| Oct 8th - Blanca & Ellingwood via std route
On Friday night my friend Katherine and I drove down to Alamosa for a climb on Blanca and Ellingwood the next day. We arrived at the trailhead at 10pm and began hiking up the road.
By the way, http://www.theshell.com/~vinn/hiking05/ pics here
Now, a lot of folks say this road is completely awful. I found that once you get past the suggested trailhead (1.7 miles from Hwy 150) it stays about the same level of crap for the next few miles. So if you make it a mile down the road, chances are you can make it another mile. Once you break from the low pinon pines into the larger pine forest the road will get steeper. Theres plenty of points to stop and park, so continuing on the road isnt a terrible proposition. The last few miles definitely require some driving expertise and customized vehicles. All in all, I dont think its even close to the roughest 4WD road in Colorado as its often advertised, but if youre not familiar with places like Engineer Pass, Pearl Pass, etc then you shouldnt go much further than a few miles down it (approx 3.5 miles from Hwy 150.)
We finally stopped hiking at 1am. We were pretty tired and still hadnt made Lake Como. The next day we found out we were about a half hour from the lake. We hiked around the side, stopped, and set up camp. After repacking things into a day pack we headed up to climb Blanca and Ellingwood.
It was a gorgeous hike right from the beginning. A series of lakes sit on shelves above Lake Como. Between each one is about 500 of climbing. The trail is great all the way up to the last lake, just take care to look for cairns. I did notice a few cairns were wrong, so pay attention. After ascending to the highest lake youll hit a series of ledges. Its pretty simple to ascend through them, the key is finding the cairns leading up a gully to your left. From there its just a matter of switchbacking up.
Now, once youre above the ledges the fun starts. Blanca is on your immediate right and Ellingwood on your left. You can clearly see each summit and its just a matter of picking your poison.
I would suggest climbing Blanca first since itll make the traverse to Ellingwood a little easier (at least mentally). All of the guidebooks are correct when they suggest climbing up toward the saddle and then cutting off and aiming for a point a few hundred feet up the ridge. We mistakenly followed some cairns and a trail that ended up going nowhere. We climbed up the talus and caught the ridge about 200 from the top. It might look like a rough route, but the talus is amazingly solid and you can ascend quickly on it. Once you hit the ridge, definitely make sure you ascend directly on the ridge for the last 100. I decided to try to climb around some of the features and found it to be much more difficult than simply climbing straight up the rocks. We made it to the summit about 3.5 hours after leaving Lake Como.
Once you get to the top, youll see be presented with a great view. The Crestones / Kit Carson / Humboldt are to the north with Pikes in the distance beyond that. To the east is Mt Lindsey with the twin Spanish Peaks beyond that. The mountains in the distance to the south are New Mexico. I could clearly see Little Costilla in the Valle Vidal.
We looked over to Ellingwood and contemplated the climb. I suspected it was easier than it appeared, but the ridgeline certainly seemed to have some dicey spots. The north side of the ridge is about a 2000 drop straight down and has seem to have enough exposure to make you be careful. Katherine and I briefly discussed Ellingwood, but I wanted some hands on experience before making a decision about the rocks. We descended off the top of Blanca to the saddle.
Now, a gentleman wed met on the summit told us to climb directly over the top of the ridge. I would almost agree. The top of the ridge is simple route-finding and its the second easiest way across the ridge (sans crossing from one of the rock outcroppings to another). The easiest route is much harder to find and we only discovered it by chance on the way down. Theres lots of cairns in this area, so be careful of mis-marked routes. Theres multiple cairn routes and a few are harder than simply climbing over the top of the ridge. The easiest route starts between the first and second rock outcroppings. Its approximately 80 below the top of the ridge - quite a bit further than I would have expected. It cuts across the top part of the talus, but the talus is so solid it makes for easy hiking. If you can find it, the trail will aim upwards to the last rock outcropping where its only about 50 to the top of the ridge. From there, ascend directly up almost to the top of the ridge and follow it to the summit.
Ellingwood had a nice summit. It wasnt as dramatic as being on Blanca but its quite gratifying to reach the top after the traverse. Ellingwood has a nice view of Little Bears summit and the ridge over to Blanca. Combined with what you saw on the top of Blanca, it should give you enough beta for crossing the ridge.
We climbed down and made it back to Lake Como around 5:30. After cooking dinner we crawled into the tent rather early - 7:30pm. Within an hour we heard snow hitting the tent. We woke up at 2am a knocked snow off the tent and then went back to bed. When we woke up the next morning there was about 2 - 3" of snow on the ground. A climb on Little Bear wasnt a possibility for us, so we packed up and headed down.
All in all, a great hike.
One final piece of advice: some mountains are awesome snow climbs but these dont appear to fall into that category. (The Crestones are a good example of classic snow climbs.) Blanca and Ellingwood dont seem to have any features that lend themselves to snow. The talus is so solid that its much easier to ascend than snow.