I like one long, fast day to carrying a big rucksack full of camping gear and was happy enough with making the attempt using this approach. If we did not make the summit on our first try we could always get in better condition and come back again for a second attempt.

 

 

 

Mount Blanca's "Gash Ridge" The higher we went the more surreal the terrain became. From years of high altitude climbing some of us always feel better when we pass the 12,000 - 13,000 foot level and I was starting to really come alive.

The air at the lower elevations has too much oxygen for some of us and I was happy to be back in the rarified atmosphere of the high mountains.

The first storm clouds were starting to cast their shadows on nearby Mount Blanca as we climbed up the last ridge seperating us from our mountain. I changed the settings on my Olympus digital camera to Black and White mode to give the next image an old time look.

 

 

Marty, Wilbur & Dianne study the Summit Pyramid

 

At last we stepped to the top of the ridge hiding Mount Lindsay's summit pyramid from us...... Yikes! It looked like real climbing skills would be required for the final push and I knew that some members of our party might be uncomfortable with handling 4th class terrain without a rope to belay them past the difficult sections.

More importantly; the clouds were building up and I was not looking forward to climbing down the 1000 foot summit pyramid in a rain and lightning storm with a climbing Team that had never been together before today. It was time to start watching everyone more closely in case Wilbur and I needed to share some of our Strength with some of the other climbers.

I kept thinking of James Ramsey Ullman's book " The White Tower " and offer you a quote from the story in the next paragraph. As you may remember, the story revolved around a group of Friends who found themselves in the beautiful mountain valley that they had enjoyed during childhood. In the story, twenty years had passed since they had last seen each other and only through the influence of the Gods and Spirits were they brought together again. These Friends; older and wiser from life's lessons decided to make another attempt at the mountain they had failed to climb as children in this Sacred valley.

" They knew the pastures and the forests, the paths and the streams. But best of all they loved the still, empty world above the tree line. In a tiny green pocket among the rocks near the terminal moraine of the Durren Glacier was a squat stone shelter known as the Heilweg Hut, which had been built by the Swiss Alpine Club for the convenience of climbers of the near-by-peaks. This they made their headquarters for their forays onto the surrounding ridges and glaciers, planning their routes there, eating their lunches and teas, sprawling relaxed on the springy, sweet-smelling moss when they returned in the late afternoons from their explorations and ascents. "

Dianne Listened to me for a while, then reminded me I was just another romantic and encouraged everyone to get back to the practical exercise of breathing in and out, keeping the heart pumping and the legs moving....... A " chop wood, fetch water " approach to life popular with the Japanese and Chinese cultures.

That is not a Mouse..... That is an Elephant!!Suddenly a fat Marmot jumped out of the boulders and ran across the trail:

" Oh Wilbur, there is a Mouse on the trail !! " Dianne shrieked.

" That is not a Mouse..... that is an Elephant! " Wilbur stated to the group with Scientific confidence as he stepped forward to protect Dianne.

" Oh Wilbur; you know everything!! " Dianne shouted with joy in her eyes as she gave Wilbur a big hug.

Marty and I just rolled our eyes and picked out the next section of the route we had to climb to reach the summit. Shogun was already a hundred yards ahead of us starting to scramble up some couloirs filled with loose rock.

As we started up the couloirs on the East side of Mount Lindsay we moved into 3rd and 4th class terrain. Familiarity with technical climbing skills were an advantage now. I started to see the small mistakes in the Team's movements piling up; the prelude to most mountaineering accidents. Dianne was trying to climb while keeping a hiking stick in one hand, Wilbur was staying in the loose rock of the couloir instead of moving over to the more difficult but safer terrain of solid granite just to the right of the couloir. The entire party was strung out giving a rock knocked loose by one member of the party the chance to gain speed and become a dangerous projectile. Shogun was limited to using paws instead of hands to make the next moves....... Yikes again!

 

That is all of tale that we have time to tell today...... Come back again to hear more about our attempt to climb " Into the Light ".