| Blanca-Ellingwood-Little Bear
14ers Climbed: Blanca, Ellingwood, Little Bear
Partners in Crime: Dan, Steve
We drove down to the Como Lake trailhead early on Thursday morning from Fort Collins. After arriving at the trailhead around 10am, we started the long hike up the rough road. It took us about three hours to climb the six miles and ~4000 vertical feet to the campsites near Como Lake.
The weather was holding nicely, so we headed out for Blanca and Ellingwood. The Northwest Face Route (20.1 in Roach's book) on Blanca is completely clear of snow, and the trail is in fairly good condition. It's a bit tricky following the cairns from Blue Lakes to Carter Lake, so watch out for the cairns! After summitting Blanca, Steve and Dan decided they had had enough excitement for the day, while I traversed from Blanca to Ellingwood. I attempted to follow the South Face (20.6 in Roach's book) route to the summit of Ellingwood, but I was really unable to find a well-marked trail. It ended up being a fairly miserable climb up loose scree and talus. When I read Roach's book in more detail, if I had to do it again, I would probably try to stay closer to the ridgeline. The views from the tops of both Blanca and Ellingwood were spectacular with the Crestones looming in the not-too-distant background.
The descent down Ellingwood was more loose talus and scree, but as I was descending the trail back to Lake Como, the clouds that had been covering the sun for most of our climb finally cleared up, and the sun began shimmering on all the small lakes in the basin. It was a beautiful sight and a great way to finish a long day!
One of the peaks I've been fearing the most since moving to Colorado and reading about climbing 14ers was Little Bear Peak. But, since I'm nearing the end of the 14er list, I figured I might as well give it a shot. Steve, Dan and I headed out early (around 6:15 am and on a Thursday morning!) in hopes to avoid the crowds in the so-called shooting gallery that is the hourglass route.
I have to say that the hourglass route (West Ridge - 20.4 in Roach's book) may be the least favorite route that I have ever climbed on a 14er. The rock is loose and nasty, and the exposure is considerable. Also, the description of the hourglass as a shooting gallery is accurate. I would definitely list a helmet as a requirement on this route. I was certainly glad to have one!
The climb up Little Bear Peak started just a few minutes out of camp. We basically ascended about 700 vertical feet straight up a loose scree and dirt gully to a notch on Little Bear's west ridge. The snow is virtually completely melted out of the gully. From the notch, we skirted just below the Little Bear ridgeline ascending slowly towards the infamous "hourglass" gully.
The climb up the gully was exciting, to say the least. There was frozen water on many of the rocks near the rope anchored in the middle of the gully, and so we had to climb rocks further to the left (north). If there had not been frozen water on the rocks, the climb would have been somewhat easier. After reaching the top of the hourglass, the rest of the ascent was up steep loose rock. I would recommend staying more towards the center of the gully on the rest of the ascent. I went along the left (north) part of the ridge, and there were some dicey moments towards the top as I angled back towards the center.
The views from the top of Little Bear were spectacular, and I'm glad to have been to the top of the peak. I think if I were ever to do the peak again though, I might try the Northwest Face route.
We took our time coming down Little Bear, especially through the hourglass section. I downclimbed the hourglass, while Steve and Dan decided to have the protection of a rope for that part of the descent. You definitely have to watch every step coming down through the top section, as any rocks kicked down become missiles funneled through the narrowing hourglass portion of the route.
We were thrilled when we arrived back safely at camp in Lake Como, about five hours after starting our Little Bear adventure. After a brief break at camp, we hiked back to the car, arriving back about two hours after leaving Lake Como. All in all, another great time hiking 14ers!