| Ellingwood Traverse + Blanca
Ellingwood Point – Via Southwest Ridge
Blanca – via Ellingwood/Blance Ridgecrest Traverse
Trevor and Kelly (Moonstalker)
Date Climbed 7/17/2010
As Kelly drove up to the parking lot at the bottom of the Como Road, a number of thoughts ran through my head. I have waited for a long time to come back into this basin. Part of it had to do with my distinct lack of a 4x4 that is in good enough shape to take up the road and part of it had to do with my hope that I would only have to make the trip once, and complete all 3 in one trip.
Kelly and I had discussed a number of possible route options, but had hoped to climb Little Bear via the NW Face, and traverse over to Blanca. However, this plan hinged on a number of different factors, one of which was that we would have time to scout the route up the Northwest face that evening. Unfortunately, both Kelly and I were running late and it was already 430pm. We quickly pulled all of my gear out of my little (albeit fuel efficient) purple car, which I left parked in the lot by hwy 150, and hopped into Kelly's truck.
Try as we might, we only made it up to about 8900ft on the road. By the time we threw in the towel, it was getting late, and hot. Kelly and I pulled on our packs and started up the road. Happily a couple of guys in another truck that were headed up were willing to let us hitchhike up to 9800ft. I don't think either of us smiled as much the entire trip as we did when we got that ride.
Kelly grinning ear to ear, we were so happy to be in the back of this truck!
We were determined to get up to Lake Como and pushed ourselves hard to make good time up the road, making the remainder of the trip in decent time. We found Lake Como to be fairly crowded, but not too bad, and got a nice campsite at 11900ft at 730pm. Kelly and I had taken a long distance look at the Northwest Face as we arrived at Lake Como, and had a loose line drawn, but not anything sufficient to make an assault the following morning and by the time we got our camp secured enough to leave it, darkness was descending and there was no way we would be able to identify a line that we could follow in the dark.
Neither one of us had any desire to ascend the Hourglass, and we knew from discussions with other groups on the road that at least 3 other teams planned on that route the following morning. All were also attempting the traverse which would mean lots of traffic early, which was anther reason to avoid that route.
Ultimately, the plan was to climb and have fun, and Little Bear was starting to sound a lot less fun, at least on Saturday. So we modified our plan, and decided to climb the Southwest Ridge on Ellingwood and Traverse over to Blanca on Saturday, scout the Northwest Face of Little Bear and then look at a possible ascent of Little Bear and Traverse on Sunday if time and weather allowed. Finally, we had a plan!
Our alarms went off at 430am, and just in time to wake me up from a nice high altitude zombie wilderness dream (fun stuff!). We were on the trail by 515. It was a beautiful morning, warm with high clouds. We had just enough light to get excited about the plan for the traverse the next morning, and excitedly chatted about possible lines to examine on our way down. We re-focused on the climb at hand, and headed up to the small un-named lake above Blue Lake. There were no headlamps heading towards the Southwest Ridge, we would have it to ourselves! A quick discussion and we were headed up to a ledge system that started with s quick jaunt up about 100ft of large talus, then it was all scrambling.
Kelly making a point to stay on slabbier rock, the actual trail was about 10ft below us, but this way was much more fun
The reality is we could have made our way up an easier line, along the cairned route, but as we were practicing for Sunday, we went out of our way to make everything harder then it needed to be. Before we knew it, we were just below the ridge, and there were 2 large Big Horn Sheep standing on the easy line up, so we decided to climb straight up a solid series of large rocks to hit the ridge, only to find they had moved to the ridge. It was a great opportunity to take some photos of the ridge and the sheep.
