Peak(s):  Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,042 feet
Date Posted:  07/29/2020
Date Climbed:   07/19/2020
Author:  JacerJack
 Blanca & Ellingwood: Soggy Boots and Sour Patch Kids  

Blanca & Ellingwood: Soggy Boots and Sour Patch Kids

Ah, good 'ole Lake Como Road... Like that quirky uncle you're always trying to avoid, but he's just part of the deal. Uncomfortable and unavoidable.

We were able to make it to the switchback at 10K' without issue (in a 2.5" leveled F-150 on 33s). I remembered the road being much rougher when I did Little Bear last year... Either I was better prepared for it this time around, or the road has gotten mellower with all the traffic in the last year. Curious to hear if anyone has made similar observations. I saw a surprising number of stock SUVs near the 10K' switchback, which hasn't been the case previously. There was even lightly modified Land Cruiser parked all the way up right below Jaws 1. At this rate, you'll be able to take your Prius all the way up to the Lake in no time!

We left the truck around 4:45 pm and were quickly immersed in the classic Lake Como Road experience, breathing exhaust and dust as we swam upstream against an endless chain of UTVs and Jeeps who were being chased down from the lake by a massive storm that was quickly building. I'm usually pretty good at reading storms near my home in the Front Range, but this system was proving to be a bit more complex and confusing. I thought it looked to be passing from north to south, but it was actually just swirling over hour heads and building vertically over the Blanca Basin. Quickly enough, we were soaked to the bone and spent the next 2 hours hiking in a torrential downpour that was uncharacteristically persistent for Colorado. We arrived at camp above Lake Como at 7 pm, completely saturated.

20452_03
UTV Exhaust and Dust: the Lake Como Experience
20452_10
UTVs are like mosquitos... When the rain comes out, they disappear
20452_23
Camp with Little Bear looming in the background

We called it an early night and tried our best to stay warm and dry as it kept raining throughout the night.

20452_20
Taylor in turtle mode, gaining inspiration from Halfway to Heaven by Mark Obmascik (a great read!)

Throughout the night, there was an almost constant rumble of Little Bear shedding rocks off its NW face. About every hour, we awoke to the horrific sound of dishwasher sized rocks calving off the face and shattering on the talus below. Rockfall is certainly not out of character for Little Bear, but the amount of rain it received that night took it to a whole new level. Big rockfall is a terrifying sound to begin with, but it's magnified ten-fold when it's during the middle of the night and seems like it's right over your head.

After the rotting mountain woke us up for the second or third time, Taylor turned to me and said, "I'm so glad you have that one over with." Although I have fond memories of my climb on Little Bear, in that moment I couldn't help but agree.

Morning came too quickly, and by 4:30 we were back in our wet shoes and out in the rain again -- although this time only in a drizzle.

The timing was perfect to enjoy an epic sunrise. Evidently, the Huerfano side had gotten some snow during the night and Lindsey was covered in a light dusting. It was absolutely stunning and 100% classic Colorado.

20452_07
Sunrise against a snowy Mt. Lindsey
20452_22
The Crestones peaking out from about halfway up Blanca's ridge

No, Mom, there's no lightning in those clouds (yet)... That's just a lovely morning rain.

20452_21
Ascending Blanca's ridge... Some great exposure and nice climbing to be had along the ridge proper. Rock seemed to be better along the ridge, too.

We made it to the Blanca summit at 7 am and took a few minutes to watch the departing rain fall softly on the adjacent peaks before heading over to Ellingwood.

20452_06
Blanca's summit. Ellingwood seen in the background.

The traverse over to Ellingwood was relatively straightforward, albeit with a bit more route finding than anticipated. Looking over from Blanca, it appears there are only 2 options:

-Stick to the ridge proper for some spicy exposure and a couple tougher moves
-Drop all the way back down to the valley and meet up with the standard route for Ellingwood

However, as you approach the saddle, the Class 3 combo route that Bill describes becomes more apparent (he describes it from Ellingwood to Blanca, which seems to be a bit more obvious coming from that direction). There is what looks like a little goat path carved into the rock that follows the "sweet spot" between the two options above. It's really tempting (and easy) to go too high. It's not the end of the world if you do, but you will end up contouring the rock ribs, which is a lot of extra up and down. There are social cairns everywhere, and most of them lead to nowhere. Ignore the cairns and follow your spidey senses along the path of least resistance through here. If a move feels too hard, it's probably because you've gone too high. I personally did not feel the difficulty exceeded difficult class 2 while we were on route for the combo (although we did go too high and quickly got into some class 3+ terrain).

20452_08
Follow this little ledge (looking back toward Blanca)
20452_05
Backtracking after going too high

There isn't a clear junction where the traverse meets up with the standard route, but the terrain quickly changes from slabby rock to talus, and from there, it's pretty much a choose your own adventure to the summit. Looking back along the way, the view of Blanca is quite impressive. We spotted a hiker on the ridge and it really put into perspective how big that face is!

