I decided at the last minute to take Monday off in order to suffer up Lake Como Road in the dark and attempt a summit of Ellingwood Point and Blanca Peak. I left Denver at 8 p.m. on Sunday night (June 10th), drove as far up Lake Como Road as my low-clearance vehicle would take me, and started hiking up the road at 11:30 p.m. The weather was ideal, and the night views of Alamosa and the half moon in the sky kept me going.
I reached Lake Como at 3:15 a.m. The only real excitement of the hike occurred about 20 minutes later. I looked up to see a white pair of eyes about 50 yards away reflecting the light of my headlamp. The eyes were far too close together to be a deer or elk--definitely the eyes of a predator. Just as I was taking a deep breath and telling myself not to panic, the eyes awkwardly charged about 10 yards towards me for a closer look. I was quite relieved when it held up about 40 yards away and didn't keep coming. It was a bear. After a hard swallow, I watched it watch me for thirty seconds or so before it slowly circled toward my rear, watched a bit more, then walked away. I didn't bump into it again, but for the next hour I kept checking my 6 o'clock about every 5 seconds to make sure it wasn't sneaking up behind me! One thing's for sure: it definitely woke me up.
I was just below Crater Lake when it started to get light out, and I heated up some water for coffee and to prepare some dehydrated beef stew for breakfast before continuing onward.
View of Blanca from roughly 12,700 feet (just below Crater Lake).
I headed virtually straight northeast toward the low-point of the Ellingwood-Blanca connecting ridge, then veered northwest toward Ellingwood's summit. The views of Little Bear, Blanca, and the traverse between them were spectacular. The rock on Ellingwood was generally fairly solid, and it was a pretty easy Class 2+ max hike to Ellingwood's summit, which I reached at 7:30 a.m.
Blanca from the ridge between it and Ellingwood.
Nearing Ellingwood's summit.
A portion of the Blanca-Little Bear traverse viewed from the north.
The summit of Little Bear from Ellingwood Point.
I spent about a half-hour on the top of Ellingwood, peering over at a group of climbers on top of Blanca. I'm not sure what route they ascended and descended, but it wasn't the standard route from Crater Lake. From Ellingwood, Blanca looked fairly intimidating, much steeper and higher than I thought it would be.
As I hiked from Ellingwood to Blanca, being awake for nearly 24 hours was starting to take its toll. I was very slow following the "High Line" route along the ridge over to Blanca, and it didn't seem that I was making any progress at all. Blanca's rock is as solid as Ellingwood's, but, either because I was tired or because it is a bit steeper, I found myself having to put my hands down for balance a lot more. I don't recall any moves that I would classify as Class 3 though, despite Gerry Roach's classification of the High Line route as such. I reached the summit of Blanca at about 10 a.m. after bumping into a couple from Taos who had reached the summit at least an hour before. I wasn't very proud of taking two hours to get from Ellingwood to Blanca, but I suppose the only one timing me was myself. Plus, I couldn't have timed my arrival any better. The couple from Taos was descending, and noone else was coming up. I could therefore enjoy some pleasant solitude and stunning views of the surrounding 14ers from my perch on Blanca.
Looking into the Crater Lake basin from the Blanca-Ellingwood connecting ridge.
Looking northeast into the Huerfano River Valley from the ridge.
Mount Lindsey and the Iron Nipple from Blanca's summit.
Little Bear from Blanca's summit.
The Blanca-Little Bear traverse as seen from Blanca's summit.
Ellingwood Point from Blanca's summit.
The entire Crestone Group, about 26 miles to the north of Blanca.
Other than a handful of run-ins with unstable talus, my descent from Blanca back down to Lake Como was enjoyable, particularly the views of the lakes and mountains. From Lake Como, however, the agony of Lake Como Road set in. That road just never seems to end, and it definitely seems much harder going down than going up. By the time I got back to my car at 5:30 p.m., my feet were about as sore as I think it is possible for feet to be.
All in all it was an 18 hour, 17.5 mile round trip with 6,470 feet of elevation gain. Not bad for a day's work when you are a slow hiker like me.
Upper Blue Lake.
Ellingwood Point from the southwest (with a little waterfall for flavor).
A closer view of Ellingwood.
Ellingwood and Blanca.
Little Bear viewed from across Lake Como.
This is where descending Lake Como Road really starts to get depressing.
Little Bear and Blanca from Highway 160.