| Double Hat Trick at Lake Como
I have held off on filing a trip report on these peaks for two weeks to let the emotions run their course and settle down. For the casual reader let me offer an overview followed by an analogy. At 3PM on any given summer-time Thursday I was emailed out of the blue about hiking these peaks over the upcoming weekend. Now this is a little like being asked to fight Mike Tyson (or pick your favorite boxer) with two days to prepare. For me these peaks, okay I'll be honest - Little Bear Peak is a hair raiser. I was ready to hit it last year on my Sangre Summer Blitz however the blast of getting all ten 14ers in this range turned into a rather dismal amateur fireworks show as I was only able to stand on four peaks – I know some of you are likely thinking boo hoo, you only got four peaks. However when my type A personality (yes I like lists ) kicks in and you are training extra hard for months to be capable of meeting your goal, 4 out of 10 is a pretty difficult pill to swallow.
One of the most important lessons I learned in the past off season was facing the fact that planning only goes so far. Mother Nature trumps planning every time, unless you are prepared to elevate your risk tolerance. I tend to lean toward risk avoidance – for you young bucks reading this "It's a dad thing – you wouldn't understand". Even though the mountains are fairly static it only takes a little wet weather to make the standard routes in the Sangre range a total nightmare.
Back to 3PM on any given Thursday. If it had been anyone else I'd likely never have responded to the email. However when the email comes from someone who is: a) a very capable climber; b) has a cool Siberian husky (great for fending off creatures that go bump in the night) and c) has a souped-up Jeep capable of taking its occupants to the upper reaches of the dreaded Lake Como Road (what I now refer to as The Road) how could I pass up on this wonderful opportunity?
My main concern about this hastily assembled adventure (for me -Chris had it planned out for weeks and his partner had to bail at the last minute) was hoping that Mother Nature would provide us with an ample window to complete all three peaks in a single trip as I really didn't want to have to come back up The Road. After the initial exhuberance wore off I became greatly concerned about not being able to summit Little Bear due to verglas in the Hourglass.
Chris (cbauer10) and I carpooled down Saturday morning from Denver to the initial turnoff on The Road where we met Darrin (kansas) at around 11:15 or so. After some greetings and transfer of gear we made our way up. Chris had made a comment before picking up Darrin about letting me drive the Jeep up the road and as I'd never done any 4 wheeling before I took him up on his offer. After about 2-3 miles the fear factor of toppling our crew/gear over the mountainside got the best of me so I let the pro take the wheel. From my perspective The Road experience was every bit as challenging as the peaks that rise above. Over a 6 hour period (it was about 3 hours up and down) I ran the gamut of human emotions (fear/uncertainty, relief/joy, laughing/weeping, frustration), enough that I wondered if the Old Testament writer of Ecclesiastes didn't have a vision of a 4WD experience –
Chapter 3 (with my editorial comments in brackets):
3 & 5 a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, (needed in several locations to help get the Jeep over obstacles)
4 & 5 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, (after getting over Jaws 1 most of us gave man hugs – Tim the Tool Man would have approved…)
Even though we were able to reach within ¾ mile of Lake Como (we parked just below Jaws 3) our 4WD experience was every bit as taxing as having to make the journey on 2 legs (OK maybe not but it makes for a better story ). The Road has four major obstacles (affectionately named after the 1970's era shark movies), 2-3 "water features" (2-3' deep x 25' long pit of mud/mire), and several blind corners. All this, combined with the potential for a healthy drop-off at various spots along the road, made for a once in a lifetime experience (emphasis on the once ). Just like climbing, often times getting down is more hair raising than going up and we encountered this on Jaws 1. Although it looks pretty tame compared to Jaws 2 (see pics below), it required very precise setting of the tires to avoid slipping off the rock and sliding down a long steep ravine. This website does better justice than I can describe
Oh yeah - In the middle of our 4WD experience there were also 3 14ers, yawn. We could have had a 14ers.com convention that weekend as there were 20-30 people paying their dues in Lake Como area, including the likes of SusanJoyPaul, swturner, globreal, lostsheep5, and d_baker. As there have already been some great trip reports issued mine will be tame in comparison, particularly when it comes to the Hourglass as I was more concerned about getting up/down through it safely and free of projectile marks. This became a major accomplishment as our master plan of climbing Little Bear Peak on a Monday was also shared by 10-12 other climbers.
