| SW Ridge of Ellingwood Point
Group: Ameristrat, SilverLynx, OrthoMatt, TheOtherIndian, Tess
Let me preface this TR by saying we’re going about writing it a little differently this time. SilverLynx and I will co-write this trip report and hopefully you can get not only a couple of perspectives on this climb, but also a sense of each of our personalities. I really enjoyed meeting Matt, Jenny, and Karthik, and it was the collective group of personalities that contributed as much to making this a great memory as did the eye-popping exposure on parts of the SW Ridge.
I feel like this trip was in the process of being planned for the last several months. I had originally bugged Jenny to make a trip up Kit Carson and Challenger – this failed several times for everything from weather to hangovers. We finally made it to this past week and saw a nice weather window for the weekend – unseasonably warm temperatures and no precipitation at all in the week prior to our climb. Jenny and I scrounged up some other participants and, by the Thursday before our trip, we had put together a group of five.
Jenny, Matt, Tess, and I planned to meet at my apartment building around 9:15 on Saturday morning to load up my car – the super-trusty, ignore-the-fact-that-the-breaks-squeal-like-pigs-in-a-slaughterhouse Xterra, and head out by 9:30.
I had my doubts that this would happen. I had received a text around 2 AM from Tess asking what time she was supposed to meet us (I had last seen her in the middle of a gaggle of friends searching for a bar the night before while I rode home to get my beauty sleep), and my driving directions to Jenny were: “Call me when you’re close and we’ll figure it out.”
I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed, and therefore, I began packing about 20 minutes before I was supposed to meet everyone, running around my apartment as quietly as possible (so I would not wake my roommate). Huffing, I made it to my car at 9:20 to see Matt waiting by his car. Phew! I wasn’t too late.
We loaded his stuff into my car and talked for a little bit about giving the SW Ridge route to Ellingwood a look – we figured it was likely to be clear of snow, and, having read trip reports, and the description of the climb, I interpreted it to be a climb similar to Kelso Ridge – something fun to check out provided that snow and ice were absent from the ridge.
At 9:25, I got a call from Jenny – she was off the highway and could not find the turn off for my apartment. She described to me where she was – evidently close by. I had never heard of the intersection, and told her to drive around until she saw a sign for the Georgetown Apartments.
At 9:35, I was again on the phone with Jenny (still lost) as Tess whipped around the corner and pulled in to an open spot. I was amazed that Tess maintained a fervent level of enthusiasm for the entire trip, including this morning, in the midst of a sleep-deprived hangover.
At 9:45, Jenny struck gold, and we were on our way.
At 9:50, we made the highway, and Tess asked when we were stopping for lunch, which brings us to the first lesson of this trip: if you ever are indecisive about where to eat on a trip, invite Tess. It was quickly decided that if we could not find a subway, there would be a mutiny.
We held ourselves over with Matt’s wife’s incredible cookies – but really, they were divine – and made it to “Eat Fresh” Pueblo – the Subway capital of the Mountain West.
Satiated and ready for the scintillating hike up Como Road, we quickly drove the remaining hour and a half to the Trailhead, and pulled over to wait for Karthik (TheOtherIndian) who told us he would meet us there. We waited a half hour past when he said he would meet us and saw no sign of him, so I called the number he gave me to see where he was. The guy who answered was definitely not Karthik. He had no idea why he was supposed to be at Como Road at 1:30, or where that even was. By the time he told me he had no idea what 14ers were, we parted ways and the group hopped back in the car to see how high we could get (on the road people, chill) before turning off. Turns out, it was about 350 feet. Nice work 2WD Xterra.
Why did I just spend a page talking about the drive down? Because it’s infinitely more entertaining than talking about hiking this road which, as we expected, sucked.
We made it to camp around 6:00 and met a group from Chicago who had summitted Ellingwood and Blanca that day, and continued on to set up camp on the south side of Lake Como.
