| Blanca Gash Ridge
John, Hana and I hiked into Huerfano basin on June 12. Hana and I hiked Lindsey on a blustery day while John ran along the ridge to the Iron Nipple, as he'd already summited Lindsey twice. Our intent for June 13 was to take the Gash ridge to Blanca and descend to meet up with others camped at Lake Como. On June 14, we would then do the LB-Blanca traverse and descend Blanca's south ridge. Best laid plans...On that note, we ended up shuttling and heading out via Lake Como - an ascent of Gash ridge is not so rough, but a descent from Blanca or Ellingwood Pt to the east appears problematic/insane without a rope.
To start, we weren't quite in the right basin for Gash ridge - we were southeast of this "bump" - what I call the "basin mesa" that divides the Huerfano River from the Huerfano ridge. We contoured to see if we could walk around this feature to enter what Roach describes as a "hanging valley."
As you can see, the slopes behind me dropped steeply, so we climbed an east facing talus slope to gain the top of the mesa, then headed west toward Blanca. The view of Blanca from here is staggering. It was cloudy, but what the clouds didn't hide was daunting: the Blanca-Ellingwood east face forms a massive wall that seems to rear into the heavens. Our choices here were to descend into the hanging valley, which would be time consuming, or to traverse an annoying scree slope on the left to gain the Gash ridge. We opted for the latter.
I didn't get a photo of the massive wall, but this photo shows the traditional start of the Gash ridge (right before the steep incline on the ridge) by hiking to the top of the hanging valley. Our deviation involved the unseen scree slope on the left and some enjoyable class 3 scrambling over or sometimes around the spires on this side of the steep incline.
When you arrive to the area before the start of the ridge, you're on a broad "moor" NW of Lindsey. While the clouds to the west refused to give us a complete view our future, the clouds east fled to give us our first unfettered view of Lindsey.
John, ever prudent, scanned the way before and noted that Blanca's south ridge did not look like a promising return. He graciously volunteered to hoof it back to camp, hike out and meet us at Lake Como the next morning. Meanwhile, the indomitable Hana got ready for business.
We set out on the lower ridge to gain the traditional start - this section took us about 40 minutes. It was all class 3; pretty fun stuff. Once to Gash proper, it was still mostly class 3 with some scattered class 4. The undulating ridge treated us to a couple "mini-Gashes" - here's a photo the climb up after descending into one of these.
While we sometimes deviated a few feet to the left or right, we primarily remained on the ridge crest. The views to the north and south from the ridge were spectacular - here's the Winchell Lakes to the south and a view of the hanging valley, Lily Lake and the far-off Crestones to the north.
"I found the Gash!" Hana exclaimed. She crept around to the right and began downclimbing. She said it looked "doable but very scary." I scouted left. Left ending up being the way to go - I didn't think the down climb on that side of the ridge into the gash exceeded class 3.
From the gash, we had to climb steeply back up. The first ten feet were reasonable, but if one stayed on the crest, you'd be confronted with these "record stacks" -- stacks of flat rocks between 1 1/2" and 2 1/2" thick - didn't look at all stable and they created an overhang on the ridge crest. I wish I had a photo to show here - I think Hana took that one. We climbed initially to the right, then traversed under the record stacks on a large slab split with finger cracks - this I'd say was 5.0 -- and then climbed back up to the ridge crest (class 4). After that, we remained on the the ridge proper and it remained enjoyable class 4 ridge climbing. I didn't feel it to be as exposed as I had expected. The summit was not abrupt, but it took us until halfway up the summit pitch to believe it was the top and not another bump on the ridge.
We rested for 10-15 minutes on Blanca, noted that we were the only ones to sign the register that day, and traversed the ridge over to Ellingwood and then down the Ellingwood SW ridge. I didn't keep a good account of time, but it took us just under 5 hours to run the entire Gash ridge from the "moor," over Blanca and to the top of Ellingwood Point.
Here's a view of the Gash ridge from Ellingwood Point:
The climb was one of my grandest experiences- exhilarating somehow fails to capture the feel of it. Regrettably, I was feeling poor at the end of the day (brought a cold back with me to Denver), so I sat out the next day while John & Hana ascended Little Bear via the NW face and then ran the ridge to Blanca. C'est la vie. This was my second trip to the Sierra Blanca, and if I want to get that traverse, there will be a third trip. And to think I had said last year "never again" to that interminable Lake Como road. Thanks, John & Hana - I could not have asked for better climbing partners.
Additional photos: This first photo shows Blanca's south ridge (with LB-Blanca traverse as backdrop). The second photo is a closer look back at the upper part of the route.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):