Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,042 feet
Date Posted:  08/12/2014
Modified:  08/13/2014
Date Climbed:   08/08/2014
Author:  DanielL
 Of Bears And Marmots  


Of Bears and Marmots: The Beautiful Lake Como





Having recently returned from a multi-day trip to climb the Little Bear, Blanca and Ellingwood Peaks in southern Colorado, I will say that I didn't plan on writing a report on this trip. After all, it's not like we climbed some shiny, awesome route up these 14ers or anything. However, I wanted to reveal a bit more of what I think is an under-rated area of Colorado: the Lake Como Basin.

To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to this trip very much. The dangerous, loose rock of the Hourglass, ongoing bear problems at Lake Como, and the wonderful approach road were definitely a few of the reasons. We discussed alternatives like Zapata Creek and Little Bear's Southwest Ridge, but simply didn't have enough time for such luxuries. So, Lake Como it was. We packed up the Subaru and headed south on Thursday morning. Those older Outbacks may not be all that beefy but we managed to drive almost 3 miles up the Lake Como road in ours! With that head start, we took off in relatively high spirits, but I couldn't seem to shake off a nervous feeling about the next few days.

As we trudged up the road, I distracted myself by humorously observing some of the fantastically rough sections of the Lake Como road. Seriously, I need to see a video of someone attempting some of these areas! Here are a few:

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Yikes!


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Ouch!


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Not good...


We hadn't even reached the lake when a big bear crossed our path. Ugh, this is going to be a long weekend, I thought.

This didn't help:
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Yup, there are bears here


Eventually, we got to the lake and feasted our eyes on the truly big bear: Little Bear. All of the other bears seemed to become lose significance under the shadow of the great peak. Now this is the real thing!

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Ooh, what a mountain!


We figured we could eliminate a bit of bear trouble by camping above Lake Como, at the base of the initial gully on Little Bear's upper route. There turned out to be a great camping spot at this point, and we claimed it without a moment's hesitation. Even better, we got to be right under Little Bear's big face.

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A bit of cloud on the Bear




I climbed up the lower portion of the gully to get an idea of where to go when we would be climbing in the dark the following morning. Fortunately, the route is well cairned at the base of the gully. We enjoyed a nice, hot meal and hit the sack early, planning for a 4:15 am start. But before that, we made sure to follow the posted guidelines and string up our food 10 feet off the ground and at least 5 feet from trees. I would recommend following this and all other guidelines - trust me, it takes a bit more time but it's worth it!

Early the next morning, we found no evidence of bear activity at our camp. Yay! At 4:20, we took off and started climbing the steep, loose gully that gains the West Ridge. We topped out in 50 minutes and took a quick break. We hadn't planned to start traversing the West Ridge in the dark but realizing how long we would have to wait, decided to go for it. Bottom line is, there are cairns and a decent trail and we just had to keep looking. Before killing the headlamps, we had traversed most of the way to the base of the Hourglass. Adrenaline's pumping!

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Sun rises to the east


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The Hourglass


Another quick break and up the Hourglass we went. Rock was quite solid, and the only nuisance was the running water down the center of the gully. Fortunately, no one else was on the mountain and we had this upper route to ourselves. the Hourglass was straight-forward except for one section near the top that I call the Choke. Here, the gully is at its narrowest and steepest, and the good rock holds have been washed smooth by water, making the climbing difficult. I would say that this was the most difficult Class 4 I have done.

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In the choke


Above this section, the climbing relented a bit and we were at the rope anchor.

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Above the choke, finishing it off


Rope situation: for what it's worth, there is what appears to be a fairly new rope in the Hourglass, and we kept an eye on it during the climb. The lower section of rope has some nicks and frays, but the upper section looks to be pretty solid. However, I won't suggest using it - that's a decision each person needs to make based on their own observations and judgment.

Above the Hourglass, we made two route-finding decisions that turned out pretty well - turn right above the rope anchor, climb a bit, and keep right again for the final summit pitch.

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The upper route, above the Hourglass


The rock directly above the Hourglass was the loosest, but we managed to climb through this section without dislodging anything. Above that, the rock gets more stable and the slope eases a bit, but it's all about foot placement and keeping an eye out for trail segments and solid rock. I will say that though this is a hazardous area, and needs to be taken seriously, I actually enjoyed this section quite a bit, and didn't really see why it gets so much heat. Before we knew it, we were on the summit! It was about 7:30 and fantastic views were just waiting for us.

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How's that view to start the day?


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Big ol' valley


We sat around for about 30 minutes, enjoying the rising sun and surrounding peaks, and taking in the accomplishment of another difficult 14er. However, this was about the first time that I really felt that the climb was only half done. Without a doubt, the more difficult climbing is on the descent. As much as we wanted to stay a lot longer on this awesome mountain, we knew it was important to get back down. We did take a good look at the traverse to Blanca, but decided to wait for another time.

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Back down into the dark


Needless to say, it was a bit harder not to knock any rocks down during the descent of the upper slope, but we managed to do it somehow. Another group was above the Hourglass when we started the descent and informed us that there were two more climbers approaching the base of the Hourglass. We were almost back to the Hourglass when we heard voices of the climbers on their way up and stopped to let them come up. While we waited, we got acquainted with one of the local residents.

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Marmot!


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...closer...


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Hello!