The reflection of Little Bear in Lake Como
We found a dry tree and started a fire, and I began cooking what I will henceforth call ‘heaven.’ Heaven, incidentally, is a piece of pita bread with pizza sauce, pizza cheese (very critical), and normal pepperoni (har har, right?) heated up. It is, perhaps, the best thing ever made above 11,500 feet, but Top Chef denied my application. WTF
An hour or so later, Karthik came stomping into camp, having had to make a pit stop at REI before heading out. We admired our outstanding fire – okay, Eagle Scout Matt did all the work while I crossed my fingers – and talked for a while until getting in our tents and going to bed. We planned to get up at the crack of 6:30.
It’s a good thing we got moving so quickly the next morning, because 7:45 came really quickly, and we just managed to beat it to the trail. The first mile or so of the trail up to the Blue Lakes gained elevation slowly, and we enjoyed the neck-bending views of Little Bear to our right, and the snow covered trail. The Blue Lakes were almost completely covered in a very thin, transparent layer of ice, and their glass-like sheen in the early fall light was breath-taking.
We made it to the turn-off that would take us up to the SW Ridge, and stopped to make a decision. The route was completely snow-free, and sun was already shining on top which led us to ascertain that ice would not be a problem either. Karthik wanted to stay on the main trail and meet us on the summit of Ellingwood, while the rest of the group decided to go give the ridge a shot.
The Lynx Perspective:
When I initially considered hiking Blanca and Ellingwood, I had no idea about the Southwest Ridge route. On the drive down we had lightly discussed it but I had never read about it before, or even heard about it. I figured it was just a slightly harder way to get Ellingwood Point.
Matt explained to me at the turn-off (great time and place to learn about an unfamiliar route) that this ridge was supposedly Class 3 and that Roach did not make the exposure sound too bad in the guide book. Little did we know, this route flirts heavily with Class 4 difficulty and has much more exposure than Crestone Needle. During the climb, I recall saying such things as “I’ve never done anything this difficult,” and “The hardest peaks I’ve ever done are nothing compared to this ridge." I am also fairly certain that I set a personal record for number of swear words said in one day.
I was hesitant to take the ridge because I was not feeling 100% on this trip. I had been very sick for almost two weeks, my throat was swollen and I had been coughing throughout the night. The cold had aggravated my symptoms. However, not knowing what lurked ahead while I stood at the turn-off, I nervously decided to take on the ridge as a valuable learning opportunity that could prove useful to me on future 14ers of similar difficulty. Matt made an excellent point in saying that if you always take the easiest way up easier mountains, you are not doing yourself any favors when it comes to preparing for the most challenging 14ers. I agreed and accepted the challenge of Ellingwood’s Southwest Ridge.
The first step in gaining the ridge was sort of a scamper up a loose talus slope. The route description on this website refers to this slope as a rockslide. Almost all of the rocks move beneath you as you make your way up the hill. If only the rest of the ridge was this easy.
Jenny ascending a class 3 chimney on the way to the ridge.
We skirted along the east side of the ridge for a short while until it became apparent we had to go up and could not avoid it any longer. This is where I feel like the word “committing” comes in. Teddy and Tess stepped over onto a ledge and from there climbed up a very steep couloir in the rocks. By steep, I mean three points of contact at all times and do not let your guard down. The handholds and footholds, though solid, were narrow and sometimes tilted, and behind the shallow ledge was about 20-30 feet of air. A fall here could ruin your day.
Enter acrophobia. The voice of doubt entered my mind and I started to shake nervously as I looked at the moves that wait ahead of me. My legs felt like Jell-O. Somehow I had to get my mind under control, or my legs would not be very useful here. I listened to the advice of my partners and concentrated on what they were telling me. I began to tap on some of the holds to make sure nothing moved. There were many rocks along this ridge that gave the appearance of being intact but broke away with any decent amount of force.
Matt offered his assistance and reassurance, reminding me of how solid the handholds were and that there were plenty of places to put my feet. The hardest part of this section was getting directly beneath the couloir. I took some deep breaths and began to focus on what I needed to do. I could see cracks and ledges where my hands could go. I eliminated the possibility of failure in my head. Matt was encouraging. More deep breaths, and I put the thought of what was behind my back out of my mind. There was some whimpering and awkwardness as I scooted and hoisted myself up through the slabs of rock. In a matter of moments I was sitting where Teddy and Tess were sitting. I suddenly realized there was no going back now, because I would not be going down that way. Ellingwood or bust!
