| Blanca Peak (Northwest Face)- Lake Como TH
Date: Saturday-Sunday, March 3-4, 2007
Group: USAKeller, Jcwhite, and sdkeil
Route: Northwest Face from Lake Como TH
After missing Blanca last week, we wanted to go back this weekend to pick up this peak. The weather called for great weather- warm (relatively speaking) and sunny without high winds.
Jcwhite, sdkeil, and I left Lakewood Saturday morning at 5:40am. We arrived at the Lake Como road 3 hours later and were able to park about 1.25 miles and 1,000ft. higher than we did last week (at 9,900ft.). Some snow drifts prevented us from driving any farther. I had been in contact with Grubneets (Pat) from 14ers.com about the conditions all week down there; he kindly offered to break any trail for us up to Lake Como. We got a later-than-expected start, met and talked with Grubneets on his way back down where we parked the car. After getting all geared up, we started up the road to the lake (my pack = 27lbs., sdkeil's pack = 35lbs., Jcwhite's pack = 40lbs.). This was my first-ever winter camp and backpack trip so I didn't know what to expect carrying a heavier pack somewhere! sdkeil and I made it up to the lake in 2 hours on snowshoes; Jcwhite skinned up and met us there 25 minutes later. The road had significantly melted from when we were there last week- no snowshoes needed until about 10,250ft. (same as last week). We were able to see a gorgeous sunset on the backpack up.
sdkeil hiking up to Lake Como with the sunset on Little Bear Peak:
As you immediately approach the lake, a wood cabin/structure sits off to the right of the trail that we figured would make a reasonable home for the night. The sun quickly went down, the temperature fell fast, and we found ourselves in the cold setting up the sleeping bags.
Jcwhite in front of the cabin in which we spent the night:
sdkeil boiled snow for our meals- warm backpacking meals have not tasted any better to us at that point! Headlamps out at 8:30pm (temperature inside the cabin: 7 deg.), sdkeil and Jcwhite fell asleep almost instantly, myself about an hour later.
I was ready to wake up at 5:00am and start breakfast… YEAH RIGHT. The boys were still sleeping and I was so nervous to get out of my bag. Finally, at 7:20am (temperature: 11 deg.), we got out of the bags. The thermometer recorded an overnight low of 1.4 degrees inside the cabin. At first, we were planning on the Blanca-Ellingwood combo, but with a 9:20am start, Blanca Peak became the priority. Still, the weather was completely sunny and we had no wind to deal with.
Jcwhite, USAKeller, and sdkeil in front of Ellingwood Point (taken from 12,200ft.):
From above Blue Lakes, the photo below shows our route up to about 12,500ft. The snow in this section was slippery sugar snow. sdkeil and I kept wondering how this would be 5 hours later after the sun hit it.
Our route shown in red:
After this point, the next section posed the most avalanche concern we had all day. We did this short traverse (near Crater Lake, 12,700ft.) one at a time.
The traverse near Crater Lake:
At about 13,000ft., we stashed the snowshoes and skis. sdkeil and I broke our crampon virginity; the three of us would not take them off until we returned to this site. We definitely agreed that Ellingwood Point was out of the question- both because of lack of time and too much snow for possible avalanche danger. The next photo shows the remainder of the short traverse mentioned above and the route we took up to the ridge. A triangle-shaped patch of windblown rock is what we aimed for and stayed to the left of. As described in Bill's route description, there is a group of rock ledges right above the triangle patch of rocks (circled in blue) that we climbed up and to the left through. There is a very large rock rib after the rock ledges that we made our way to the left side of, and weaved in and out of it until we reached the ridge.
The route we took up to the ridge:
The last 50 feet was the hardest part of the climb with the difficulty reaching class 3 due to some scrambling on snow-covered boulders and some exposure to our left. This was slightly nerve-racking for both sdkeil and I since this was our first time using crampons on rock!
The crux of the climb- this is the last 50 feet or so (the picture does look deceiving though):
We summited in 4hrs. 35min. at 2:20pm (air temperature was around 40 deg. while the windchill from a 10-15 mph wind made it feel closer to around 30 deg.). The weather and views were fabulous.
sdkeil, Jcwhite, and USAKeller on the summit of Blanca Peak:
USAKeller on the summit of Blanca Peak with a good shot of the east side of
Little Bear Peak behind (Little Bear appeared to be the most wind-blown peak
of this Lake Como triplet):
Several photos and a quick snack later, we began the descent back down the ridge.
Jcwhite descending the ridge (with a sweet cornice!) near the point where we attained it:
When we got back down to the rock ledge area, Jcwhite taught sdkeil and I the proper technique on how to downclimb a steep snow slope (slope angle averaged around 40 degrees with a maximum slope angle of about 48-50 degrees at the rock ledges). The two of us have to admit that we didn't exactly know how we were going to get down because at first glance, it was intimidating. However, Jcwhite reassured us that it wouldn't be as tough as it looked. Once we learned this technique, the downclimb was not nearly as hard as it looked and ended up being a lot of fun! sdkeil even got to practice his self-arrest technique at the end of the descent as the slope angle eased up.
sdkeil (above me) and I downclimbing through the rock ledges:
We returned to our cache- Jcwhite skied down a ways, and then would wait for sdkeil and I to catch up. It was definitely a time where we wished we had skis! We mostly followed his ski path down, except for the steep chute he came out of onto Blue Lakes- it looked like a fun ski and he figured that had he not waited for us, he was able to return to the cabin in no more than 10-15 minutes from where he started. sdkeil and I got back to the cabin in 2hrs. 35min.; we packed up our belongings and made sure the place was clean. Jcwhite kept skiing down the road while sdkeil and I snowshoed- it was getting dark pretty quick and we tried to gain as much mileage as possible with what daylight we had left.
Another beautiful sunset over the San Luis Valley presented itself on the way down:
We ended up finishing the return trip in the dark (also a first for me!), and all got back to the car in 1hr. 15min. from Lake Como at 7:15pm. And, the weather was still wonderful. We were all tired, and the drive back home was long- back to Denver at midnight, I was home in Boulder at 1:00am.
A little something for TalusMonkey and AzScott (formerly Wyo_MtnMan)… Everyone's got a little Cap'n in 'em…!
This sort of activity isn't my thing- I basically barfed after this went down, it burned so bad!
We couldn't have asked for any better of a weekend to do this winter climb- the weather was amazing and to see this area in winter was more than exceptional!
*NOTE: We felt that to do any peak from this triplet in the winter is best done with an overnight camp. Although we averaged decent time, it still was a very long day.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):