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First to Climb Lizard Head -- 1921 Account of Lizard Head by Albert Ellingwood

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Lizard Head First Ascent: 1921 Account by Albert Ellingwood
Lizard Head is not as loose now as when Ellingwood did the first ascent in 1921.

Lizard Head is considered the most difficult 13,000-foot summit to reach in Colorado.

Photograph courtesy Brad Brandiwie

Finally I decided to try to reach a crack that lay near the south end of the wall and appeared to lead through to the arete above. The first eight or nine feet was an overhanging pocket or alcove, and above this the wall was vertical and unbroken save for the narrow end of the crack to which we aspired. It was a difficult problem—one of the four real pieces de resistance of the whole climb.

Standing on Hoag's shoulders, I proved all things within reach for what must have seemed an interminable time to him. At last I found holds at arm's length, but it was a strenuous pull to reach the crack. Equally strenuous it was, though not difficult technically, to wriggle up the narrow cleft with a very crowded back-and-knee cross-brace. This was the safest stretch of the day, and the hardest physical work.

At the extreme limit of the rope I reached a large, safe anchor rock at the south end of the summit arete, and saw that we had won. Shouting down the glad tidings, I told Hoag to come on. He had no shoulders to support him but a rope above, and after he was over the alcove all went well. From this last anchor rock there is an easy ascent northwards along a fairly sharp ridge of loose rock, across a small gap where one gets a sensational view down the sheer east cliffs, and finally a careful climb over a few large rocks to the top, which is perhaps fifty feet above the anchor rock. The situation was not without its thrills. The actual summit is quite small and the rocks are ready to slide off on every side. There was no sign that anyone had been before us.

We built a cairn as large as we could find support for, and placed at its foot a Prince Albert tobacco can containing a slip of paper with the usual data. Unfortunately the terrain did not permit a good picture of top, but each of us snapped the other precariously balanced near the cairn.

The sun was too low by this time to expect good results, but we tried to get some photographic record of the intricate jumble of mountains along the eastern sky line and of the magnificent Wilson group to the west. The lonesome Lizard Head is an ideal position for both views. Also we got a spectacular close-up of the fifteen-foot Finger, which looked as if it were so far gone that the slightest push would topple it from its resting place.

We agreed that a million dollars would not tempt us to its top—for riches are of this world, not the next. Incidentally, it would be a painstaking feat to reach its base.

We had arrived at 4:25, and a half-hour escaped before we could bring ourselves to leave. The return route was the same for we had no time to waste on very dubious experiments. Hoag made good speed down the first crack. I drove in a spike and looped the rope around it to secure me for the first few feet, then shook it off, wriggled down easily to the alcove, and jumped.

The second hundred was our bete noire. Hoag went down to his old ledge, leaning heavily on the rope and moving an inch at a time down the two spiked walls. There he untied the rope and prepared for as comfortable a sojourn as possible.

Looping the rope at its middle around the big anchor rock I went down to the first spike, grateful indeed for the rope when I dropped over the projecting brow. It was a ticklish task to get past this mauvais pas, and I wondered again and again how I had ever ascended it without a rope, being quite certain I would not come down it ropeless for a good deal. My plan was to pull the loose end of the rope around the rock, loop it again over the spike to which I now clung and then drop on down to the first anchor of the day.

But, alas, the rope would not come. I shook it violently to loosen it—and something else came. A stone as large as my fist suddenly shot off the brow and landed squarely on the top of my head. I have a thick head of hair and fortunately, contrary to my usual practice, I was wearing a heavy hat. Even so, the scalp was broken (as I found later) and I was nearly knocked from my very insecure position. I felt light-headed and tied closely to the spike for a few minutes, to make sure that I could find myself when wanted.

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