| Tour d‘Crater
It's taken me a long time to get around to writing this report and I wasn't really planning on it. As snow is falling up high and we're shifting gears from summer scrambling into winter snow I've been thinking about last summer. This route was the most fun I had so I finally decided I should write it up. Don't worry though, I'll try and keep it brief and put in lots of pictures.
This reminded me very much of Tour d'Abyss on Bierstadt and Evans. If you've done that and wished that the scrambling stayed right on the ridge, then this is your dream. We ascended the west ridge on Little Bear, traversed to Blanca, traversed to ridge proper to Ellingwood Point and descended the southwest ridge of Ellingwood. Other the the hourglass, we never dropped off the ridge and this proved to be a great circle around Crater Lake.
I met up with three other 14ers members (Always_Wear_Sunscreen, rpb13 and goclimbamtn) on Friday afternoon and we made the long drive down to the start of the Lake Como road. Thankfully we had a high clearance vehicle and were able to drive up to Jaws .5. We left the car close to 9pm and made quick work of the road and set up camp just past Lake Como.
After a short sleep, we got up and made quick work of Little Bear, and were the first on the summit for the day.
Once on Little Bear we were greeted by views of our next goal for the day.
The traverse to Blanca is very exciting. It is the most fun scrambling I've had on a 14er. It is consistent, exposed and fun. Technically most of the scrambling is not very hard but is very exposed and any slip would have dire consequences.
The initial downclimb is the hardest technically of the whole traverse but is over pretty quickly.
Once on the ridge the route is very straight-forward.
We did have to stop and take a photo on top of Captain Bivwacko! Two of us climbed over the tower and two climbed around to the left.
Looking down on Crater Lake the whole time. In this photo you can see the gully leading up onto the west ridge on LB and the gully we descended off of the southwest ridge on Ellingwood.
The exposure eases up tremendously after you hit the half-way point and the catwalk is the last real obstacle. I found the catwalk to be like most of the first half of the ridge, it is very exposed but you can walk right across with solid nerve.
The summit of Blanca quickly appeared and was a welcome rest.
After a bit, we soon turned our eyes to Ellingwood.
It is common to traverse to Ellingwood from Blanca, but the trail stays below the ridge crest most of the time. The real scrambling fun is right on the edge. There is quite a substantial drop off to one side.
This traverse is mostly third-class but there is one low fifth-class wall that must be downclimbed (It could have been avoided by dropping low but you will have to lose several hundred feet of elevation to clear all the obstacles).
After this, the ridge takes you to the summit quickly.
After another brief rest we started down the southwest ridge. This is an excellent route and is a very interesting alternative to the crowded standard trail. Also, why give up on all the fun scrambling there is to be had still? Following the ridge is fairly easy and there were several cairns, but be sure to check out where they go before trusting them.
Unfortunately, a false cairn led us down this promising looking gully.
Although it worked, it was a nightmare and one of the steepest/loosest descents I've ever experienced. Looking back, we should have stayed on the ridge until we reached one more gully down the ridge. But we made it down carefully and setting foot on the trail was an amazing feeling. It was the first trail we'd been on since early morning!
Here is a look up the gully we came down.
The hike and night at camp were excellent, the next morning we trudged back down to the car uneventfully.
This is an awesome route and anyone interested in the LB-Blanca traverse should consider adding this on. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves scrambling. The views are spectacular 100% of the time and you are heroes to the other hikers as you are clearly visible on the skyline the entire hike.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):