A photo kelly took of me taking a quick photo of the sheep before scrambling straight up from where were were at this point
Kelly took this shot of the Sheep
a photo I took while waiting for the Sheep to move of the Southwest Ridge
Right when we were starting to think the Sheep were not going to move off the narrow ridge, the dropped back down and we were free to move unimpeded. There is without a doubt a fairly obvious route on this ridge. Cairns and periodic trails lead the way around the most difficult obstacles and anything above class 3, but we were feeling feisty and make a point to stay on the ridge crest itself, only deviating twice. Once to avoid a small notch that was a little more exposed and overhung then either of us felt safe doing, and a narrow headwall that was not something either of us felt ok doing without protection. The second deviation had a class 2/3 trail avoiding the difficulties and then moving up onto the ridge crest, but both Kelly and I found alternate, off route methods of ascent. I chose to find a small, much less exposed 8 ft vertical rock face to climb to the ridge crest, and Kelly found what looked like a really fun scramble to get up as well. The remainder of the route was perfect. Reasonably solid rock (had to check every hold as I found a number of them that were a little less then ideal in bad places). The highlight of the route, in my opinion were the frequent doubly exposed catwalks, 5-8 feet in length during the last half of the ridge before the last push to the summit.
kelly scrambling up a 3rd class section
Kelly climbing one of the steeper sections of the ridge, this was not on route, the route ran at the base of this and up a shallower ledge to the west
Kelly on an exposed section of ridge, it was not windy but the rock here was just questionable enough that it was worth checking as we moved
Kelly about halfway across the ridge with Ellingwood in the background
a photo kelly took of me heading up a scrambly section
a photo Kelly took of me on the Ridge, I was behind her and stopped to take photo 9 when she took this
This move was trickier then it looks here, and let me scramble straight up the side of the ridge crest
there's the summit!
As we made out way to the summit, I started thinking about the peanut butter and jelly uncrustable that I had bought for this trip. I hadn't tried one, but they looked neat, and how can peanut butter and jelly go wrong, right? Wrong! It was horrible! I nearly threw up on the summit after taking a bite. The only thing I can think of that is worse might be Vegemite. Disappointed, and disgusted, I forced down a granola bar, and we moved on. My stomach hurt for almost half an hour after that damn thing!
Happy to be halfway done, Kelly and I discussed our route across to Blanca, which looked a long ways off from where we sat. The plan was to down climb to the ridge crest below 50ft below the summit (we didn't feel like regaining the elevation on the initial bump on the ridge) and then stick to the ridge unless we found the class 5 notch. The ridge crest was a blast! We were able to stay on the crest , down climbing the first notch and scrambling back to the ridge crest until we came upon the major notch above the gully described in most route descriptions. Kelly and I felt strongly about maintaining as much of the integrity of our ridge climb as possible, and descended into the prominent class 5 notch without moving onto the face of the ridge. This required a few class 4 moves, but was definitely a little bit more exciting then the alternative. We eyed the climb back up to the ridge crest, and decided to stick with our plan and head down the gully 50 feet, and scramble back up to the ridge crest as quickly as possible. Once we were back on the ridge we felt back at home, and before we knew it we were at the saddle. Unfortunately because of where the sun was, and my stomach not feeling the best none of my photos turned out of this part of the climb on my little powershot and my DSLR stayed in my pack
Happy to almost be there, we stuck to the ridge and moved up the remainder of the route, finding that the more on the ridge crest proper we stayed, the more solid the rock. It felt good to get to the top of Blanca, and we stayed there for quite some time before heading down.
Kelly heading down towards Crater Lake
I couldn't help but enjoy the fact that we had hardly retraced any of our steps with the exception of the descent off Blanca. Tired, but still excited about Sunday, Kelly and I found ourselves hiking over the Talus below the Black Hand low on the Northwest Face so we would have a track for Sunday morning. After playing on the loose large rock for enough time to know exactly where we would be leaving the road by headlamp, we made out way back to camp. Clouds rolled in, and the afternoon went by quickly. A campfire made quick work of the building mosquitos, and excited to have a way to dispose of the god-awful PB&J sandwiches, I decided to burn them… it made me feel good to watch them burn. Burn, baby burn!
Burn, Baby Burn, Burn!
As the sun fell, and we started to discuss the next day, we found determination faltering. The more we thought about timing, the worse of an idea it seemed. There would be no way for us to climb Little Bear, and complete the traverse and get back to our respective homes without it being ridiculously late. Aside from that, our hearts were not in it. My desire to see my wife won out, and we decided to call it.
The hike down the road went by quickly and before I knew it I was on my way home, looking forward to a return trip to finish the job!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):