| Blanca, traverse, Ellingwood
Hey! Almost a year late, and some of the details are fuzzy, but what the hay...
For those making their way through the 14ers, some have realized that drive time, logistics, ect are big factors in successfully summiting all of the 14ers - despite their rating.
I have to start off by giving James all of the credit for figuring out all of the travel details and minutia of this hike - all I knew is that we were going south... wayyyy south to the Sagre De Christo range. For those that don't hablo espanol; that means blood of Christ in Spanish! Apparently, the origin of the mountain range name is in question, but supposedly it came from the red color at sunrise to present the classic "alpenglow".
Anyways, we drove the mighty FJ down to south from the Denver area at about 5pm. Along the way we stopped in Walsenburg for car fuel, and human fuel (redbull). We originally calculated the drive taking us about 5-6 hours if my recollections are correct - for those that are trying to calculate drive time, I believe I remember still seeing the silhouettes of the two 13ers south of Le Veta at about 8pm. I we reached the Blanca massif somewhere around 9, but it really didn't matter much because it was pitch black by then.
We started down to the infamous lake como rd after arriving in the "town" of Blanca. The road was infamous to me because of stuff James said. All I heard was Jaws 1, Jaws 2, Jaw 3 ect... In hindsight, every painful detail that people report about lake como rd - is probably pretty accurate. Anyways, after turning off from county rd 150, everything turns to hell pretty quickly. The rd is passable for a little while if your not in a rugged SUV, then it turns into a pretty gnarly 4wd rd quickly. I can't remember how far we made it up in the FJ cruiser, but after some gnarly 4wd moves, we decided it was time to pull off and get some sleep.
After pulling off the rd we sorted our gear, and deployed the self inflating mattress into the back of the FJ. I love camping, and this was my first real car camping experience. We heard about lots of bear activity, and bears breaking into cars. So needless to say, James was on alert! Occasionally throughout the night he was kind enough to shout the token "go away bear" deterrent for every rustle outside our door half-closed car door.
After a few meager hours of sleep (if that is what you want to call it), the alarms went off and it was time for action. I remember waking in the dark and reaching lake como around 6:30am. (picture 21) We ran into a couple, that had actually had their camp raided by a black bear, and watched the bear destroy their camp from the tent.
We made our way up through the valley towards Blanca and Ellingwood. We decided to do Blanca first, and then up Ellingwood. The hike up Blanca was pretty uneventful, and we made it up and down to the saddle fairly quick.
Next was the traverse over and up to Ellingwood. The traverse was very straight forward, and we negotiated it quickly.
Climbing up Ellingwood I could feel my energy depleting, and I started to slow. I ended up summiting around 11:30, about 15 minutes behind James.
We started our decent and took a more "direct route" down the basin between Ellingwood and Blanca. From my experience, "direct routes" or shortcuts, often turn into tortured and painstaking routes that usually end up costing more time; ie willow, bogs, cliffing out, ect... I believe this to be the case from my selected route down Ellingwood. Large talus became the obstacle to descend, and then it began to snow. Wishing I would have just stayed on route, I started to hear faint screaming between two individuals in the distance below. As I continued to descend, I made out a small group of individuals shouting to one another. They were contemplating turning around. It seemed to be a good decision as several in their party had donned shorts and cotton hoodies - classic.
We continued on further down the mountain and approached a separate party. They had lost one of their members somewhere on the final approach to the summit, and seemed a little frantic; but they assured us that the lost woman was a "big, big strong woman..." Their game plan was poor at best. The lost member in question had decided to begin descending to a lower altitude because of poor attire (tennis shoes, shorts, cotton long sleeve tshirt). In hindsight, I remember seeing someone crab walking down a very steep portion of Blanca (far climber's right). Could it be this missing woman? Had she fallen and disappeared down between some talus? I could only assume the worst. They thought she was going to descend down to the saddle and wait, but when they arrived she was no where to be found. We said we would continue descending and keep our eyes open. If we found her we would send her back up, or walk back up and tell them we found her. Its easy to see how things can deteriorate when a group separates. We started to prepare for a possible need for mountain rescue. If we reached the bottom without finding the missing woman, we were prepared to alert SAR. When we got down to the lake, we still had not found the missing woman, and the group searching for her was still up high on the mountain in deteriorating weather. By that time the snow had turned to rain, and shortly after passing the lake we ran into the woman. We had told the girl that her party was looking for her high on the mountain, and that she needed to go up and tell them she was ok. Flustered, she started up the hill, and thankfully another person from her party was already on their way down and met her. Thankfully, everything turned out ok. I share this story not to be judgemental or critical of this group, but to share in hopes that maybe it will be educational for someone. We have all been underprepaired at some point or have done something that could have caused a deleterious situation. Well maybe not everyone, but I certainly have..
After that, we began the long haul back to the car, and it was looooonnggggg!! Sleep deprivation can really make things more miserable, and I was definitely starting to experience the suck down lake como road. Eventually the rain stopped, but we were water logged. We got to the car around 4:30, then we began the looongg drive back home. Goodbye Blanca massif.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):