| Blanca Peak - NW Ridge-ish
My buddy J.T. asked me last week if I wanted to climb a Sangre peak or two, and we agreed to give Blanca and Ellingwood a shot on Friday. He wanted to test out his new truck's car camping abilities, while I opted to hike in a bit on Thursday night - I had just done Miz/Bel/Ox on Wednesday and didn't want to have two huge days so close together. So J.T. and I agreed to meet at Lake Como at around 6 A.M.
Hixon and I drove as far up Como Lake Road as we could - in a 2WD, that's not very far. We started hiking in at 8:00PM amid dreary skies. The good news was that the initial climb provided for great views of the valley. I could see I would probably be clear of rain for a good hour or so.
One of the "features" of this road. I've driven up South Colony Lakes road in a 4WD a few years back and that wasn't all that bad. This isn't even in the same league. I really hoped for a tricked-out Jeep to come by, as I couldn't even fathom how to get over some of this stuff.
I ran across three fit older guys from Minnesota at about 10:00PM. We started talking about the usual - "how far to Como? how was the hike?" etc. I had declared that I would probably push on a little further before pitching camp...and then the rain finally came. Caught off-guard, we all were sent scurrying like rats. I asked if there was room to pitch my tent on their embankment, and they did me one better and let me crash in their large four-manner. VERY cool of them.
I guessed J.T. would severely underestimate the length of the approach, so I bode farewell to my new Minnesota friends at 5:45 and pushed on. I figured if J.T. hadn't gotten to our campsite by now, he would be at least an hour late. The weather was very iffy and I had caught glimpse of quite a bit of snow below the Blanca-Ellingwood ridge on my drive in, so I was already not counting on summitting. Instead, I figured I'd just mosey up as far as I could before things got ugly and maybe provide some beta for others.
I got to Lake Como around 6:30. It was a ghost town! To this point, the approach reminded me of Kit Carson's - long, more difficult than I expected, somewhat rugged, and beautiful!
An abandoned cabin above Como Lake. I can't help but imagine how crazy it must have been to put one of these things up back in the day.
Just above Como Lake, I encountered my first snowfield. It was wet and somewhat soft, but not quite posthole-quality. Because of the thick cloud cover, I thought it might stay that way for my return. My biggest packing oversight was forgetting gaiters!
The weather in the valley seemed fine, and as I climbed further in, the cloud cover seemed to only hang over me. It provided for some surreal views, though.
Each lake I passed was colder...
Between the mist in the air, the soft snow, and stream "crossings" such as this, there was no getting around the fact that I was going to be soaked.
I believe this is one of the Blue Lakes.
Snow cover was nearly 100% above 12,500.
Great view of the big Crater Lake. Hard to believe it's almost July. Comparing the amount of snow here to what I've seen in the Sawatch and San Juans these past few weeks, I was totally taken by surprise!
J.T. caught up to me as I ascended above Crater Lake. We hadn't been able to see anything above us, and then suddenly we got a quick peak at the Blanca-Ellingwood ridge before clouds covered it up again. It wasn't all that far. However, the "standard route" and much of the ridge was snow-filled.
We decided to do Blanca first and then see how we felt before making a decision on Ellingwood. Until I had seen a clear-ish route to the ridge, I hadn't even had a thought of getting to the top! We scrambled the wet talus to the south of the route in an effort to avoid mixed climbing.
A look back down on the upper reaches of the valley.
Occasionally, clouds and fog would clear long enough to afford us a view of Ellingwood's north face...at least the lower parts. The wind had picked up to 15-20mph or so. Nothing we couldn't deal with, but annoying nonetheless.
Gaining the ridge.
A look at the terrain we scrambled. Definite 2+, with the slick conditions it was no walk-up!
On the summit.
J.T. trying to celebrate.
Blanca's summit register. Only 15 entries in it since February...but there is no pen in it, either.
The Ellingwood/Blanca ridge. Unfortunately, we didn't get a very good view down the east side of it.
We had enjoyed getting to Blanca's summit and had the energy to go for Ellingwood, but the weather was questionable and we wanted to get down while it was still early. Besides, leaving Ellingwood gave us each a chance to come back later!
We postholed a little on the way back, but it was nothing severe. The clouds helped us in that sense.
We shared the mountain with only the three Minnesotans on the way up, but as we came back down, we ran into numerous groups: jeff32 traveling solo, bergsteigen and an older fit gentleman looking to do Little Bear, a pack of three, and a group of four.
For anyone waiting for "summer" before you head to these peaks, you've got another week or two at the least before you're there.
If you're antsy and don't want to wait:
-an ice axe is helpful but not necessary, crampons completely unnecessary, but gaiters are almost a must.
-hike in and don't underestimate the approach to Como Lake. It's long.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):