I've climbed more than half of the 14ers so far but managed to stay off any true Class 3 ridge/traverse so Blanca to Ellingwood was going to be a good test. Plus the backpack in made for a big adventure all around.
Driving up the road
We were surprised to see cars so low on the trailhead, even SUVs with decent clearance. We knew we'd have to hike for a ways but we wanted to see how far our Subaru Outback could go since we had a later start than we wanted. Despite having enough clearance, we probably only made it another .5 -.75 miles up the road. The river rock is very loose and our tires were just spinning out from under us and we couldn't get enough traction.
So we started the long backpack in and it's quite a climb. It took us about three hours of steady climbing and no stops to make it to the lake just before sunset.
rocks, rocks and more rocks on the hike up to lake como
Mice in the trees
We came prepared to tie our food up in a tree but we ended up quite surprised in the morning when we looked up and saw the tree moving--there were mice everywhere, including crawling out of our bag. Fortunately, damage was pretty minimal--they mostly chewed through the trash bag from dinner--so we were still able to climb and then camp the next night. But lesson learned, mice can live in trees above 11,800' and we need a better bag.
We were the first group out of the lake at 6 am as the sun was coming up. The trail was easy to follow and then when we hit the ledges we decided to stay left. I would say that was the easier way to go because as we came down we saw people heading to the right and you really have to go way far to the right to get up the ledges so my vote is to stay left.
ledges on blanca, stay left is my vote
The climb to the saddle was no problem and then we were on the ridge. The ridge is pretty solid so long as you stay to the right. The rock is stable and route finding is pretty easy, definitely class 2. We were on the summit by 9 am only to be greeted by a guy who had just come up from Little Bear. We had seen him up on the summit of Little Bear as the sun came up so he had blazed a trail in the dark--a braver soul than us on that peak, but he had a lot of rock climbing experience.
most defined part of the trail on the ridge to blanca
My take on class 3 vs class 2
From the top of Blanca the route to Ellingwood is a little more obvious. It was about 30 minutes from the top of Blanca back down to the saddle and then another 45 minutes over to Ellingwood. The route was pretty straightforward if you just looked about five to ten feet in front of you, but once you started to look further ahead, it didn't look like there was any route at all. That stood out as the first difference to me between class 2 and class 3.
There were a few spots that required two hands and two feet to maneuver around or over an obstacle. I didn't feel exposed because it's not a ridgeline, but it is very rocky and a fall would not be good, so that was enough to keep the heart rate high. Only once did my husband have to help me when my backpack was stuck and pushing me into an awkward perch.
look closely to see the trail across to ellingwood
route finding on ellingwood
Scramble down Ellingwood
We were quite proud to be on the top of Ellingwood, #30 for me and #40 for my husband, and enjoyed lunch and the usual beautiful views. We were trying to watch how people were getting down because we did not see anything of the standard trail. We ended up scrambling down the loose rock as best we could down to the ridges. We talked to several other groups back at Lake Como that also did their own route finding and scrambling down Ellingwood. It was steep and loose and definitely not much fun, and took longer than we would have wanted. We were back at camp by 1:30, so probably 2-2.5 hours down and back to camp.
goofing around once on top of ellingwood
From there we enjoyed a balmy night up in the mountains and then hiked out the next day and headed over to the brewery in Alamosa in lunch--highly recommended after the rocky hike out!
steep scramble on loose rock coming down ellingwood