The Ellingwood Point Southwest Ridge route really serves up a dandy of a scramble on a fun and exposed ridge with solid rock. This sustained scramble continues all the way to the tippy-top of a nifty 14er summit tucked far back in the heart of the Blanca Massif. Although this peak is often overshadowed by its neighbors, it still rises 342 feet above its connecting saddle with Blanca Peak and has a 0.5 mile separation. This peak was also given an "official" and a very special name as it was named after mountaineering legend, Albert Ellingwood.
Not to be confused with other "Points" or other "Ellingwood" named routes, the Ellingwood Point southwest ridge was a first-rate scramble that joins my top 3 favorite 14er routes, all of which have been in the Sangre de Cristo range. The challenge of making it up this ridge is worth the effort as the hidden beauty of the surrounding lakes, waterfalls and peaks are slowly revealed to you as you are treated to a sporty scramble. We were the only group on the southwest ridge. Later, we crossed paths with a few groups traversing from Blanca to EP. However, we had the summit of Blanca to ourselves since we were going in the opposite direction of the standard hiker traffic that day.
Details and Photos:
We did this route as a day trip starting at 3:45 am from just above 8000 feet. We were hoping to drive up to at least 8800 feet but the Lake Como Road gets rough really fast. I felt it was easier to pull over, park and just start taking the CHEVROLEGS up the road in lieu of the stress of beating up my vehicle. The LC road is truly a test track for monster truck drivers. The hike up to Lake Como went quickly and took about 2.5 hours. The photo below of Lake Como and the west face of Little Bear was taken at the end of the day. The road goes to the left (north) around the Lake and the surrounding area was filled with people camping.
As the road continues to the northeast above Lake Como, you will start to get a view of Ellingwood Point. This photo was taken at the end of day just below the Blue Lakes area. The view of Blanca Peak at this stage remains mostly blocked by it's connecting ridge with Little Bear.
After +4000 feet of vertical gain, the Lake Como road FINALLY ends at the Blue Lakes. You will see a waterfall beyond the Blue Lakes celebrating the end point for all motorized ascents. This is where an excellent trail begins and it will quickly make its way up the left side of the waterfall via a series of trail switchbacks.
The view looking back on Blue Lakes from the trail climbing on the west side of the waterfall. This trail (also the standard route for EP & Blanca) will lead you up to a small sublake just above the waterfall and Crater Lake will still be hidden from view due to your low vantage point.
I did not take a close range photo of the sublake at the top of the waterfall but the photo below still shows this key area where you make the split off from the standard route and begin your climb up the southwest ridge. Lake Como and the Blue Lakes are hidden in this photo.
This was also the area we used to filter and replenish our water supply. Unlike other 14er routes, I had consumed a lot of water early on due to the warmer temps of the low elevation starting point and the amount of vertical gain to get to this point. It's a great hike and transformation to witness as you go from the flat and desert landscape of the valley floor up to the high alpine lakes and waterfalls, but it will require a lot of water to stay hydrated.
After reviewing the route description on this site, I noticed our route deviated in several places. This ridge scramble offers a unique chance to stay on the ridge proper for the entire route.
First deviation: We did NOT continue hiking around the edge of the first sublake to the base of the "rock-slide" as outlined in Photo #2 of the 14ers.com route description. Instead, we climbed directly north at the top of the waterfall (see the red arrows in the photo above) and began our ascent of the southwest ridge. We found a trail well marked with cairns and it had one short section of loose rock before it quickly gained some grassy terrain that was the start of the ledges and solid rock leading up to the ridge. This route alternative stays ABOVE the cliffs in the upper left section of Photo #2 of the 14ers.com route description, instead of traversing below on the "rock-slide."
The photo below shows the terrain leading up to the top of the southwest ridge. If you look closely in the center of the photo, you can pick out the 'Y' couloir referenced in the 14ers.com route description.
Looking back along the southwest ridge. Our alternative to gain the southwest ridge was fast and easy. It also limited our time on the "rock-slide" area and gave us extra time on the ridge scramble. Obviously, various route options are marked and will work. Choose your own adventure.
Looking up to Ellingwood Point from the start of the ridge scramble. You will have the fun option and challenge to stay on the ridge proper all the way to the summit!
If you read the online route description, a big effort is put into avoiding the "dead end" obstacle in photo #5 of the 14ers.com route description. Since we gained the ridge early, I was fearing the "dead end" might be > class 4 and cause us to backtrack... but it was rather easy to scramble up and over. There was never a need to bypass or drop below the ridge. The photo below shows the "dead-end" on the ridge.
You will quickly encounter a spine/wall blocking the ridge. This is where the exposure and the fun class 3+ climbing starts.