Many sections of this ridge reminded me of Mount Lindsey’s Northwest ridge. At first, the terrain does not appear that steep, but it is deceiving. The rocks are somewhat loose on the flanks of the ridge, and there are places you do not want to forget where you’re standing, because if you slip you are going to tumble for a while. Many handholds and footholds are chossy, and I would strongly advise kicking off the dirt and debris before trusting a step, as our group did.
I cannot forget when we first stepped right on top of the ridge. Maybe it was the altitude getting to me, maybe it was inadequate breakfast or the fact that I was sick, but the views all around us brought a tear to my eye. I honestly think there is just so much beauty in the Sangres. We knew we were in a very remote place. How long had these mountains been here? I felt tinier than blip in geological time. What an incredible planet we live on. The sky was so blue, and the sunlight hitting our faces removed the bitterness of the cold. I spent a lot of time admiring Little Bear, which I had never gotten a good look at until this trip. It commanded respect.
The sheer size of mountains never ceases to impress me. They are humbling, and the contrast in scale between things I see on a daily basis and things I see when climbing is immense. There is no way to describe feeling that small other than awe, humility, reverence and joy. The terrain just goes on and on, and you suddenly feel a sense of “infinite possibilities.”
The scrambling on the ridge is consistent. There are very few “breaks” where you change the motion of what you are doing to walking. It’s continuous Class 3 for the most part. Matt and Teddy led the way with route finding and did a fantastic job. We had to make sure we did not descend to low in some places or stay too high in others. For the majority of the climb, we did not stray far from the ridge proper.
Once on the ridge, the climbing begins in earnest. this section was a blast!
There was an unavoidable knife edge section about halfway to the summit. I wasn’t confident enough to walk on it, so I straddled it and scooted along the knife edge. There was a respectable amount of exposure under each of my legs.
Jenny's pack was lopsided. This picture was too funny not to take.
A short, Knife-Edge section.
I remember watching Matt and Tess go over this section and replicating their exact path as best I could. When we all looked back at the knife edge, we were grateful to be over it.
Jenny, Tess, and Matt climbing the SW Ridge.
The most chilling move in the entire climb was probably about two thirds of the way to the summit. There was a tilted, plate-like rock about three feet in diameter directly in the path. To the left of it, easily 100 feet of exposure, probably more. To the right of it, a testy, less-exposed but very loose down-climb with a Class 5 path to regain the ridge. There was only one way off this ridge, and that was over the plate-like rock.
After watching two of my group members go over this tricky section, I groaned and contemplated my fate. The ridge just seemed to keep throwing harder and harder obstacles at us. I guess I would call this mind-boggling exposure. I took a minute to fully appreciate the attention-getting drops surrounding me, trying to keep my cool and just tell myself the mantra “Concentrate on where your feet are, not where they aren’t.”
Finding a secure place for my feet, I embraced the only thing between me and the exposure; this one rock. That’s all there was to grab. My fingers latched onto it with a vice-like grip. Teddy held on to the top of my pack, per my request. I swung my right leg over the top of the rock and tried not to think about screwing up here. My mind racing, I pushed myself to complete the move as quickly as possible because it is bad to stop in a spot like this. Then I swung my left leg over, found new footing and slowly removed my hands from the rock... Whew! I was glad to be over that, and Teddy followed close behind me.
All morning long, we scrambled tirelessly up and down the boulders, around the sides of the ridge, sometimes using cracks for handholds, sometimes walking through small patches of snow. We even heard spontaneous rockfall on the eastern side of the ridge.
Eventually we could see Karthik sitting on the summit. He watched us as we worked our away along the ridge. It was a relief to see how close in front of us he was!
