| Moonlight on Como
Moonlight on Como:
Blanca and Ellingwood
Peaks: Blanca Peak, Ellingwood Point
Route: Como Road approach
Date: November 19, 2010
Length: 16.5 miles RT
Vertical: 6800 feet
Travel time: 10.5 hours
Total time: 11.5 hours
Ascent Party: Mountainmicah83, Dancesatmoonrise
Blanca Peak, as seen from the Ellingwood-Blanca connecting ridge
A Fall Day on Como
Solos are nice, but I'm feeling a little lonely. Last minute the phone rings. Micah's in. Excellent. We've got a nearly full waxing moon, so we opt for the sub-alpine start.
I'd never seen the Como Road. Micah's been up it five times, so he's the designated tour guide. We see a lifted Toyota parked on the flats. Micah balks, what's that guy doing, he could easily make it in that truck. I raise an eyebrow and continue on. Micah skillfully back-seats us toward the aspen grove at 8800 feet – but my puff-ball SUV has other ideas. The road is a bed of loose gravel – 8" gravel. Something a backhoe might love. The Honda gets stuck. Smoke; burning tire smell. We get out to inspect. It's a flat river rock on a flat section of road. This does not portend well. Meanwhile, it's getting later.
The aspen grove at 8800 feet on the Como Road
The lower Como Road
Do you guys ever spend a lot longer getting unstuck than it would take just to park and walk? One day I may learn this virtue.
A little sketched out, I manage to turn around and drive back through a tough section so we aren't faced with it after dark when we're tired. I pull over and park. Seven thirty, sun's been up half an hour.
Hiking the Como Road
Micah describes how they drove up the Como Road last Spring.
This legendary road does not seem so bad to hike. Uphill, at least. The lower road is dry. We have the place to ourselves. Micah entertains us with the story of he and Matt driving it with their friend John. They made it to the Lake, apparently quite the accomplishment. With every "Jaws" we encounter, Micah provides a full account of just how John and the gang managed to get the car through.
"Oh, yeah, the right wheel has to get clear up over this thing…"
"Yeah, it's dangerous. See that plaque?"
We pass Mike, who is learning the first rule of winter fourteenering. He is sitting in camp, playing with a frozen camelback. Apparently he gets it unstuck, and later follows our trench in the alpine.
There are a number of spots where warm days have put water across the road, which is now frozen. Soon we're into snow over ice. I finally give it up and don spikes and gaiters.
Contemplation of Little Bear
Nearing the lake, a lively discussion ensues, debating a change in plan. Micah wants to attempt Little Bear from either the hourglass or the NW face, then traverse to Blanca, and descend Blanca. I want to stay with the original plan, to ascend Ellingwood Point, then Blanca, then look at the traverse from Blanca. If we're ahead of schedule and it looks good, we do the traverse, and descend the ascent route. Neither of us wants to descend Little Bear in current conditions. I point out that if we are unsuccessful on the traverse after ascending LB, that's exactly what we'd be faced with. Micah compromises with a plan to do Blanca first, look at the traverse, do it if it looks good, then come back and get EP, promising to do EP even in the dark, assuring me it's an "easy" peak. Micah can't resist a nighttime mission, especially under a nearly full moon. I almost agree.
It's cold, windy, and intermittently overcast, but the alpine is beautiful. Leaving the lake, we get into about six or eight inches of fresh powder. By the time we're at Blue Lakes, we get into knee deep snow, and at times post-hole thigh-deep. Snowshoes would be a luxury. After the next storm, they will become a necessity.
Blue Lake in November
The Blue Lake is looking beautiful, its clear icy surface reflecting the peaks above.
Micah makes way for the first headwall.
The cirque above Crater Lake
After Crater Lake, we look up at the headwall in the cirque. Micah points out that the headwall can be turned either left or right. I feel a direct line up the middle is feasible, and take the lead. There is snow, but the steeper rock is relatively dry, providing plenty of options for safe ascent. The rock is solid. I revel in a few moments of shear climbing bliss.