Here's a closer look at the start of the spine/wall. Go to the left and climb up the easier slope on the north side of the spine to regain the ridge. Once above this point, the exposure and class 3+ scrambling will be sustained for a good portion of the remaining climb.
Second deviation: The online route description outlines a route going to the right after dropping down into a "large gash" in the ridge (photo #12 in the 14ers.com route description). Consider the option to stay on the ridge proper and climb up the rock from the base of the gash. The gash area is shown in the photo below and it was it was fun and easy enough to climb.
After continuous and exposed class 3+ scrambling, you will arrive at the "mini knife edge." You also get a good look at the remaining route to the summit.
Looking back along the southwest ridge.
Although the ridge gets steeper after the "mini knife edge", the route starts to relent in terms of exposure and difficulty. Stay on the ridge and climb towards a large "horn" connected to the summit by a saddle. The exposure and difficulty will resume as you near the horn/summit.
Continue scrambling up and over the "horn," which looks a lot steeper in this photo than it really is. The "horn" also looks like it might have a serious drop off on the other side but it leads to an open saddle area below the final summit pitch.
The neighbors are starting to look angry... The view of Little Bear as you are closing in the summit of Ellingwood Point.
Third deviation: The final summit pitch. We did not traverse right over to the ridge after climbing up on the red rocks as shown in photo #19 of the 14ers.com route description. Consider the option to keep scrambling directly to the top of the ridge.
Picture-in-picture. Ellingwood Point summit, elevation 14,042 feet.
The view west of Twin Peaks.
The view southeast and the start of the northwest ridge traverse to Blanca Peak.
Massive exposure drops off to the east while descending the ridge. In most places, you will have the option to keep some distance between yourself and the exposure. The rock is mostly solid, especially compared to the gnarly sounds coming from the consistent rockfall that was happening on the standard route of the EP south face. I'm glad we avoided that despised standard route.
Looking back up at Ellingwood Point. The ridge down climb is steep and exposed in spots but nothing more difficult than what was achieved earlier.
If you stay on the ridge for the traverse, you will reach a steep down climb into a nasty notch. The climb back up on the other side of the notch is the crux of the traverse. This wall is short but it's rated low class 5 in terms of difficulty. Follow the guide on this site and down climb the gully in the middle of the notch OR climb the crux wall to stay on the ridge. The photo below shows our route on the crux wall. The rock was solid with small holds but the difficulty quickly relented once we gained the ledge on the right side about midway up. This small ledge is shown with a blue arrow in the photo below.
Looking up at the remaining northwest ridge traverse to Blanca. The initial scrambling after the crux wall is easier but you will still have some ups and downs to navigate on very exposed terrain. The exposure relents as the standard route eventually joins you on or near the ridge. You will also start to see various cairns since there are many ways to climb up through the remaining rugged terrain. You will need to do some route finding to keep the climb at a class 2+ or you can you can just climb away near the ridge and have fun with some of the short and easy sections of class 3 scrambling. You will definitely start to feel the effects of a long day and climbing at the altitude of the 4th highest peak in the state.
Looking back at Ellingwood Point. It's fun to see some of the different sides of this peak.
The view east of Huerfano Peak, Iron Nipple and Mount Lindsey.
The view north of Ellingwood Point, Lily Lake and California Peak. The Great Sand Dunes and the Crestone group can be seen further off in the distance.
The view southwest of Little Bear Peak. Gerry Roach writes in his guide book that the Ellingwood Point southwest ridge is a "good tune-up" for the Little Bear-Blanca traverse...
Another look at the descent route from somewhere near the Blanca/Ellingwood Point saddle. Follow the northwest ridge back down Blanca and follow the cairns back to the trail leading to Crater Lake. Once again, we took a break at the top of the waterfall to refill our water supply for the final descent. You will be at the top of the rough 4WD Lake Como Road once you return to the Blue Lakes area.
The LONG and winding road home as you return to the desert landscape. Prepare for the heat and dust, the monster 4WD vehicles passing you by and the fatigued look of oncoming backpackers as they make their way up to Lake Como. It's funny that I took this photo on what has to be one of the nicest segments of the road... DON'T BE DECEIVED. It's a long, hard and beautiful hike but totally worth the effort of a day trip. 14 hours round trip and not a minute over, including all breaks. We kept a moderate pace and had great weather. We took several breaks, including some time to soak our feet in a lake at the end of the day, and had a slower pace on the last part of the descent due to the blazing sun and heat. Most groups with a moderate pace should be able to complete this route in 13-15 hours from parking spots along the lower portion of the Lake Como road.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):