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Lizard Head

Colorado > Alpine Rock > Northern San Juans

Description

Lizard Head is a very impressive mountain located in the San Juan mountain range near Telluride. The top 500 feet of Lizard Head is a near vertical pillar, the result of heavy erosion leaving just the neck of an ancient volcano. Known as possibly the most difficult mountain summit to reach in Colorado, the routes to the summit are loose and start at about 5.8 in difficulty. The summit itself is at 13,113 feet above sea level.

There are at least 3 established lines on the tower's south face. All the routes require testing every hold, as much loose rock exists. Routes are 3 to 4 pitches long, with one pitch in the middle being loose class 3. Bring 2 ropes for the rappel, and expect to do some downclimbing. Start early, as this would be a bad place to be in a thunderstorm.

Getting There

From Telluride, drive south towards Lizard Head [Pass]. A trailhead is here for one optional approach. Probably a better approach is to continue south from the pass for about two miles. Turn right on a dirt road with signs for the Cross Mountain trailhead. Take a left at the almost immediate junction on the dirt road, cross a creek, and continue to a parking area for Cross Mountain.

Follow the well defined trail, taking a right at a junction a few minutes from the car (sign near reads 'Groundhog Stock Trail'). Continue up the trail for about 3 miles to a pass between Cross Mountain (~12,700 feet on the left), and Lizard Head on the right. Head up the grass shoulder which turns to scree higher up. This is pretty easy if you find the strong climber's trail that goes to the base. Head around the base to the right to find the south face routes.

Routes from Left to Right

5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R
 35
Southwest Chimney
Trad, Alpine 3 pitches
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
Southwest Chimney
 35
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R Trad, Alpine 3 pitches

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Ca. 1910 image of "Lizzard Head" by LC McClure, from the Denver Public Library's photoswest.org website.
[Hide Photo] Ca. 1910 image of "Lizzard Head" by LC McClure, from the Denver Public Library's photoswest.org website.
View from zee top.
[Hide Photo] View from zee top.
Lizard Head as seen from the southeast ridgeline.
[Hide Photo] Lizard Head as seen from the southeast ridgeline.
As seen from near the base of the standard route.
[Hide Photo] As seen from near the base of the standard route.
The shot was taking on our approach. The normal approach trail is to our left and follows the left skyline to the base of Lizard Head. <br>
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The peaks seen in the background are the Wilson Group.
[Hide Photo] The shot was taking on our approach. The normal approach trail is to our left and follows the left skyline to the base of Lizard Head. The peaks seen in the background are the Wilson Group.
Lizard Head as seen from the parking lot.
[Hide Photo] Lizard Head as seen from the parking lot.
Zach comming up the last pitch.
[Hide Photo] Zach comming up the last pitch.
Paul rocks choss, P3.
[Hide Photo] Paul rocks choss, P3.
Looking up the first pitch.
[Hide Photo] Looking up the first pitch.
Top of pitch one/two. We did it in one.
[Hide Photo] Top of pitch one/two. We did it in one.
Lizard head in winter.
[Hide Photo] Lizard head in winter.
Lizard from the Cross Mt. trailhead winter.
[Hide Photo] Lizard from the Cross Mt. trailhead winter.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

Matt Juth
Evergreen
[Hide Comment] The small summet affords one of the best views you will ever see! Be extremely careful on the talus on top and middle section. A party was hit by rocks from careless people at the top the day we climbed it. They were roped up on loose talus, and their rope caused a large rockfall. Sep 3, 2003
Vince MacMillan
Dolores, CO
[Hide Comment] "It was apparent when we reached the Head that there was nasty work before us. A rottener mass of rock is inconceivable. The core may still be solid but the "surrounding tuffs" are seeking a lower level in large quantities. This far-advanced disintegration was our greatest obstacle. Absolutely the whole surface of the rock is loose and pebbles rain down from the sides as readily as needles from an aging Christmas tree." ALBERT L. ELLINGWOOD, November, 1921. Sep 8, 2008
Ray Hellinger
Gunnison, CO
[Hide Comment] Rope soloed this one a few yrs ago after my partner bailed a few hundred feet from the start of the climb. He blamed the altitude, but I think it was lack of courage, haha. First pitch was VERY fun and solid. The 3rd class, scree scramble what the scariest part. I the 5.7, ledges variation to the summit was pretty easy to climb and downclimb. After looking at the anchors on the summit, I think I would have downclimbed even with a rope (I left it fixed at the first pitch). Jul 16, 2012
Matthias Holladay
Shiprock, Navajolands
[Hide Comment] George, that makes sense! Jul 14, 2014
[Hide Comment] I just did Lizard Head yesterday, and it's well worth the effort. The hike in is mellow and beautiful and the views are stupendous.

It's a two pitch climb with a rope length of low angle third class choss in between. The two pitches are clean with very little loose rock and engaging climbing for the grade.

I found no loose rock on the beginning of the first pitch, and while you have to work a bit for pro, I think an R rating is not justified...how about calling it PG-13?

The third pitch has a short, fun crux where a #4 Camalot might be found useful.
DO NOT bring two ropes, at least not past the first pitch. The chains at the top of the third pitch were not put in with any forethought. They are not long enough to go over the edge, and you are in real danger of getting your rope stuck if you, as suggested, use two ropes to get you down to the rap anchors at the top of the first pitch. It would be much better two do a single rope rap and then easily downclimb to the last rap anchors. You can get down the first pitch with a single 70 meter rope with possibly a touch of downclimbing. Another option would be to bring a tag line and leave it at the top of the first pitch. Aug 2, 2017