I have many highlights burned into my memory banks from this extended hiking weekend including the Blanca to Ellingwood traverse (thanks for the great scramble kansas and swturner); watching the blood trail from the Blanca/Ellingwood saddle down to the lower snowfields (never did find out who/what was having a blood letting); sharing the rock up the Hourglass and to the summit with Monte and Amy, a 50something? couple from Nashville, TN who were spending their summer bagging all the 14ers that Colorado had to offer (LB was their 37th 14er as I recall) – I have to give you two props as you both have the speed of 20 year olds ; watching/cheering on Keith and Johnny from WI make the LB-Blanca traverse; the joy of stepping out of the boulderfield at the base of the gulley and on to green grass after a successful day on Little Bear; and finally the priceless feeling of knowing that we came up big with the double hat trick on these peaks (3 14ers + Blanca Peak is the county highpoint of 3 counties – Alamosa, Costilla & Huerfano).
On our way back from the hat trick I told Chris that I'd never do LB again but that I felt that it had elevated its way to my favorite peak status. I still feel the same way. Even though it has a small mileage and vert I believe it is the most challenging peak that I have climbed to date. This peak consumed a great deal of my attention over the weekend, particularly the steep entrance gulley as our campsite was located directly below it (although at a safe distance from rockfall). That gulley seemed to taunt me every time I peered up at it – it sort of reminded me of Darth Maul taunting Obi Wan after the Jedi was knocked off balance into the reactor shaft. Similar to what happened to the Sith Lord I made quick work of that gulley early Monday morning, sitting atop the notch after a Sangre summer blitz time of 30 minutes, having started our climb at 5AM.
The ridge line was a nice Class 2+ jaunt, although with the upper portions of the route of my sightline one could only wonder who/what we'd meet in the Hourglass, the choke point for any debris kicked loose from the upper gullies. As it turned out the Hourglass and subsequent approach to the summit was no more difficult than I had prepared for (mentally or physically). I knew that if I did this route in the summer then I needed to be prepared mentally for rockfall. With the large number of climbers on the mountain that day we wisely pre-planned and staggered our start times as much as possible. Invariably we still ended up bottlenecked at the Hourglass around 7AM. I did end up relying to a certain degree on the ropes (5 total) going both ways, although I never trusted my full weight on them.
No man is an island and a trip like this is not achievable without help from fellow climbers and help from the Big Guy. I thank Chris and Darrin for being great climbing partners. Thanks to Chris again for sacrificing his Jeep for the greater good and for willing to compromise on the peak schedule (you know what I'm talking about). Thanks to my wife for her patience as I continue to fulfill one of my dreams. Finally I thank God for the beautiful weather that weekend (I saw not one lightning bolt), for giving our crew the strength to summit all 3 peaks and for providing safety from start to finish. Now on to the pics!!
My Blanca Peak summit photo with Little Bear in the background
LB-Blanca "Great Traverse" with Lake Como down below
Ellingwood Point with the traverse from Blanca in the shadowed forefront – it really didn't look so bad once you're on it, believe it or not
Traverse over to Mt. Lindsey
Ellingwood Point summit photo with Blanca Peak in background, along with the traverse
Headwall below the Crater Lake area with waterfall at left-hand side – that's a fully grown man at the edge of the lake for better perspective
Ellingwood Point (left) and Blanca Peak from below the headwall (taken on our descent)
Nuclear bomb clouds rising over Alamosa area
Ellingwood Point as seen from the LB gully "notch"
Little Bear's "dawn's early light" shadow cast out over Alamosa
LB summit shot with our crew, l-r Jason, Darrin (kansas) and Chris (cbauer10) – Ellingwood Point is over my left shoulder and Blanca Peak (4th highest peak in CO and one of the four sacred Native American Indian peaks in CO) stands mightily above Chris BTW – I usually don't have my helmet strap looking like a rotini noodle – I'd been on the summit awhile and threw it on in haste for a cool summit photo effect
Setting up for solving Jaws 2 descent
Chris in the middle of picking his line down Jaws 2
A sobering reminder next to Jaws 2 of why this road is arguably the toughest 4WD road in the state
Setting up for Jaws 1 descent
Show no fear Chris!! Actually what he's just getting ready to say is put the $%#! camera down and help me figure out how we're going to solve this problem
Ease e does it!
The best view possible of these peaks after a long successful double hat trick weekend (note – bad weather just starting to roll in…)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):