Peak(s):  "South Little Bear" - 14,020 feet
Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,042 feet
Date Posted:  08/06/2020
Modified:  12/15/2020
Date Climbed:   07/29/2020
Author:  hogantheepic
Additional Members:   CaptCO
 The Big Bad Linkup of the Blanca Grand Slam  

The Big Bad Linkup of the Blanca Grand Slam

Hogan Warlock

All the trip reports I am writing for the summer is simply a byproduct of my thoughts, reactions, and experiences from my summer mountaineering project of climbing the 58 CO 14ers before I head back to CU in August. I hope that these trip reports help me to learn from mistakes, to document my experiences as beta for others, and to help me to think and become a better person and mountaineer. Thank you for reading and for your support!

43/58 in 2020

3/4 traverses complete

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^^The Sierra Blanca Massif from near Alamosa. Don't mind the mirror.^^

It's getting near the end of my summer break, and I'm at 40/58. Unfortunately, I still have peaks left in every single range (except Mosquito/Ten Mile), which means that logistically, it would be tough. I still have to spend a considerable chunk of time on Chicago Basin (extra hard this year due to lack of trains), I still have to do 4 in the Sawatch, 2 in the Elks, a couple in the Front range, but a lot left in the Sangres.

I've had the 4 classic traverses planned out and scheduled through out July for a while now, and my final one, the Little Bear-Blanca traverse, was scheduled for this week. I hadn't touched the Sierra Blanca yet, and I looked forward to it.

I made plans to meet up with CaptCO (Alec), a now regular climbing partner and a 55-week 58 finisher as of like a week or two ago. Congrats Alec! He had already done these peaks, but wanted to do the traverse, and check off Huerfano and California as well since we'd already be down there. We met up Tuesday evening at the lower trailhead for Lake Como.

Our plans were rather unique, and in hindsight, we think that our route/linkup is something that hardly anyone has done, because of how hyped the traverse is and also how unpopular the bushwack of the Southwest ridge is (as well as the fact that there are some private property issues around this trailhead). We would drive up to around 8800 on the Como road, camp, and then next morning, carpool over to Tobin Creek trailhead for the Southwest ridge up Little Bear, leaving one car on Como and one at Tobin.

We were going to do a long run around the ridges of the Sierra Blanca: bushwack from Tobin trailhead to the southwest ridge then up to South Little Bear, then take the ridge to Little Bear, then the famous ridge from Little Bear to Blanca, then the ridge from Blanca down and up to Ellingwood Peak, then the ridge down to the Y couloir and descend this couloir, then finally hike down the road to the truck. We weren't entirely sure of the elevation or mileage for the day, but we knew it would be long, difficult, and extremely fun.

We woke up at 2, started driving by 3, got to Tobin around 4 and almost immediately began hiking. It was dark nearly the entire bushwack, which made it hard to avoid all the branches and such that would snag on bags. Alec used his Garmin GPS heavily to find our way through this bushwack and across the creek. He had the route downloaded on the GPS which made it a breeze. We would've been very lost without this GPS because it was dark and zero clues to tell us which was the correct way. Once we made it up to the ridge (which started sometime below treeline) we didn't need the GPS at all the rest of the day until we were descending Ellingwood. Simple ridge following made for super easy routefinding most of the day after the bushwack.

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^^Getting near treeline, at long last.^^

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^^Left and right: views of the West face of Little Bear from 2 perspectives as we hiked up the Southwest ridge.^^

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^^Left: we put our helmets on in a notch going up the Southwest ridge. Right: looking back down the Southwest ridge. This pic doesn't do the overhang and exposure any justice.^^

I was surprised by the rockwalls we were walking above going up this initial ridge before we even got to South Little Bear. They were slightly overhanging near the top, and they looked like some awesome faces for climbing. Man, I need to learn how to trad climb and get really good at rock climbing. I keep seeing these awesome rock faces all over Colorado that I bet are virtually unexplored. Someday.

