| Little Bear - Blanca - Ellingwood traverse
Little Bear Peak (14,037)
Blanca Peak (14,345)
Ellingwood Point (14,042)
From 10,240 feet on Lake Como Road: up northwest face of Little Bear, traverse to Blanca and then Ellingwood, down Ellingwood's southwest ridge (~10 miles, 5600 ft)
In order to do the climb comfortably and with minimal weather risks, we calculated that a 3am start was necessary (to our surprise, we later found out that this was a VERY conservative estimate!). We started hiking toward Lake Como only 10 minutes after the scheduled departure time. Shortly before 5 we neared the point at which we needed to leave the road to get to Little Bear's northwest face. It was still pretty dark so we stopped for breakfast. We quickly got cold waiting for more light and decided to start making our way toward Little Bear. After scrambling up scree and talus to get to the right side of the infamous black hand, we came to what Roach describes as the first class 4 headwall. Our route up this section may have not been the easiest – one move had me a little nervous for a second. Next we headed for the notch just left of Little Bear's summit and thoroughly enjoyed the 3rd and 4th class climbing up to the ridge. Once on the ridge, we were finally in the sun and were happy to see the small remaining part of the climb to the summit of Little Bear. I found the class 4 climbing up this ridge to the summit to be nothing but fun. In my opinion, this route is amazing and far superior to the hourglass route. I was surprised that the climbing was so reasonable given how steep that face of Little Bear looks from below. We topped out on Little Bear around 6:45, the earliest I've ever been on a summit!
The weather was looking great and we were excited to get started on what we'd really come to do: the traverse to Blanca. We left Little Bear around 7. The exposed 4th class "tricky downclimb" from Little Bear is supposed to be one crux of the traverse. For some reason it seemed fairly insignificant to me which made me feel very reassured about the rest of the traverse. I can't comment on how everyone else felt (maybe they will add their own 2 cents) but nobody seemed to have any difficulties. We all stayed on the ridge crest (with one exception), going up and over many little towers. Somewhere near the beginning of the traverse, three of us bypassed one tower by going around its right side, while the fourth member of our party went over it. Maybe this was "Captain Bivouaco Tower"? I'm not sure. We took a little breather near the low point of the ridge. After this low point is the tower that Dave Cooper says is the crux of the ridge. He and Roach both say that most people bypass it on the right side via a scree slope, but we didn't feel a need to do so and just climbed over it. The climb to the tower was a little challenging and the loose rock here didn't make it any easier. To me it felt a little harder than 4th class and if this is indeed the same tower Cooper mentions, he gives it a low 5th class rating. The going got easier from there. We scrambled on at a good pace and were already across the infamous "knife edge" before I realized we had crossed it. To our amazement, we reached the summit of Blanca at 9:20.
We then pondered what to do next. It was still so early! Ellingwood was staring at us and we couldn't think of a reason not to continue with the traverse. We seemed to be on some sort of scrambling high. Fear of crashing off that high after the spectacular traverse seemed to push us onward. One of my partners mentioned that they had never been on Ellingwood's southwest ridge - that sealed the deal. We continued our ridge frenzy. I had never stayed directly on the ridge top between Blanca and Ellingwood, but this time we did and it was a blast. There was only one kind of tricky move near the Ellingwood side. It didn't seem to take long to reach Ellingwood's summit. After a short break there, we began descending the southwest ridge where we resumed our ridge scrambling obsession until we finally had to drop back down into the basin. I think we were all satisfied at that point though. We were back at the truck mid afternoon.
All of us agreed that this route was AMAZING and the four of us made a very good team. It couldn't have been a better day.