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Routes in Lizard Head

Southwest Chimney T 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R
Type: Trad, Alpine, 400 ft, 3 pitches, Grade II
FA: unknown
Page Views: 7,981 total, 46/month
Shared By: Peter Gram on Aug 30, 2003
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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On the south side of Lizard Head, look for a wide crack/chimney in a large corner. This pitch is easily identified by a large notch about 140 feet up - this is the first belay station.

P1. Start up the wide crack system. An easier but probably looser variation climbs 5-10 feet right through the obvious weakness. Continue up either way for about half a rope length to a belay station with two pitons and rap rings. From this station, step left into the chimney, and look for two pitons in a crack on the left face. Either continue up this chimney, or climb the left crack and traverse back into the chimney higher up (recommended). Continue to the notch where there is a fixed anchor. This pitch is extremely loose before the first intermediate anchor (5.6) but is more solid and harder (5.8) on the second half.

P2. Climb up a few feet and then work your way across the loose scree field up and left to a belay below the final headwall. A few sections of really loose class 3 are encountered, and take care not to knock scree over the edge if possible. The anchor before the headwall requires a little creativity, as there is not many options. 190 feet.

P3. Look for a ledge system that first diagonals right across the upper wall, and then back left. Pull a hard bulge (5.8) onto the ledge (piton), then work up right (easy and solid, but no pro unless you have a #5 camalot size). Then work left on a very exposed and smaller ledge up to the anchors (5.6).

Use caution when going to the summit, as exposure is great and the rock is very loose. The summit is among the best in Colorado!

Descent: downclimb 40 feet to the south & rappel the 3rd pitch (possible with a 60m rope), then downclimb the 3rd class pitch to the notch. Alternate: with 2 60m ropes, rap all the way to the notch & skip the death scree. Then rap about 150 feet to the ground using two ropes.


Standard rack. Nice to have a good cam selection from about a yellow Alien size up to a #3 or #3.5 Camalot. A #3.5 or #4 Camalot makes a huge difference on the bulge crux on the top pitch. Tricams are also very useful. There are two pitons on the first pitch and one on the third that are all rather old, so screamers come in handy.
Jesse Jakomait
Colorado Springs, CO
Jesse Jakomait   Colorado Springs, CO
Me and buddy did this line June 29 and found the first pitch to be as everyone describes as loose and harder than it looks from the ground, but the final rope pitch that ended with the chain anchors with a few mid pitch pitons felt much easier than the bottom pitch. I don't consider myself a badass trad climber, but I never felt the need to use either the #3 or #4 Camalot we hiked in with. However, I do agree with some R rating, since we didn't attempt to build a belay anchor on the crackless sloped ledge, and I couldn't get my first piece of gear in until 15' up after pulling a small bulge. It's hard to trust any of the rock up there, so be careful what you pull on!

And to clarify Rich F's comment about the 70m rope, you can rap from the webbing at the top of P1 all the way to the ground with a 70. Jul 2, 2015
Garret Nuzzo-Jones
Salt Lake City, UT
  5.8+ R
Garret Nuzzo-Jones   Salt Lake City, UT
  5.8+ R
Do it for the view and to say you did it. The first pitch is harder than it looks and way looser than it should be (5.7+ R). The second pitch is a real grunt but reasonable and easier to protect (5.8+). Sep 22, 2013
Kelsey Sheely
Flagstaff, AZ
Kelsey Sheely   Flagstaff, AZ
I don't recommend doing this in the winter unless you enjoy needless suffering. After 4 hours of skinning and endless postholing, we finally got to the base and put on our rock shoes for a few short pitches. I didn't think the rock was nearly as sketchy as I had been led to believe. The view from the top, however, was quite something. Feb 21, 2013

Here's my trip report from 25 Aug. 2012. Aug 30, 2012
Rich F.
Colorado Springs, CO
  5.8 PG13
Rich F.   Colorado Springs, CO
  5.8 PG13
A 70m rope is long enough to belay the full length of the loose rock scramble pitch, and a 70m rope is just long enough to descend to the base in two rappels. Aug 28, 2012
Los Alamos, NM
  5.8+ PG13
scotthsu   Los Alamos, NM
  5.8+ PG13
Trip report from our climb on Sep. 13, 2008. Felt great to get this summit! Oct 10, 2008
Vince MacMillan
Dolores, CO
Vince MacMillan   Dolores, CO
Peter Gram's description at the top is a good one for what the Telluride Rocks guide (both the 1997 and 2005 editions) calls the South Crack, which is on the Southeast corner of the pinnacle (i.e. maybe correct the name listed here to avoid confusion?).

Additional info.: there is a very good rappel anchor (2 solid bolts and some backup pitons) about 20 feet west of the belay notch. This anchor is a Way Better option than rapping off of that webbing-draped, detached flake in the belay notch. Sep 7, 2008
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
The middle of this climb is literally a scree or talus field, and inattentive climbers in this section could easily release a volley of TV-set sized blocks on people below. So the potential for deadly rockfall is very real, although it would most likely be climber generated. The standard route does slant leftward in general, which helps. But I would be extremely aware of where anyone is above you, and consider coming back another day if the route is occupied.