As we enjoyed this entertainment, the group of two got above the Hourglass and up near the summit. We then decided it was safe to drop in. Fortunately, the down-climb went by faster than expected.

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Back down


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Back down the choke


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One last look


And....we were off! Hooray! Once again, I realized how much fun I had just had. Little Bear may have a bunch of loose, crumbling garbage, but that's not all it is. It was certainly the most difficult standard route of any 14er I'd done, and may stay that way, but it definitely has its enjoyment factor. And I haven't even tried some of the other routes yet!

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Feels good to be on this side of the climb!


Oh yeah, this part:
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The final gully is a pain to down-climb but not overly risky. I did end up doing some "scree-ing" though...

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In da bag!


It was still morning when we got back to our camp so we had a lot of time to burn. We briefly discussed climbing Blanca and Ellingwood as well, but everyone was too worn out for that. However, I did take a stroll up the valley and started to realize what a beautiful place this really is. Pictures definitely do not do it justice (especially mine)!

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A beautiful spot


Before long, evening came, we enjoyed another meal, and hit the sack. Hey, no bears in camp!

We took off at 4:30 for Blanca and Ellingwood. As we hiked past numerous lakes, waterfalls, and streams, I knew there was a lot of beautiful scenery to be had on the descent! I would say that Blanca has become one of my favorite 14ers. The views are incredible, especially during an early morning ascent.

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Another beautiful sunrise, complete with rays!




We got to the ridge in good time and got to witness a beautiful sunrise on the east horizon!

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The rugged and beautiful Ellingwood Point


A quick scramble up the ridge brought us to the summit of Blanca Peak, the top of the Sangre de Cristo range!

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The mighty Little Bear


The traverse to Ellingwood is pretty straightforward - climb back down to the huge cairn on the Blanca ridge and keep downclimbing the ridge until you spot cairns. Follow these to the other side of the rugged connecting ridge at the saddle and you're on your way to Ellingwood!

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Along the traverse


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We summitted Ellingwood in exactly one hour from Blanca. Little Bear and Blanca take up most of the view from here:



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A happy group of climbers!


The descent off of Ellingwood is loose but not too bad. Soon, we were back on the enjoyable trail, getting a view of all those lakes and streams we had been anticipating during the climb up.

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Ahhhhh, yes. This was definitely a great trip. Well, other than the death march back down the road in temps as high as 82 degrees. I can definitely say that I was not expecting such an awesome time. I think I would actually climb Little Bear again in summer, even by the Hourglass route. I would definitely repeat Blanca and Ellingwood. This is a truly beautiful area of Colorado. Thanks for reading!



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Rainier_Wolfcastle

Congrats!
08/13/2014 15:23
Nice report, very positive and informative with excellent pics!


Tornadoman

Nice Report!
08/13/2014 15:23
You included some great pictures! That trip down Lake Como road is indeed a death march. Guess I have to do it once more when I decide to try for the Bear!


HikingMan

It was nice to meet you all
08/13/2014 18:37
on the top of Ellingwood. Looks like the picture I took turned out better than I thought. Incredible weather that day, some of the best I have encountered while hiking 14ers. The death march down the road certainly was brutal...

Cheers!


Marmot72

Great pics
08/14/2014 14:05
The Blanca group is one of my faves and I enjoyed reading your report. You have some great photos - looks like you had a successful outing.


BruceTheriault
Thanks for the informative report
08/15/2014 02:27
Excellent report, wonderful photos, good information, and quite helpful for planning.Thanks!


DanielL

Thanks all
08/15/2014 03:13
I agree, go get it!

HikingMan: It was good meeting you up there. I haven't had weather that good in a while. Good times!


Shooter

Little Bear
08/15/2014 15:05
This report actually got me pumped for Little Bear. I've knocked off Blanca and Ellingwood and ran into a bear up at the lake. That was in 2011. I need to make another trip to go after Little Bear. Soon enough. Great report!


nyker


Brings back from memories
08/19/2014 01:45
Nice job on the trip and report. Your shots of the ”choke” point are pretty cool and bring out the colors of the rock bands nicely. I've never seen that area in summer...its is a bit ”fun” covered in ice too. Thankfully you had no rockfall or bad bear incidents.


D Potter
Early start
08/22/2014 04:07
An early start from lake como and climbing partners must be the key to success. I started at the parking lot at 7:30 am on a Tuesday in July and made it to 13100 at which time I realized I was the only person on the mountain. I turned around for safety. Never again will I start so late.


rernst

Great Report and pics
08/28/2014 01:15
Getting ready to do the same trip. Great report and positive attitude. Thanks for sharing your trip.


bdloftin77

Hourglass
09/21/2014 23:56
Daniel, a few people have recommended doing the Hourglass section as a snow climb, as opposed to during the summer. Do you think that would be a lot safer, or do you think that the Hourglass during the summer season isn't really all that bad? (as long as it's dry, and people aren't above you, dropping rocks down)


DanielL

Hourglass
09/22/2014 03:34
bdloftin77: I think it comes down to your comfort level snow climbing. I've heard it is a great snow climb if conditions are good and you are solid on steeper snow. Personally, I didn't feel comfortable climbing it this May because I don't have a lot of experience with steep snow or use of crampons. If climbing it during the summer, a weekday and early start will be your friends. In our case, Friday was even a bit ”crowded”, meaning we still had to deal with other groups in the upper sections.



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