There were a couple knife-edges before South Little Bear and between South and Main Little Bear. Some of them were avoidable by going a bit lower around them, but for the most part, we stayed directly on the ridge, doing all the harder class 4 sections (maybe a few class 5 moves) you encounter before Little Bear. Nothing too crazy, although I couldn't really imagine that the traverse itself could be any worse than a certain stretch of this part of the ridge. After doing the traverse and comparing the 2, this ridge up to Little Bear feels just like the traverse at times, just for reference.

We made it up to the top of Little Bear in around 5 hours. Since we had gotten above treeline, the wind had been sort of atrocious, and we were worried we might have to call off the traverse, which is what we came here for. We were getting gusts of at least 40 mph, which is enough to knock you off balance. You do not want to be knocked off balance while on the ridge.

We took about 30 minutes at the summit of Little Bear to rest and have some food and water, and wait for the wind to potentially die down a bit. I took a nap, because we had only about 4 hours of sleep the previous night and I don't think I fell asleep until like 1 AM with a 2 AM alarm.

It was time to make a decision about the traverse: send it, and hope the wind is manageable, or down climb the hourglass (one reason we chose the Southwest ridge is because it avoids the hourglass), which we did NOT want to down climb. After considerable contemplation, I decided that we should send the traverse, because the wind had died down a good bit since the roughest of the winds a couple hours earlier. I hoped that the trend would continue and the wind would be pretty much gone soon.

According to many places I've read about this traverse, the crux of the whole traverse is right at its beginning: the down climb from Little Bear to the saddle.

Alec and I ended up zipping down this. We made the first saddle/notch in like 30 minutes (we weren't sure which low spot was the lowest spot) and we looked back and realized that we had flown through the hardest section on the standard route. We didn't even think this was too hard, you just had to be confident and cautious of the loose stuff.

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^^Me coming down one of the slabby sections at the beginning of the traverse.^^

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^^Tightroping.^^

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^^Taken from South Little Bear, you can see the majority of the traverse.^^

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^^Looking back at Little Bear from midway into the traverse.^^

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^^Just another picture. Pretty much everywhere on this traverse is photogenic.^^

I can see where people get intimidated by this route. From the top of South Little Bear (the first time we laid eyes on the ridge, I'm pretty sure) we were awestruck by the ridge, finally seeing it in person. It is beautiful, its exposure it sheer and exciting, and it is looooong. Besides the exposure, there were plenty of actually sort of hard class 4 moves in places, perhaps a few class 5 moves too.

We decided to keep on the direct ridge as much as possible, which meant that instead of down climbing to the right and avoiding some of the big towers in the 2nd half of the traverse, we went straight up the big face you come to. There is plenty of routes up this face, but some looked to be a little too difficult for what I would feel comfortable free soloing. You can see a sort of fake crack system snaking it's way up this face, and I decided to follow this up, because it looked partly class 4, partly low class 5. After climbing it, I decided it is probably entirely around 5.3-5.4 without any class 4 until the top. If anyone thinks it's rated something else, please let me know because I'm not 100% sure whether this is an accurate grading of the difficulty. It's still a super fun piece of the traverse though!

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^^Looking at the 3 towers, with the hard face on the left of the picture.^^

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^^Left and right: climbing up the hard face. Super fun!^^

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^^Alec climbing up the hard face. It is quite steep!^^

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^^On the final pitch up to the top of Blanca. From here, it's pretty easy and basic compared to before.^^

Again, we tried to stay directly on the ridge the whole way, rather than descending down and around anything. We went up and over all 3 towers near the end of the traverse, which was a lot of fun, and a very aesthetic line to hike. After we got past the 3rd tower, we began to ascend the last pitch up Blanca. It was here, while we were standing on the last narrow section of the traverse, that a guy further below to the left of us began shouting to us asking for help finding his way up Blanca. He was trying to climb the standard route, which has a little route-finding involved but nothing too crazy. Alec, who had climbed Blanca before via the standard route, shouted back the directions. We were both a little surprised to be helping someone route-find up the standard route while we were on one of the most notorious ridges in Colorado.

We summited Blanca Peak in a little less than 2.5 hours from Little Bear. We felt quick!

