| Bouncing around Blanca and Ellingwood
BLANCA PK (14345) & ELLINGWOOD PK (14042)
May 11, 2008
Route: Blanca, NW Face/Ellingwood, S Face
Round Trip: 10.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 4900 ft. from 10100 start point
Hikers: KirkT and Scott N
In hoping to continue my goal to finish the 14er's by this fall I wanted to try and hit a few of the peaks further down south that have not been so snow hammered recently. After seeing several recent reports over the last week or so on Little Bear I decided to give Blanca and Ellingwood a try. I was not able to climb these two last year when I climbed Little Bear, so I have been eagerly waiting the chance to return and complete them. Early in the week its was looking like this was going to be a party of a climb! I had about 7 people ready to join in the fun. As the week was ending the party fell to 6, 5,....4....uumm 2?! It came down to ScottN and myself so we decided to go ahead and make the trip. There was a great weather window for Sunday. Saturday was predicted snowy and windy as well as Monday, so Sunday was the "pick" day.
We met at my home on Saturday and headed towards Walsenburg around 1pm. The plan was to drive as far as possible up the Como road, hike to the lake and set up camp, then summit and hike down on Sunday. We arrived at the 8000ft trailhead around 4:15 and started up the road. The goal was to make it to 10000 ft if possible, which is about 1/2 way up the road. This would make a manageable hike of around 2 miles and about 1600ft elevation gain to the lake. The road was manageable but was pretty slow going. We did make it past Jaws 0.5 as they call it an made it to 10150ft!! Score!! There really was no reason to put my poor Explorer through any more abuse than necessary from that point. Besides, we were at our goal of 10k! We quickly prepped ourselves and started up the road. There were 2 other vehicles further up than ours. A toyota Tacoma was about 200 ft above us at the next switchback, and a 70's model Ford Bronco, that was built for the purpose at about 10600ft. After that there were several snow drifts that would prevent and vehicle from going any further. The road was hit and miss snow patches until about 11200ft were it was pretty much snow covered from there to the lake. The snow was pretty hard and compact so it was no big deal to negotiate and we postholed very little if any. We arrived at the lake and cabin around 7pm. There were already 3 guys taking up refuge in the cabin so we decided to set our tents up about 20 ft or so in front of the cabin. There was an abvious place under a few pine trees where there was no snow. Perfect position for 2 tents. After setting camp and eating our subways, talking with the other 3 guys in the cabin about their experiences from the day, we hit the sack around 9:30. Goal was to start hiking at 6am.
We started our hike about 6am sharp. One of the guys in the cabin decided to join Scott and myself as the other two were climbing Little Bear. We were off, me in hiking boots, Scott on skis and our new friend on snowshoes. We made pretty good time up to the upper basin of the saddle. The temp was in the teens and the snow was very firm. It was very easy to kick steps up the various elevating sections to the saddle. Scott was having a little difficulty because of the "ocean like" snow and constantly sloping elevations. It was pretty evident early that our new friend was not going to be able to keep up with our pace so we pressed forward. The wind was supposed to kick up again in the afternoon so I wanted to get moving and back down by 1pm if possible. The conditions on Blanca were perfect! I summited and descended with only boots and trekking poles. I was able to make Blanca's summit at 9:15, not too bad considering the conditions. After a few pictures I started back down to get started on Ellingwood. I met Scott at about 14100 ft or so. He informed me that after lugging his huge pack up the road and skinning up to Blanca he was going to skip Ellingwood. He has plans on going back to do Little Bear so it was no biggie. But me on the other hand, was not going to make this drive up the road again to hike just Ellingwood, so I continued on down and started the traverse..
The fun started here. I had studied Bill's descriptions like the back of my hand and felt I knew the route very well. There was just one problem.... his description was for Summer, and it was not Summer! It was clear to me very, very fast that this was going to be pretty intense. After making the low point of the saddle it was mandatory that I put on my crampons and get my axe in hand. With the combination of slope steepness, snow level (new and old) and actual rock formations it was very difficult to navigate a safe route. I was caught in several situations were a tough class 4 or 5 up climb were needed to get out of trouble. Looking back on it and as Scott observed, it would of been easier to go lower into the basin and start climbing Ellingwood from a lower vantage point. Hind sight is 20/20 they say. Oh well, I carefully made my way to a point where I could climb directly towards the summit of Ellingwood. It was about 400 ft to the summit so I just picked a line with the most snow and climbed directly towards the summit. I summited Ellingwood at 11:30. traverse time of 2 hours. I felt that was pretty good time considering the saddle conditions I had just conquered. I could see Scott gering up and he started his ski descent down Blanca. Because of the lack of a good snow line, he started skiing around 13900ft. He looked to have some pretty good powder and quickly was out of sight into the basin. After a few pictures I was headed back down. After several very axe-controlled glissades I was back in the lower basin. It was beginning to get very warm and I was starting to post-hole a little. I still had my crampons on and the snow was balling up under them. I removed them and booted back to camp. I arrived at 1:20. Total time was 7 hours 20 minutes to summit both peaks and return back to the lake. We took our time packing camp and started back down the road around 2:15. We arrived back at the truck around 3:45.
All in all another great hike and outing with a great partner. Thanks for making good company again Scott! Looking forward to another one real soon.
Little Bears North Face
First light on Blanca/Ellingwood Ridge
Scott and company making up lower basin of Blanca
Ellingwood Peak from Blanca's Summit
Closeup of Little Bear summit from Blanca
Blanca summit with Little Bear behind
Blanca's NW face
Little Bear and Traverse from Ellingwood
Crestone Group to the North
It‘s a bird, it‘s a plane, no, it‘s Super Scott!! Readying for takeoff!
Cabin at Lake Como
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