Mt. Lincoln

Round Trip Distance: 10.2 miles (Mt. Garfield Route)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 4823 - 6662 feet
Cellphone: 3-5 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Mt. Garfield
Fee: none
Attractions: Solitude, wild horses

Mt. Lincoln is located at the east end of the Little Book Cliffs north of Palisade. The east slope of the mountain towers above Interstate 70 as you enter DeBeque Canyon. The mountain gets its name, perhaps, from its eastern cliffs which appear to some to resemble the Lincoln Memorial.

Mt. Lincoln is the stately mountain to the east of Mt. Garfield. The summit is a pyramid shaped mound almost a half mile from its steep southern cliffs.

There are 3 different approaches that you can take to climb Mt. Lincoln. The route that I took on this hike was beginning at the Mt. Garfield trailhead, hiking up the Lemon Squeeze (Gearhart Mine) trail, then traversing the rim of the Bookcliffs to the base of Mt. Lincoln and climbing the southerly scree slopes to the top. A shorter and more direct approach is to hike up from the Stagecoach trail. After about a mile there are several ridges that provide good access to Mt. Lincoln. The third approach would be to come in from Cameo. I usually see tracks from a bike or two that come that way.

No matter which route you decide to take you won't find any official trail to take you to the top. Mt. Lincoln, like most of the Bookcliffs, has somewhat of a terraced slope. No matter which level you take you will find a deer path to follow. Once you obtain the upper most level you have to build your own trail for the most part.

I began the hike at the Mt. Garfield trailhead. Instead of taking the Mt. Garfield trail I walked around the base of the mountain to the east. This is the approach to the Lemon Squeeze (Gearhart Mine) trail.

I hiked up the Lemon Squeeze trail and proceeded to the top of the rim to the east. The climb took 30 minutes and  placed me 1 mile from the start. The elevation went from 4827 feet at the parking lot to 6066 feet at the rim.

There are several deer and horse trails that parallel the rim. The ground next to the cliff in this area is gradually moving further apart. There has been one large rock fall recently and it looks like there will be several more in the near future.

The traverse over to Mt. Lincoln is an enjoyable hike. Most of the time I can spot some wild horses in this area. There used to be 3 different herds but they have been thinned back to just a few horses.

There are spots where the trail is right at the edge of the cliff. These spots can easily be avoided if they don't appeal to you. You know the old cliche, 'Don't look down.'

Oops! I couldn't help it. It's only about 800 feet down at this point but I don't think I would bounce all the way to the bottom. The first 200 feet would probably determine what the splat mark would look like. Like I said, there is another trail that will keep you away from the face of the cliff. I usually take it in bad weather.

After hiking 2 miles I came to a gate that hangs right out on the edge of the cliff. According to the old 'Code of the West' you should always leave a gate the way you find it. For this gate, at least, it is supposed to be closed at all times. If you don't have a pack on it is easier to climb through the coral pole fence than to go through the gate. Looking down the fence line to your left you will see another trail that runs around the back of the mountain. I've taken it when there was snow or deep mud on the trail that goes along the face of the cliff.

The next significant land form that I came to was a cliff of white sandstone. From here I picked a trail that took me to the gully at the base of the rocks. I have seen a rattlesnake in the bottom area on past trips. It has always given me plenty of warning so I wouldn't classify it as a close encounter.

Heading east out of the base of the gully took me to a trail that mountain bikes frequently use. That trail leads to a ridge and joins an even larger trail that runs from the Stagecoach trail to the bottom area behind Mt. Garfield. I continued right across this trail and headed toward the south slope of Mt. Lincoln.

Looking up at the mountain you can see that there are a series of terraced cliffs. The area above each of these cliffs has a deer trail running along it. I have hiked them all at various times. I usually start out on one of the lower trails and head easterly towards the scree shale slope. When I see a spot where it looks like I can easily obtain a higher level I usually take it. Once I get to the higher level I proceed easterly again on another deer trail towards the scree slope. My reason for hiking in this manner is that I would rather scramble up the side than drudge all the way up through the scree. I have taken others up a spot a little further west that climbs pretty much straight up the cliffs to the top.

After hiking in this manner, up several of the terraces, I eventually came to the middle section of the scree slope. There are 3 or 4 deer trails that angle up to the top through the scree. The only way to obtain the top is to head for the area to the west of the cliffs that form the upper rim of Mt. Lincoln. This part of the climb is very arduous. Each step upward in the deep shale ends up gaining you only about half a step at the most. Trekking poles can ease the difficulty of  this part of the climb.

When I reached the area to the left of the upper cliffs I picked a line towards the top that took me around the western edge of the top of Mt. Lincoln. I have found that this route misses some of the expansive cactus patches that cover the top of the mountain.

After several hundred yards of hiking across the top of the mountain the summit of Mt. Lincoln came into view. I stayed along the left side of the mountain and made my way to the mount. The closer I approached the easier the trail became.

Once I climbed the summit mound I proceeded around the left side of the rocks to a notch that provides easy access to the top.

There is a log book rolled up inside a jar that is stashed under some rocks. There have only been about 4 different groups of hikers that have signed the log since the last time I made the climb the previous year. Fewer people are making the trek since it has become more difficult to access the Stagecoach trail.

Here is a good shot at the back side of Mt. Garfield. I only spent enough time at the summit to sign the book and take a couple of pictures before I headed back down. When I reached the scree slope I followed a deer trail till I was back on more solid ground. From here I picked my way back around the lower slopes of the mountain toward the west until I picked up a good trail to traverse back to the rim above the interstate.

The hike back was rather pleasant. I stayed a little further from the rim than I did coming over. There is a section of low, slightly sunken, ground that has several signs warning of collapsing ground due to an old mine. I've watched the wild horses grazing in this area seemingly unconcerned with the underlying danger.

The hike took about 5 hours in all. I've made it a lot faster in the past but I spent a lot of time taking pictures on this trip. I went through 100 ounces of water, 80 ounces of Gatorade, 1 sandwich and 2 protein bars. This hike is probably a little more mondo than most people would care for. I have friends that seem to enjoy making the trek with me. My wife and some of our kids have taken the route up Mt. Lincoln from the Stagecoach trail on several occasions including one year in January. I've also made the hike on one occasion with an octogenarian friend that wanted to make the climb but wasn't sure of what route to take. I have to admit I kept worrying that he was going to keel over but he didn't have any trouble keeping a strong and steady pace.

If you haven't been up the Lemon Squeeze trail before you can look at that post to see what the first part of the route is like. In lieu of your own topo map you might want to print out the map at the bottom of this post and take with you. If you would like to be one of the few people that make it to the top of Mt. Lincoln each year then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.