Peak(s):  Lizard Head - 13,113 feet
Date Posted:  09/09/2007
Date Climbed:   09/09/2007
Author:  san juaneer
 Colorado‘s hardest 13er   

2007/09/08 ~ Lizard Head - 13,113‘
With: Joe Montoya
From: 10,020' Cross Mtn. Trhd.
Route: South Crack
Pitch 1: 5.6
Pitch 2: 5.7+
Pitch 3: 5.7R
Distance: 7.5mi. ~ RT
Gain: 3,200'

A full value adventure!!!

I set my alarm for 5:00 pm. and imagine my surprise when it didn't go off in the morning. The phone rang at a few minutes before 6:00 am. and Joe was already out front. I still had to pack up the gear so a late start was all we could make happen. We arrived at the trailhead at 8:10 am. And on the trail 5 minutes later. A pair of climbers was right in front of us out of the gate... grrr!

We made slow but steady progress up the 2,000' of gain to the Cross Mountain pass, not in a hurry because we figured we would allow the party ahead of us some time to climb. We saw them again high on the SouthEast ridge, as we made for the West ridge simply because it was the route I had taken last Spring on my first attempt with Todd Holmes. I have been training all summer for this day, by leading as many 5th class peaks as I could talk partners in to joining me on. I knew this would be a big day for me!

The last 800' from the pass to the foot of the route was a bit of a struggle with all of the gear we were hauling, and time seemed to drag. We reached the foot of the route 4 hours after leaving the trailhead at 12:15 pm. The party ahead of us had decided to bail after the first 70' pitch, and was just loading up to leave as we arrived. The leader was frozen stiff from the morning shade on the route. We were on line at 12:30 pm. Didn't the book say to be leaving the summit before noon?

I was geared to the max with a full rack of camalots from #.2- #5, a #2 was my only duplicate. Joe kept my rack of nuts, #1-#10 for belay anchors, should we need them. We had a pair of 60 M, 9 mil. double half ropes which I believe is the standard recommendation for this here "hardest peak over 13,000' in the state".

I took Teresa G.'s advice this time by getting in the crack and staying in the crack. It was working! Only a small amount of problem solving brought me to the 70' ledge with two knife blade pitons fixed in the wall. Some fresh webbing was accompanied by two opposing carabiners that the party ahead of us had left behind. I anchored in and brought Joe up to join me. I needed moral support close at hand for the next 80' pitch. It looked intimidating!

I set out on lead again confronted by an awkward bulge after 10'. I got a #3 in underneath
it, and backed it with a runner out to a ringed piton on the face to the left. After the bulge, the crack was still wide enough to climb inside, but not big enough to stem across, so much pressing ensued. There were often places to gain purchase with my heels as I slowly pressed my way upwards, but I was tiring regularly with all of the effort expended. I should also mention that the crack was eating up protection well and regularly so even though the climbing was hard, I still felt pretty comfortable. Of course the last 15' of the pitch attempted to change my mind about my former statement, but I was determined to get to the notch where a proper retreat could be arranged without loss of personal gear.

Joe made good time up to where I comfortably sat in the notch, but without much room to share, I asked him just to swing leads, and go find us a better spot on the 3rd class ledge. After a short break, he acquiesced and headed out on lead. He found a nice little alcove with a spot of shade after 60' or so, and anchored in to bring me up. Neither one of us noticed that we had missed the 3rd class exit to the left, so when I set out on lead again, I was really questioning somebody's grade rating of 3rd class. It went steeply up a loose 4th+ class gully, but protection was available, if sparse. Back onto the 3rd class ledge I anchored in at the foot of the 5.8 route finish, and brought up Joe to share our discerning prognosis' of the two known finishes.

The 5.8 crack looked like more than either one of us could take at this point in the game, so I set out to find the 5.7R finish instead. I had thought I could make it out from far below, but things looked different up here, and it took a little guesswork and backtracking. I could see up into it from the top of the steep gully we had just climbed, but the easiest start was across a ledge system to the left, closer to the foot of the 5.8 crack.

Joe got a #10 nut in the boulder out in the middle of the ledge to back his belay, and I set out on lead again, only this time I was nearly spent. The ledge traverse was a little thin on holds, but took a couple of pieces which I added runners to to diminish rope drag. I can best describe this final face as a diamond which the intended route is to follow the right portions of the feature. Below the right side of the diamond is a massive 3' wide flake, separated from the face by a 6" off width. My #5 was too small to place, so I would jamb either my knee or even my whole leg inside to balance myself on the big flake.

