| SW Ridge/Hourglass
I never thought I'd say a climb on Ellingwood Point would be my favorite, but after saturday, it'd be pretty hard not to.
I met up with Mark Milburn at the Englewood REI, packed up the Xterra and made our way down to the Lake Como TH, arriving around 6:45pm. As we were making good progress up the road we ran into two friends of Mark and stopped to chat. As I tried to start back up again, my tires dug into the dirt and refused to go anywhere. After a few attempts of trying to get momentum over the nasty section I decided to just back up 20-30 yards and pull into a nice spot around a mile up the road. It didn't bother me one bit though, I have no problem saving my car to hike that road, no problem at all.
Anyways, we made it to camp around 10:30pm set up camp and crashed soon after, with the anticipation of the next day being a warm for a Hourglass snow climb Sunday. Little did we know.....
The alarm went off @ 4am, we got some grub and were on the trail around 5. There was no postholing at all up to the basin and we had minimal posthling all day until the end of the descent.
We hadn't done much research on the route mainly because we expected to just ascend the standard route maybe tag Blanca and call it a day to save some energy for Little Bear. As we exited treeline and approached Crater Lake, we both noticed a SW facing couloir, dominating the view to our left, it was hard to not notice. Here's what we were looking at :
The couloir is the obvious one in the middle of the picture, shooting straight up into the sky, that is not Ellingwood's summit though, just a point along the ridge
And here is shot of the couloir from the summit of Little Bear w/ Kiefer and Glen in the forefront, doing a recon on the LB-Blanca ridge (its on the very far left side of the pic) :
Out of pure chance, we both thought it'd be pretty cool to climb the peak via that gully. Having no idea how the route would go, we both agreed it had to be climbed.
Moments later, we reached the base of the gully, here's a shot looking up this unnamed couloir (I haven't found a name or a route for this, if someone is aware of one, I'd like to know about it, seriously)
We strapped on our crampons and began our spontaneous decision to climb what would be, at least for me, the finest climb of my young life.
Here are some shots of Mark and I climbing in the gully :
We topped out at couloir at around 13,450 feet and took a break along the exposed ridge had to eat at an angle. Here's a look looking back down the couloir from the top of he ridge :
As we began climbing rock (in crampons at first), we realized we would need to descend a bit and traverse across the ridge about a third of the way down from the crest of the ridge. This is a look at the rest of our long, tedious route with me traversing in the foreground :
For a couple hours, we didn't ascend a foot while methodically traversing across the southwest ridge, deserately trying to locate a safe and logical passage up to the ridge crest and then eventually hooking up with the summit ridge. For the record, the snow up to this point had been phenomenal, we didn't find any signs of sloughing or sliding and the overcast skies was helping with the consolidation. This was pretty fortunate for us, cause we were constantly traversing open 45 to 50 degree snowfields, trying our best to stay as close to rock outcropings as possible.
As we neared the top of the ridge and finally gained the crest of the somewhat knife edge crest, I looked back and got a solid shot of Mark with the San Luis Valley as a backdrop :
Right before the final push to just below the summit ridgeline, we had to traverse a snowfield with a cornice overhanging the top of the ridge. Ever since reading about Sarah Thompson's unfortunate, freak accident a few weeks before, I've been very weary of travelling under these behemoths. Luckily, this one wasn't all that big and imposing and it didn't look like it was going to break anytime soon, but we weren't taking any chances and made quick work of the final traverse before we gained the crest of the ridge, just below Ellingwood's west summit ridge. This is when things got pretty interesting. I was in the lead, with Mark not too far behind. The moves we had to make were getting progressively tougher and I was beginning to question the integrity of the snow. Not only was it getting noticeably more suspect, but the exposure was getting more and more intense and extreme. The North side of Ellingwood is a dramatic drop off and its all rock. The South side provided us with a nice 60-65 degree snow covered face. Here is a shot of what we were looking at :
To the left was a near sheer drop off that was both very intimidating and uninviting, I was hoping to stay away from that side. Unfortuantely, the right side didn't have much better to offer. Not only was there a slight overhang to this slightly formed cornice, but a fall would mean a tumble down a steep snow slope, followed by a rock cliff and boulders below. Going back the way we came seemed impossible, at least to me, simply because the snow was getting (and feeling) weak and we'd have to make some awkward, exposed moves as well. Mark was a great guy to climb with cause he kept his cool the whole way. We sat there for a good 40-45 minutes, weighing out our options and nothing really made much sense, nor was all too appealing. It was getting to the point where we thought we might be in a bit of trouble with no escape route. As I sat there studying what lay ahead, I began to like the idea of climbing over the big hump of snow blocking easy passage, staying a tad to the left. I remembered the time my brother and I did the Little Bear-Blanca traverse and the sections that got very exposed. I remember just forcing myself to not look down, just focus in on the route right in front of me. After sitting there siking myself up, I finally said f**k it and went for it. Not to be overdramatic, but this was one of the more intense 5 minutes of my life. I travelled as efficiently and quickly as possible given the circumstances and before I knew it, I was on top of the big mound of snow, overhanging the cornise, dropped down and found a rock to settle down on. I was pumped and even more pumped when Mark popped up over the hump and sat down next to me. Here's a shot of me climbing the knife ridge :
It felt like a bunch of metaphorical weight was lifted off my shoulders and sent tumbling down the mountain and for the first time, i felt like I actually accomplished a great feat on a mountain, a small victory in the grand scheme of things with regards to climbing, but I felt great nevertheless. The final push to the summit comprised of Mark and I traversing across the rest of the knife edged cornice, climbing some steep snow and rock up to the summit ridge, then a 20 yard ridge run, with one or two more exposed, tricky sections, to the god forsaken summit. Here's a couple shots of Mark along the ridge leading up to the summit of Ellingwood :
I remember the summit quite vividly, but what I remember the most was this was the most welcomed summit I've reached to date. We both sat there glowing with accomplishment and ear to ear smiles, reflecting on the last couple hours of our lives. I claimed right away this was the best climb thus far in my life and Mark, who has quite an entensive list of very impresive climbs, including the Kieners route on Longs, agreed it was right there neck and neck with it. We both wanted to spend as much time up there and soak it all in and thats exactly what we did. I ate my standard York Peppermint Patty for each time I reach a summit and Mark whipped out some Guac Pringles and a 20 oz Amp, which was enjoyed by the both of us.
