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 Peak(s):  Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
 Post Date:  09/07/2009
 Date Climbed:   07/25/2009
 Posted By:  mattrts

 Blanca-Standard; My first 14er   

I started planning this trip out 8 months in advance. I decided I wanted to accomplish a childhood dream of climbing a mountain so I did it. I did plenty of research and study more for this than I did for college physics so here it goes.

Before this trip I had never been higher than 2,681 feet. I decided to make the most of my trip and see as many places I could, starting with Capulin Volcano National Monument. Just a heads up, this place is infested with billions of annoying nats that love to fly in every opening on your face. My first experience above 8000 feet was a speedy jog around the top of an extinct volcano. Great views but you can't stand outside for more than 5 minutes without loosing your mind.
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I then carried on to Sugarite Canyon State park to spend the night and acclimatize. Camp I, believe, was at 7600 feet and I hiked up to the top of Little Horse Mesa at 8300 feet. This was a big accomplishment for me and the view was gorgeous.
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Me at the hightest elevation of my life 'til that moment!
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Beautiful Sugarite Canyon

I left bear ridden Sugarite Canyon around 730am to set off for Blanca. Driving into Colorado my eyes were constantly fixed on the Spanish peaks. I went west at Walsenburg and pushed my little Ranger through the pass to pop out in the San Luis valley. I stopped to take some photos of the Blanca massif then drove to Lake Como Road. My 2WD stock Ranger was no match for the beginning section of the road so I figured a longer walk was worth saving my vehicle. I left my vehicle around 8000 feet. I then later noticed that a 4 door BMW sedan made it further than me…
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Blanca from 160

15 minutes into the hike I was starting to regret it. I was already out of breathe and beginning to regret it. My pack was feeling like it weighed 50lbs and the sun was burning me up. The only thing that kept me going was the idea that this would change my life. Everyone I passed seemed to look so miserable and exhausted. My motivation was the view I'd get when I turned around and tried to spot my car.
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The car is down there someewhere..
I reached an elderly gentleman a few hours into the death march who decided to lie and tell me I was almost there. A couple more hours of fighting the altitude exhaustion and I passed a family of 5. The 4 men/boys seemed half dead but the upbeat mother encouraged me with a smile on her face. She was right! Lake Como was only 5 more minutes ahead.

I arrived at the lake after 6 hours of punishment. Living at 600 feet does not help at all, no matter what shape your in. But it was all worth it. After all that suffering, Lake Como seemed like a little chunk of heaven. I was welcomed with the site of tents, fisherman, and a gorgeous lake.
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Right when I arrived and picked a campsite above the lake, a storm came out of no where and the pressure drop sent my head into a terrible vice grip of vein constriction. The thunder was so intense and the hail made me put my tent up faster than I'd ever done before. I dove in and took a nice 30 minute nap to be woken up by burning heat with the sun shining straight at my tent, creating an oven that felt like 110 degrees. I sat and suffered until a nice gentleman came and invited me over for dinner. This father son pair had climbed all but 1 or 2 14ers and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. My headache and nausea slowly went away and I was able to down some spaghetti-o's before bed.

I woke 5am the next morning feeling great, except for the fact I was freezing. It was a huge difference from the 100 degree heat of Texas. I packed the necessities and stored the rest in the tent and set off around 5:45. I said good morning to the neighbors and off I went. The father/son pair passed me 30 minutes later, as expected. Following them gave me motivation to keep a good time. By the time they split for Ellingwood, I was already having trouble spotting the trail. An hour later I found my self scrambling up very loose rock and at times sliding down. I decided to cut back to the ridge for more stable ground, which probably spared me a very hazardous slide down the NW face.

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evening view from camp
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Morning on the trail
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Looking down at my progress
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Half way up my imaginary trail; making it difficult on myself
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On the summit, Lindsey on the left
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Taking my own summit shot
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Ellingwood
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By the time I reached the ridge I realized I was almost there!! A second wind hit me and I kept trucking. I climbed up to what I thought was almost the summit to realize I still had a ways to go. About an hour later and a difficult route near the peak, I summated! I did it! After all the doubt, trail loosing, and exhaustion, I made it. This was honestly the most difficult thing I have ever done and I never felt so accomplished.

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On the way down

The view was astonishing. According to the register, I was the first up for that day and pulled out some binoculars to spot climbers on Ellingwood. Before I knew, another climber crawled up from only God knows what route. He was as lost as I was. Then 2 more groups summated as well, all from different sides. Only a handful knew where they were going. I sat and chatted on the summit for an hour and started heading down while the weather was still beautiful.

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My July snowman
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I followed the father/son pair down since I got lost coming up and I'd say the amount of times they helped me, I owe them both steak dinners. Once we got to relatively flat ground I decided to stop and start taking pictures. I enjoyed making a miniature snowman. (We don't get to do that in Texas so figured in July, I can't pass up) The waterfall was gorgeous and had a storm brewing behind it so it led to great pictures. I arrived at camp just in time for the storm to hit.

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Back at camp
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A morning stroll into the clouds

The storm cleared and I decided to take an evening stroll around the lake before cooking dinner. I departed around 630-7am after a goodnights rest. The walk down took half the time and I'd never been so happy to sit on a padded seat. I then went north to the Great Sand Dunes and was dumb enough to hike all the way to the top of 2nd highest dune there. It took over an hour up but running down it only took 30 minutes. It was one of the most spectacular landscapes I could ever have imagined. I also stopped and hiked to Zapata falls before heading back.

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The Dunes
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Zapata falls

I stopped for a celebratory steak in Fort Garland before heading to Sugarite Canyon for the night. This time the Canyon was blanketed by storms all the way until the middle of the night. I was dumb and left my tent unzipped when I went into town for firewood and the inside of my ten was soaked. I spent the night in my truck after watching my tent hold on for dear life! 7 hours and a back ache later I packed up the soaked tent and headed back to Texas.

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Sugarite Canyon
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My tent still standing.

On the way back I stopped in Palo Duro Canyon for a tourist break. That place is a Hikers playground. I never knew there was beauty in Texas!

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The nations 2nd largest canyon...Palo Duro
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Your daily moral Texas billboard...this one takes the cake on this trip

I all a great trip and a life changing experience. Plenty of more summits in the future! Just no more solo, it gets kind of lonely.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
 


  • Comments or Questions (3)
Lucky


Congratulations!!     2009-09-07 10:29:18
Great job, and congratulations on fighting thru the early doubt and fatigue to gain a summit! 14ers never come easy. I can tell you‘ve got the bug, but be careful, things change real quick at 14,000 ft and when they go bad, they go real bad. So congrats and good luck on your future climbs.


huffy13



Very impressive!     2009-09-07 12:28:44
Good 1st 14er and not any easy one at that! Texas has quite a bit of beauty, just have to know where to look. I love that stretch of highway from Clayton to Raton, very old west-like to me. There is also a great bike trail that goes through Caprock Canyons State Park that looks awesome too! Good luck with your future 14er plans! Enjoyed your report.


JA_son27


Nice work!     2009-09-08 15:41:31
I chose Grays for my first 14er, and I remember the great feeling of accomplishment I had at the summit, and it wasn‘t nearly as difficult. For you to bust out Blanca from near the bottom of the road is completely ridiculous, you are a powerful motivator and hiker! Congrats!



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