We chilled for a little bit at the summit, ate some food, talked to a couple other people who were up there at the same time, and observed the weather. There was a 20% chance of rain between 3 and 5, and there was a large storm cloud across San Luis Valley that was moving towards us. We decided that we still had enough time to go get Ellingwood, though, so we got moving.

We went straight down the next ridge towards Ellingwood Peak, always trying to stay as direct as possible on the ridge. We stopped a moment to check out Gash ridge, which is on our list for the future when we come back to tag Huerfano and California because it is another beautiful route in the area.

We made it up Ellingwood not too long after leaving Blanca, took a picture, and continued on. The climb down the ridge after Ellingwood to the Y couloir was longer than expected, narrower (though you almost never have to stay on the ridge itself) than it looked, and by this point in the day, I no longer trusted my legs to be as nimble as they usually are, so I ended up on all 4's a lot, trying to power through some small exhaustion from the lack of sleep the night before.

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^^Looking over at Little Bear and the traverse from Ellingwood Point.^^

We finally made it the couloir and got down it as fast as safely possible. Before long, we had made it to the trail on the grassy basin floor, and it was smooth sailing from here out to the car at 8800.

This approach up the Lake Como road is freaking long. Sure, the roads/trails are always much longer at the end of the day when you're ready to be back at your car, but it is still not an easy or fun slog down this road. Good stretches of it were devoid of trees (sun cover) and the heat of the sun beats down hard. The road is seemingly never ending. The mountain teases you a lot as you leave the basin, as the vegetation and terrain changes from nice pine forest into a strange desert-savannah feeling of shorter trees and dirt. The switchbacks keep going, and the road below in the San Luis valley stares at you the whole time you're walking back.

After a long time, we made it back to the car. It was a little after 7 PM, and we were surprised that it had taken us more than 15 hours to do the whole trip. We were expecting like 12-13 hours, but I guess we were moving a bit slow most of the time due to difficulties like bushwacking, talus, difficult class 4 and class 5 obstacles, and tricky ridge line traverses. It was all very worth the effort, and we were extremely satisfied with our day due to its success and our sense of fulfillment with the climbing difficulties.

Strava is saying that we had a 15 hr, 10 min day, 8327 ft of gain, and 14.29 miles round trip. I know that for some reason, Strava usually overestimates these measurements a little bit with hiking, so I reduce the stats a little to guess how much gain and mileage, for example, I did on particular climb. I do believe, in this case, the gain statistics to be nearly true.

We wanted to get food, but by now the only places that were still open were all in Alamosa and about 30 minutes away in the opposite direction from the Lindsey trailhead. We went to Wendy's, and decided to just get a hotel for the night there because we were probably both gonna fall asleep behind the wheel otherwise. When I saw my feet in good lighting for the first time that day, I was shocked at how destroyed and blistered they looked. We were already kind of hesitant about doing Lindsey the next day considering what we had just done today, and this sealed the deal: Lindsey was a no-go.

I've been reading more and more about how to prevent blisters and such, and I think that one of my main problems is my boots. They are very waterproof, which means that they have zero breathability and thus contain all moisture. This is evident by the fact that since I've gotten these boots, my feet are always super soggy at the end of the day when the boots finally come off. As far as blisters go, they seem to be caused by 3 different things: heat, friction, and moisture, and in addition to my feet being very moisture-ridden, I also have been using socks that are probably too thick, which also increases heat. No wonder I've had terrible blisters a good chunk of the summer. I think I'll go for some good trail runners next.

7/10 in the Sangre de Cristo range in 2020 complete!

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Here are some extra pics we got that were pretty neat!

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As always,

Risk is for managing, not for chance.

~Hogan Warlock~




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

Nice!
08/06/2020 11:36
Strong work, epic photos. The one you titled "Tightroping" needs to be blown up on a canvas and hanging in your living room. So sick!


hogantheepic

Thank you!
08/06/2020 22:12
That tightroping picture might be my favorite picture from this entire summer. Thank you for reading! @JacerJack


greenonion

Damn
08/07/2020 09:32
...just damn.



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