The next and final challenge of Ellingwood appeared to be made of a different kind of rock than most of the ridge. Instead of cracked, dark gray blocks, the rock here was composed of thin, reddish sheet-like sediment that broke off rather easily. It reminded me of shale. This section was one we all agreed to get through as quickly as possible because pieces seemed to break off with ease, and there was no telling when something would fall off. I felt a rock tag my helmet and decided to wait for Tess to finish going up this part before I continued. This section felt much more like Class 4 then Class 3, because it certainly fit the definition. I feel strongly that this route is not given enough credit. It felt significantly more mentally engaging than anything on Longs or the Needle and is not something to take lightly.
One by one we then filed our way along a 2-foot wide ledge, being careful to hang on to the rock wall next to us. The ledge had enough room to stand on comfortably, but there was a serious drop to our right, which made me double-check my footing.
Nearly home free, the summit was close now. At this point I had forgotten how sick I was. Interesting how fear has a tendency to make you forget about everything else going on. The four of us trudged up the remainder of the ridge to the summit and congratulated each other on a job well done.
Ellingwood Point was ours to enjoy. Karthik had been patiently waiting for us. I felt very lucky to be safely on the summit.
To back up what Lynxie said, the route up Ellingwood is no joke. The moves are not particularly difficult – sustained class 3 with some more difficult (read class 3+/4) moves thrown in. That said, the exposure is sustained and relentless, and it is eye-popping at times. You rarely have less than a potential 10-20 foot slide or fall, and often, the ground slopes at tumble-inducing grades for hundreds of feet to one or either side.
We don’t emphasize this to scare off any potential climbers, nor do we do so to build ourselves up. We quite simply want to make sure that anyone who considers doing this route understands what they will experience – the route’s difficulty and degree of exposure exceeded our expectations, and we do not want that to happen to anyone else. If you are prepared and able, this route is a blast, but if you’re uncertain of your skills or your comfort with exposure, save it for later.
Moving forward, we took a few photos on the summit and admired the massive drop just below the south side. These peaks sure have some drastic features!
We began a descent and the group segmented. Matt wanted to exercise his Spiderman skills and take ridge proper from Ellingwood to Blanca. Karthik wanted a look at the easier Class 3 traverse a bit below the ridge. Tess, Jenny, and I said “F That” and we dropped down all of the way. Unfortunately, Jenny’s cold symptoms responded poorly to the brunt of the chilly wind on the descent from Ellingwood, and by the time we made it to the fork in the trails, she and Tess decided to head down and relax.
I was pretty tired and not enamored with reaching Blanca’s summit, but having seen Matt on the ridge several hundred feet above me, I figured I’d see how far I could get. I made the ridge through patches of trail between 6” deep snow a few minutes before Karthik, and went as fast as I could to the summit. It didn’t seem like it, but I made the 1000’ feet of gain up to Blanca much faster than I expected.
Blanca’s summit provides excellent views of Ellingwood, Lindsey, Little Bear, and even the Crestones to the north. It practically towers over Ellingwood, which looked diminutive from its neighbor’s higher summit.
Karthik summitted with us a few minutes later, we snapped some quick pictures, and then booked it down the mountain to try get down to the car with as little hiking in the dark as possible.
We made camp in an hour and a half and began the 5.5 mile slog down Como Road from camp at 5:45.
Como Road sucks a little less in the dark, but the dry sand that we walked on to avoid tripping over rocks was a constant slipping danger. Lynxie utilized some acrobatic moves reminiscent of Gabby Douglas to stay on her feet – watch out Olympics 2016!
Sunset on the hike out.
We made the car at 7:30, and were back off to Denver.
The SW Ridge of Ellingwood Point is a blast. Lots of fun, sustained, Class 3 scrambling with some tougher moves thrown in, and mostly solid rock to play on. The exposure and potential consequence on the route are serious though, and I strongly urge you to evaluate your comfort with exposure and this type of climbing before attempting the route. This isn’t Long’s Peak – whose worst exposure is less serious than a vast majority of this climb, and whose most difficult climbing, in my opinion, was simply par for this climb. Be prepared and be safe!
Ameristrat, SilverLynx, OrthoMatt, and Tess
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):