| 2012/01/07 Ellingwood Point and Blanca Peak
Our little outing is weak sauce compared to some of the stellar trips other folks are making to take advantage of the severe lack of snowfall in Colorado this winter but, if nothing else, this should serve as a conditions update for the Sangres. Ellingwood Point, Blanca Peak and Little Bear Peak are primed for easy winter ascents and the Little Bear to Blanca traverse is certainly not out of the question either. The traverse is drier than it was the last time I was on it in June 2009.
Billy G. and I met Jeff at the start of the Lake Como road around 8:30pm on Friday night and got our car camping on right there in the dirt lot under a severely clear sky and bright moon. No crowds and no car headlights pulling in at midnight. Jeff apparently had an amazing night of sleep in his Subaru while Bill and I listened to the flapping of the tent when the wind picked up around 1:30am.
At 6:45am we began the bumpy ride up the Lake Como road in my 4Runner and only encountered small sections of easily-passable snow on the road. We stopped and parked at the major switchback just shy of 10,000’ and only stopped because I didn’t feel like abusing my vehicle any more through one more short, rough switchback. Those inclined to keep on going could drive to the big switchback at 10,200’ before the snow on the road looked a bit much.
We left the snowshoes and crampons in the vehicle and started our hike at 7:30am up the road to Lake Como in minimal snow. It’s pretty ridiculous how dry it is to Lake Como, actually. At 9:10am, we crossed the frozen Lake Como to avoid potential wallowing in snowy willows on the edge of the lake and set up camp at about 11,900’ at a favorite spot of mine. We departed camp at 10:30am under cloudy but calm conditions. Turns out we managed to climb these two peaks on the worst weather day in the past two weeks just before it gets nice again for the next week.
Higher in the valley we followed some old snowshoe and old crampon tracks in the snow making the occasional frustrating and energy-zapping posthole into the snow. Snow was quite variable. Some places it was super hard windpack and other places it was soft and sugary. That was the theme all the way up to the Ellingwood/Blanca saddle. We were engulfed by thick fog and moderate winds from about 13,000’ to the summit of Ellingwood. Rime was collecting heavily and fast on us.
After reaching the Ellingwood/Blanca saddle right at the low point we had to do a short, slightly sketchy downclimb to avoid the major notch in the ridge and then we did a long ascending traverse to the summit of Ellingwood Point reaching the summit at 13:30. We rested, snacked and drank some fluids but the conditions didn’t warrant a summit nap.
We descended our ascent route (minus the downclimb shenanigans) and then decided we had enough energy to battle the wind and fog long enough to head up Blanca Peak. Also, we’d be pissed at ourselves later if we didn’t climb Blanca since we were _right there_. Jeff led the way admirably and we reached the summit of Blanca a little after 15:00. Less snacking and again no summit napping and we were heading down again. At this point I was wearing all my layers including my puffy jacket over my shell jacket and wishing I hadn’t forgotten my goggles at home. Thankfully it wasn’t snowing, just windy and bitter cold.
We descended uneventfully to ca. 12,800’ when we ran into Jeff’s friends Kevin, Brian and Alan at 16:15 on their way up Ellingwood. Alan had been in the basin twice before and was determined to reach the summit of Ellingwood this time. They had setup camp with us down at 11,900’. We bid them safe and warm travels and would see them again at 20:30 when they arrived back at camp just as I went to bed.
The night at camp was calm and crisp but extremely reasonable for January. We slept well and only a light dusting of snow resulted from the forecasted overnight “storm”. The next morning we finally got a grand view of Ellingwood Point before packing up and hiking out. It took us about an hour and a half to hike back to the vehicle.
Right now I’d suggest skipping the high camp and just going to car to car for Ellingwood and Blanca. Snowshoes would be nice but not mandatory. Little Bear would be very reasonable too but one might encounter the variable and, at times, junky snow (but safe, no avalanche concerns) on the standard route.
You can view the pictures with descriptive captions if interested.
Crossing Lake Como Lake. Little Bear Peak dead ahead
Ascending Blanca at about 13,900'
Definitely some moisture in the air
Sunset was pretty badass
Ellingwood Point on Sunday morning after the "storm"
Bone dry conditions at 10,000' on Lake Como road