Taking the third class direct
Micah and Mike approach the cirque direct
On the bench above the headwall, I emerge to find Micah, with Mike in tow, a ways behind, and at the far right of the bench. The bench is a minefield of talus covered in unconsolidated snow. Getting over to Micah risks a case of Teresa-leg. I call out but the banshees carry my voice up the cirque. I'm a little miffed that Micah doesn't stay the course when I'm on lead, but we've been partners long enough that we have a sort of silent communication. He knows I'm miffed, but communicates that he's feeling a little pooped, and why don't I go get EP while he and Mike take a more direct line to Blanca. Did he really say that?
The more direct line to Ellingwood Point sports the worst of summer and winter. Scree is not yet frozen in place, but covered with unconsolidated patchy snow. The terrain gets steep, becoming a nightmare of small loose rock. After a few slips and near-misses I head straight for the safety of the summit ridge. Travel is tricky. A slab cracks. I move to shallower snow, get out the axe, and go for the steeper but more solid rock above. I'm making moves that nag me, but I tell myself it's within my capability, the rock is solid, don't look down, and just keep climbing. Finally, the ridge offers solace. I find hints of the traverse trail, and a solid cairn on arrival at the summit ridge. Glad that's over. The traverse on the ridge should be a lot more reasonable.
On the Ellingwood-Blanca traverse, looking back at Blanca
Ellingwood Point can be seen at top left.
The rock is solid. The ridge has some snow, but is very reasonable and a lot of fun. Staying on the ridge proper, the exposure to the east gets interesting at times. I arrive at Ellingwood Point in about five hours after leaving the car. The views are spectacular.
Looking north to the remaining Sangre de Cristo range, the Crestones, and the Sand Dunes.
Lindsey's west aspect
Gazing at Little Bear from the summit of Ellingwood Point
The Ellingwood-Blanca traverse is the most enjoyable part of the trip. I look up to find Micah and Mike descending Blanca. I presume we'll meet in the saddle or just below, but it turns out I'm wrong – they're still ascending. Moving across the gap, I drop to the west to get around more difficult rock, and continue on to the saddle, starting the Blanca ridge.
Looking back up at Ellingwood Point from the Blanca-Ellingwood saddle
Near the top I bump into Mike, who is now descending. We exchange greetings. He's not on 14ers, but uses the beta. I welcome him and suggest he join in the discussions. We bid adieu. I continue on to find Micah waiting at the summit, where we have a look at the Blanca-Little Bear traverse.
Little Bear Peak, and the Blanca-Little Bear traverse before us, from the summit of Blanca Peak
Standing atop Blanca Peak, the fourth highest point in Colorado, the views are outstanding. Lindsey looks stately and relatively dry on its west flanks. The Gash Ridge looks fabulous. But Little Bear stands before us, to the west, stately, compelling, sovereign. The traverse looks doable. We both know without speaking that it's too late in the day for safe passage. The traverse looks long. It's three o'clock in the afternoon. We both know this means watching the sun set from Little Bear, at best. Considering the condition and seriousness of the descent, we're content to bag two peaks and call it a day.
Spanish Peaks and Culebra in the distance to the south, from Blanca Peak
Cold Turkeys on Blanca
Descending Blanca's summit ridge
The descent goes pretty much without a hitch. The talus-hopping in the lower cirque is a little tricky. The direct descent down the rock headwall is a hoot. The frozen lakes exude their quiet, tranquil beauty in the setting sun.
Blue Lake in November splendor
Looking back on the Ellingwood-Blanca cirque
We know it will be nearly dark by the time we're at Como Lake. We stop to eat at the little cabin and gear up for hiking the road by the rising moon.
Micah comments that once again, we are dancing at moonrise. What a lovely dance this day has been.
Well, I guess you can tell I like story-telling. Thanks for staying with me on this one, and sharing a fabulous Fall day in the mountains.
And many thanks to Micah, my friend and partner, for sharing a few more alpine miles together. Micah, you're solid gold.
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