Date: September 18, 2015
Route: SW Chimney 5.8
TH: Cross Mountain
Time: 10:05 total
Distance: 10.1 miles
El gain: 3,060 ft.
Gear: 70m rope, standard double rack and a single #4 was plenty for pitch 1, and a ½ rack plus the #4 for the final pitch
Lizard head is a classic ascent that ranks as one of, if not thee most difficult summit in Colorado. What adds to the excitement is the delicate nature of the rock that is slowly eroding away. Since we were climbing mid week we took a somewhat casual approach and started hiking just after 8am from the cross mountain TH.
The approach to the Peak is very well maintained and goes by quickly, we took a short break when we got our first view of Lizard Head after reaching timberline. The peak itself was shrouded in clouds and it was obvious that a moderate wind was blowing above timberline. We continued to the pass between Cross Mountain and Lizard Head where it was obvious that the wind was blowing strong and steady out of the SW and that the first pitch would be cold as it was still in the shade and the wind and morning clouds were keeping the higher elevations cool.
We opted to take a nice break behind a knoll by the pass to get out of the wind and let the sun burn off the morning cloud cover. After 45 minutes we headed up towards the peak despite the strong winds. This part of the approach is on a well-defined climbers trail and we quickly found ourselves at the bottom of the first technical pitch with welcomed shelter from the wind.
The first pitch was now in the sun at the top and we opted to get started. I took the line of weakness to the right of the main crack up to the intermediate anchor where I spent a few minutes to warm my hands. I went up and L passed the 2 pins and because the sun felt so good I continued up and L to an alternate belay in the sun. I feel the climbing was not much more difficult then staying in the crack system and protected well. I belayed Sole and Bill up to the belay where we where happy to be in the sun despite the strong wind keeping the temps low.
We continued up through the 3rd class terrain to the base of the final pitch, which I opted to pitch out due to the fragile rock, cold temps and high consequences of even a minor slip. The final pitch went quickly and protects well with a #4 Camelot. After the crack it is hard to protect the pitch but it lies in a very secure chimney in the 5.6 range for difficulty.
Once we were all at the upper anchor we belayed up to a crack system just below the summit and tagged the summit and took in the amazing view of the surrounding San Juan Mountains and the beginning of the fall colors settling in.
We went back down to the bolted anchor atop the chimney and rappelled off to the East down to the ends of the rope were I built an intermediate trad anchor. Once we all arrived I pulled the ropes and belayed Sole and Bill down to the final anchor above the first pitch. We then did the final rappel back down to our packs. The wind had picked up by this point and we quickly sorted gear and headed for the shelter of the trees below.
Despite the cold and wind this was a great climb and it always has a great adventure feel to it no matter how many times you climb it. Our day went smooth and certainly would have been faster with warmer temps and less wind. All and all a San Juan classic that is a must do for those who enjoy the many summits of the San Juan Mountains. Happy climbing…