Routes: Ascent - variation of the South Face, descent – standard, Class 2-3
Date: February 18-19, 2012
RT Distance: ~ 13 miles (parked at 8,800 ft)
Elevation Gain: approximately 5,300 feet
What: CMC AMS (Advanced Mountaineering School) graduation climb – Natalie (nkan02), Lynn (LynnKH), Rob (robco) and 2 CMC instructors – Kurt & MJ.
Why: Foiled attempt at the same peaks 3 weeks ago
The group met in Denver at or before 8am on 02/18/12 and carpooled from there to the Como Lake turn-off, where MJ was expecting us.
Snowy Little Bear from hwy 150
Lynn’s Xterra got us to 8,800 feet and we backpacked from there to Lake Como. Backpack in for 5 of us took anywhere from 3.5 to 4.5 hours, depending on the weight of the pack.
Happy campers and AMSers
There was some snow on Lake Como, but there was a recent snowshoe track. We met 3 snowshoers on their way back who said that they broke trail to about 13K and turned around.
Lake Como road. Again.
The weather was beautiful and it was great to see some big-horn sheep on the way in (near 11K).
Somebody is watching you
Sunset on Little Bear never gets old
Three of us chose to stay in the luxurious accommodations of Como Lake cabin, while Kurt and MJ stayed in their tent. We melted snow (which took a long while), ate dinner and got ready for the next day’s summit attempt. The weather forecast called for calm, mostly sunny morning with winter storm moving in at mid-day. We knew we had a short window for our summit bid. Avy conditions with all the fresh new snow were also a concern.
We started off at 6 am, 30 min later than planned (with a larger group it is harder to stick to a strict timeline), and were making good time on the broken trail through the trees above Lake Como. Before the Blue Lakes, the trail split, and we chose to follow the left branch, which turned out to be technically harder and got us off the standard route.
Off the main route from the get-go. Standard trail is in the valley below
By 8am we were approaching the Crater lake and it was time to chose between Blanca or Ellingwood Point. Kurt led the pack and he picked EP, so I followed him, although my preference was Blanca. All of us carried the avy gear (beacon, shovel and probe), so I figured out we should not split.
Time to choose. Left (EP) or right (Blanca)
Going higher. Things are about to get sketchy.
Again, we veered off to the left and higher than the standard route and had to traverse some steep slopes, which was pushing my comfort limit as snow conditions were not ideal – thin crust with a thick layer of sugar underneath. My heavy packpack with a lot of metal in it was affecting my center of gravity so I had to ditch snowshoes and poles, literally – I dropped them from the upper slope down to the standard route as I was pretty sure we will descent the standard route. I had to move quickly as Kurt set a brisk pace. Lynn & Rob followed the standard route lower in the valley and MJ felt sick and stayed near 13K waiting for us.
a bit too sketchy for my taste
Time to head higher for the rocks
Views of Little Bear do not disappoint though
Upper route on Ellingwood
Traversing steep snow slopes took more time than anticipated and by the time Kurt and I were approaching the summit ridge of EP, clouds were already moving in and winds were picking up.
Little Bear is disappearing from the view
Approaching the ridge
Lindsey from the ridge
Remaining route to EP
If you can find it
I reached the summit of EP at 11.15am as Blanca and Little Bear were disappearing from the view. I had energy for Blanca (and would have had even more energy if we stayed on the standard route throughout the day), but the weather dwarfed any thoughts of continuing on. I stayed on the EP summit for a short minute, while Kurt was waiting for me at the false summit. Then we quickly dropped down into the basin, trying to escape winds and blowing snow that were picking up at that point.
Snowy SW ridge of Ellingwood from the summit
Snowy gulleys on EP
Beware of the cornices
On the way back, I collected my previously dropped metal gear (snowshoes and poles), met MJ and together we descended to Lake Como cabin to warm up, pack and boil water for the descent. Kurt waited near 13K for Lynn and Rob.
Time to head for the exit
But first I need to collect my gear dropped off from the upper route
A small slide (on the standard route!) on the way back
A different day, a different view
We all started off from Lake Como ~4.30pm, made great time and reached the car in just 2 hours. All what’s left was a long 4 hour drive back to Denver.