At the top of the flake, which was the right side point of the diamond face, I found a pair of pitons which served mostly to enhance rope drag at the bite, but then again at least offered some protection, I started out left up the top right facet of the diamond. This next stretch was the highlight of the climb for me. I have never felt so exposed before. Sure, I was only 70' or so off of the deck, but beyond that, it drops off another 175' or so, and the horizon is ever expanding to the West. The ledge ascends at approximately 45 degrees with a starting width of about 18", but diminishes to about a foot at the top, 30' up to the left. It ate up my all of my micro-cams, but the rope drag was horrendous after the bite and I was really grunting to pull it up over the crux of the top of the diamond face. CHAINS! Hallelujah!!! Off Belay, I yelled and a cheer rang out for all to hear. We were gonna make it yet. Joe smoothed up the face to meet me, and we ditched the rope for the short scramble toward the summit.

It was 4:30 pm. When we arrived on the summit, and there we found a steel canister so stuffed with paper that most of it was inextricable, but the most easily accessible piece had the names of my web-friends Bill, Cynthia, and Jason, who signed in with the same purple pen 14 months earlier. We were unable to find any names in between our visits, but that probably doesn't mean too much given the 'rats nest' condition of the register. We let out our summit whoops, which were answered by a couple far below down by the trail juncture, and celebrated perhaps a bit too long...

We set up the rappel for a descent of the 5.8 route, and then flipped the rope out over the diamond to continue our rappel down the 4th class gully to the notch above the first two pitches. Just enough rope to get there, and then... woops! The rope would not pull at this angle. Darnit! The sun was nearing the horizon, and we don't even have any headlamps. Joe pulled the ropes taught so I could fix them to my atc and I began the climb back up to the foot of the final pitch. As I self belayed, I stopped at intervals to tug on the proper rope, but it held fast. It was all the way back for me. I finally retrieved both ropes, and rapped up all 400', tying them together, and linking them over my shoulders in a somewhat ungainly fashion. As I slowly downclimbed the loose third class shelf, the sun set behind Mt. Wilson. We gotta move, and we gotta move now!!!

Joe was shivering when I returned and light was fading fast, so we tied and tossed ropes, hoping to be back to terra firma ASAP. Joe left first, and anchored in on the lower shelf while he shook out the remainder of the rope to the ground still far below. Soon he was down, and I followed promptly after. I have never rappelled 160' before, so it was adrenaline city all the way down. My feet touched the ground at 8:00pm, and we made quick work of the gear, returning it to the packs, and donning hiking boots for the ever darkening retreat to the highway.

We made the trail below the pass at dusk and hurried for the forest where it would only get darker than dark without any moonlight to guide us. At the lower meadows, there was a faint glow on the trail, but once we reached the forest it was a game of guess where. The strip of sky between the treetops was our best help at determining where the trail was below us. An agonizing three miles of this drew more expletives from my lungs than an average year would normally produce, but we made it safely to the truck at 9:45 pm., a mere 13.5 hours after leaving the truck... Whew!

My friend Andy introduced me to a beautiful woman named Jean this afternoon and as we spoke, I mentioned my climb of the Lizard Head the day before... Oddly enough, she asked me if I had heard her return my summit whoop from far below. Isn‘t it ironic... dontcha‘ think... A little too ironic... Talk about breaking the ice!

This was a hard earned summit for me, and I believe it will always remain on my 'Top Ten List' of life experiences. Perhaps it's too soon to say that at this age, but I can already tell you that it registers in the 'Top Three' to date, so I think the chances are pretty good. I think what pleases me most is that if I so choose to attempt to complete the 13'ers of Colorado, I don't have to return to this nasty peak if I don't want to. It can now remain a simple matter of choice!

Rock On!!!

Comments or Questions
san juaneer
09/10/2007 16:05
I would take all of the cams, and ditch the nuts...
this is an active pro jobber for sure!

Well done
09/10/2007 19:39
Congrats! Good read!

11/30/2010 17:28
Congrats, Aaron. I'll look forward to seeing the pics someday! Very interesting twist at the end...will this story be continued in the next episode?
(I sent you a PM.)

Steve Knapp
Nice climb Aaron
11/30/2010 17:28
Congrats on climbing the Lizard Head Aaron. Let me know when you are ready to lead it again and I'm there. (maybe this weekend? ) I have a lot of work ahead of me before I could ever lead it. Very nice descriptive trip report too. I was right there with you while reading it.

02/05/2011 00:22
on this elusive summit! thanks so much for putting up this TR, as I'd like to tackle this one myself. if you did it again, would you take the full rack of cams and nuts, or would you trim that down? have a good one.


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