Here's a few shots of the surrounding Sangres and hero shots of us on the summit :
The descent was surprisingly a breeze. We traversed a bit south to the saddle connecting to Blanca, found a nice glissade route through the rocks and made a path all the way down to the valey floor and arrived at a frozen Crater Lake minutes later. We could finally take off our outerwear and hike the rest of the route back to Lake Como in T-shirts.
Day 2 - Little Bear
Kiefer and his two budies, Glen and Roman, arrived to the camp throughout Saturday afternoon and night. Glen showed up out of the blue in the early afternoon, minutes after we got back from Ellingwood. It was real good to meet Glen, for we'd be climbing a lot of peaks this summer in the Weminuche in August along with Kiefer. Kiefer and his friend Roman, from Vail, arrived as we got a fire going and we hit the sack soon afterwards (Kiefer and Roman had to sleep close to the fire being tentless, since they were banking on bunking up in the cabin, which was occupied).
The alarm went off around the same time as the day before and we hit the trail soon after. Having climbed Little Bear 3 times prior, I realy have nothing to add other than conditions and the fact that it was a real good time climbing with Kiefer, Glen and Roman, given this was our first time out together. Kiefer is real entertaining to be around, has a real noticeable passion for the mountains and is a solid, strong climber. Glen, somewhat of a local to those parts, a native of Monte Vista, lead for most of the day being te strongest climber of the group and was a real upbeat, funny guy. This was Roman's 1st 14er climb!! And what a mountain to start out on, he definately seemed like he had a knack for it.
About now, the Hourglass is starting to realy melt out and the ice on the rock and the thin snow cover make for a tricky climb. We hit it ealy enough where we didn't run into any problems, minus the close call along our descent when a sharp, mid-sized boulder nearly took Kiefer's head off. The melting in that area is loosening up the rocks above the hourglass, sending them shooting down the gully below, so be weary of this and get an early start. I'd have to say, besides the rocks falling down the hourglass later in the day, the other dangerous sections are the ice covered rocks right above the gully. After that, its a straight shot along snow up to the summit. Here are a few shots of our climb :
Ellingwood in the morning
Looking down Baby Thunder, looks like a scary way to ski down a mountain, I give jcwhite and gb a lot of credit for such a creative route
Glen in front of the Hourglass
Crestone Group and Dunes to the North
Downclimbing from the summit
My 4th trip into Lake Como proved to be one of my favorites, which is ironic, cause I vaguely remember vowing never to return to this unforgiving, yet beautiful group in Southern Colorado. I had such a good time, even the slog back to the car was enjoyalbe, Kiefer and I basicaly planned out our summers and talked to kill the time all the way back to the car. As we got there, Mark was taking a load off, he had been there since noon, and it was around 5pm, since he didn't join us on the LB climb due to some bleeding ankles from hiking up the Como road in his ice boots. I felt bad that he couldn't join us, but it would've been a miserable downclimb and hike back to the car, plus he had a great view of the valley and a Guinness while he waited. We agreed on a post climb meal at K's in Buena Vista, it did not disapoint to say the least. I needed some Spike (aka crack juice, to make the drive back to Denver, this stuff makes you feel like Rick James).
Anyways, it was also a great weekend, cause I was finally able to get something together with both Mark and Kiefer, two guys I'd been exchanging e-mails with for possible climbs. Mark was a great climbing partner on Ellingwood, real easy going and we couldn't have asked for a better day. Kiefer, Glen and Roman were a pleasure to climb with on Little Bear, we all seemed to be on the same page and it was good to get out with Kiefer and Glen, since we'll be on a trip in the Grenadiers in mid-August.
Here is a link to Mark's TR on summitpost, it captures the intensity of the day a bit more than mine and throws in some videos, enjoy...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):