Fortunately just where the climbing is harder the rock is better. In these steeper sections the leader is less likely to pull off something large. But you want to make sure the belayer is off to the side, small pebbles are coming off all the time. Jul 30, 2007
Giulio Del Piccolo
El Jebel, CO
Giulio Del Piccolo   El Jebel, CO
This mountain looks sick Ellingwood's route is ahead of its time no matter what Lizard Head was the most technical mountain climb till' Grand Teton was climbed in the 1950s( I think). So, how losse is the rock really? Is it just pebbles or big, fist-size stones coming down on your head like Ellingwood said he was hit by in his acount of the climb which is a necessary read for any Colorado mountaineer. Jul 12, 2007
Matt Juth
Matt Juth   Evergreen
When we climbed the route in 2000, we didn't like the looks of the chimney and ended up climbing a vertical handcrack with a bulge to the climber's left of the chimney (a few hundred feet away). It felt like 5.8 climbing, and was pretty safe. Dec 31, 2003
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Yes from your photos I can tell we followed exactly the same line on pitch 1. I am also convinced this was Ellingwood's route. If you look in "Climb!" (p. 25 in the first edition) there is a photo that you can identify as the same location (showing two climbers near the intermediate belay that we didn't use). The caption of the photo is "Robert Ormes belayed by Jim Munroe on an unsuccessful attempt on Lizard Head in 1932. Munroe is just below the 5.7+ section led by Albert Ellingwood in nailed boots in 1920".

But we did not go the same way as yourself on pitch 3. Ellingwood describes downclimbing the lower portion of this pitch (ending with a jump!) which I would find highly unlikely the way we went. I think he probably followed your route on p 3.

Last time I checked at Neptune's (may have been a year ago or so) they did not have "Telluride Rock". It would seem strange to me if the "Standard Route" was not the Ellingwood route ... Sep 3, 2003
Andrew Gram
Salt Lake City, UT
  5.8 R
Andrew Gram   Salt Lake City, UT  
  5.8 R
I found the Telluride Rocks guidebook in Montrose, and I am sure you can get it locally too - I think Neptune has a copy, and I am almost certain Mountain Miser does. It describes three different routes, and the one we did is definitely not what that guidebook says is the Ellingwood route, assuming the guidebook is correct of course.

I just added a bunch of pictures from our climb - does this look like your first pitch? It had just been raining hard in the San Juans for days before we climbed, so that is probably why the chimney pitch was seeping so much, but the pitch we finished on was totally classic so I am happy with it. Sep 3, 2003
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Hmm, I think there is some confusion here. Unfortunately I have never seen Fowler's Telluride Rock guide, it is out of print isn't it? What you describe here sounds exactly like what I climbed, at least on pitches 1 & 2, which is Ellingwood's route I'm quite certain. I have matched some of my photos to those in the book "Climb!", and despite all the loose rock many of the features can be matched in the two photos, even though they were taken 69 years apart (1932 and 2001)! Also the climb matches Ellingwood's description quite closely, although I'm not certain where he went on p. 3. At the end of pitch 1, Ellingwood actually did not go to the notch, but did a diagonal traverse left up a steep face.

I do believe that I went a different way from yourself on pitch 3. What we climbed would best be described as a vertical crack (lower section) or chimney (up higher), although it was dry for our ascent. It is basically the line of the top rappel. There is a photo of it on my trip report. Sep 3, 2003
Andrew Gram
Salt Lake City, UT
  5.8 R
Andrew Gram   Salt Lake City, UT  
  5.8 R
George - this is not the Ellingwood Route, except maybe the last pitch. This is the crack/dihedral system on the south face furthest east before turning the corner to the east face. I believe the Ellingwood Route is on the west side of the south face, and would diagonal up and right across the hanging rubble field instead of up and left.

The first pitch of this is what the Telluride Rocks guidebook calls the Standard Route. The summit pitch in the Telluride Rocks book is supposed to be a squeeze chimney to the left of the pitch I did, but it looked awful and soaking wet. I think the last pitch we did is the original Ellingwood finish, and it was the best part of the climb. Sep 3, 2003
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
This is one of the oldest technical climbs in the state, the FA was in 1920 by Albert Ellingwood and Barton Hoag. While climbing this with all the modern gear, imagine yourself in nail boots with only a 100' hemp rope and 3 soft iron pitons and you may feel a great deal of respect for these pioneers. These guys basically soloed the thing!

See the URL below for my own climb of Lizard Head. I also have there the "trip report" of the first ascent. Your description of the 3rd pitch sounds a bit different from what I remember, maybe there is more than one way to go here?…

Lizard Head has a reputation for looseness, and deservedly so. If you don't enjoy the challenge of loose rock, stay away! I felt that the rock and protection was best where the technical climbing was hardest, so oddly enough it is the easy sections that can to be scary, or at least could result in a long lead fall. It is also quite dangerous to climb below another party. In the Canadian Rockies it would be quite an ordinary and undistinguished loose climb. Sep 2, 2003