20452_01
See the hiker on the ridge?
20452_12
...Here's a closer look
20452_11
Blanca and Little Bear
20452_18
Blanca and Lindsey
20452_09
Sour Patch Kids: the 11th Essential...

By this time, the morning rain had burned off so we spent almost an hour on the summit! We had it all to ourselves that whole time, which is an incredibly rare occurrence on a 14er anymore. We took our time and soaked it in.

20452_24

On the descent, meeting up with the standard route proved to be a little tricky. We dropped straight down off the summit, but then had to contour across some incredibly loose talus (you know, the tippy kind that's about the size of your foot). I've included a screenshot of our GPS below. You can see how we descended, and I would not recommending going about it the way we did. Instead, I'd suggest simply retracing your steps all the way back across to the saddle.

20452_26

20452_02
Such a gorgeous basin with an impressive waterfall. Plenty of water along the route until almost 13K.

20452_1720452_15

We joked on the way out that Lake Como Road seems to exist in some time-warp or space vacuum... There is no concept of time, only the constant rhythmic pounding on the knees that seems to last forever.

We had the opportunity to witness some Jeeps clear Jaws 2, which I've always wanted to see in person. Even for us as relatively competent off-road drivers, it was a pretty wild spectacle for us to behold.

Before we knew it, we were out of the time-warp and back at the truck, on our way to enjoy some celebratory Margs at Calvillo's.


Garmin Stats (from truck at 10K'):
Distance: 13.12 miles
Elevation gain: 4,724'
Moving time: 9 hr 15 min
Calories: 5,399

Time from truck to camp: 2 hr 18 min
Time from camp to Blanca Summit: ~2 - 2.5 hr?
Time from Blanca Summit to Ellingwood Summit (via Traverse): 1 hr 5 min
Time from camp back to truck: Too long




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 15 17 18 20 21 22 23 24 26


 Comments or Questions
ncxhjhgvbi

Great Suggestion
07/30/2020 09:08
We did the loop from Ellingwood to Blanca. Going up the standard route on Ellingwood is no fun either. A couple that we met at the top had climbed it multiple times and would always decend by doing the traverse back to the saddle and catching the Blanca trail down instead.


claybonnyman

Rumbling Como
07/31/2020 19:45
Re "Throughout the night, there was an almost constant rumble of Little Bear shedding rocks off its NW face."

When I camped near the foot of the gully you climb to do Little Bear in 2017 (also Blanca and Ellingwood, though I didn't do the traverse), I heard the loudest, most sustained rockfall I've ever heard in my life, though it was to the north, not south/southeast.

I had a few moments of hinkiness July 29 while doing the Maroon>North Maroon traverse, but with just one more to go (Snowmass; saving for my "grand finally" in 2021, presuming I don't croak from COVID or something else over the winter), I can honestly say that doing Little Bear solo, with nobody else on the mountain that entire day, is the most spooked I have been, or will ever be, on a 14er. Brrrrr! As Taylor said, I'm really glad I never have to do that one again.

Thanks again, JacerJack, for good advices on the Wilsons a few weeks back.

~Pony


claybonnyman

P.S.
07/31/2020 19:46
I don't smoke. I found a pack of American Spirits atop Mt. Wilson a couple weeks back, and with lightning in the air, chewed the &^%$!!@ out of that thing all the way down to ease my stress!


claybonnyman

Rumbling Como
07/31/2020 20:20
Re "Throughout the night, there was an almost constant rumble of Little Bear shedding rocks off its NW face."

When I camped near the foot of the gully you climb to do Little Bear in 2017 (also Blanca and Ellingwood, though I didn't do the traverse), I heard the loudest, most sustained rockfall I've ever heard in my life, though it was to the north, not south/southeast.

I had a few moments of hinkiness July 29 while doing the Maroon>North Maroon traverse, but with just one more to go (Snowmass; saving for my "grand finally" in 2021, presuming I don't croak from COVID or something else over the winter), I can honestly say that doing Little Bear solo, with nobody else on the mountain that entire day, is the most spooked I have been, or will ever be, on a 14er. Brrrrr! As Taylor said, I'm really glad I never have to do that one again.

Thanks again, JacerJack, for good advices on the Wilsons a few weeks back.

~Pony


JacerJack

Thanks!
08/01/2020 14:35
ncxhjhgvbi - Going back to the saddle makes way more sense in hindsight. Glad to hear others are thinking the same!

Pony - Thanks for the Kudos, and good to know I'm in shared company with my thoughts on LB. Happy to have been of some assistance on the Wilsons - Looked like a great trip from your report! Good luck with your finisher next year!



   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here


Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.




© 2021 14ers.com®, 14ers Inc.