| Winter Daytrip: Mt. Blanca
Winter Daytrip: Mt. Blanca
Route: Como Road approach
Date: January 23, 2011
Length: 15.5 miles RT
Vertical: 6500 feet
Total time: 13 hours
Ascent Party: Benners, Pioletski, Zambo, Dancesatmoonrise
The Blanca Massif at dawn, January 23, 2011.
After a great trip on La Plata last weekend, Ben and I decide to put something together for the upcoming weekend. With high avalanche hazard in the northern and central mountains, the Sangres look like the most viable option. I really want Little Bear via the SW ridge, with the South Little Bear/Little Bear traverse. It’s become sort of a preoccupation this winter. Ben and Matt (Pioletski) would prefer Blanca/Ellingwood, so they can ski EP.
The weather window is not perfect. Saturday calls for high winds. Sunday is cold but less windy. The jet wants to hang around; so common in winter. We decide to postpone for Sunday: cold is better than wind. The SLB/LB traverse requires good weather, and low winds. There’s a strong hint in the GFS models that giving the little bear one more week could actually work out. So we decide on Blanca/Ellingwood. I'm hoping to get recon shots of the SLB/LB traverse while we’re up there.
Como at 9400.
Ah, yes, how quickly we forget the misery of Como. Hoofing it from around 8100, I’m reminded that the Como Road is one of the few places on the planet where walking feels better than driving. At least going in.
Waning gibbous moonset over the San Luis Valley.
Below the Lake.
Gentlemen. (Photo: Pioletski)
David and Ben. (Photo: Pioletski)
Lake Como. (Photo: Pioletski)
Lunch on the sunny shores of beautiful Lake Como.
Matt crosses the Lake. Little Bear looms impressive. (Photo: Benners.)
Little Bear’s NW face: We gaze wistfully at the left rib of the gully just left of the summit. Another day…
Evaluating the Blanca/Ellingwood cirque, the scree at right center is loose debris over snow, so it’s not an option. Not to mention how it got there. The snow to the left is extremely hard in places; breakable windslab in others. We take a line left and around, staying to the driest areas.
The view from near the large rock at left in the last photo.
Looking up to Blanca.
It’s late in the day. Concerns about getting a summit prove correct. We wanted both, but would be happy with one at this hour. Winter is tough. The snow isn’t helping, alternating between fall-apart sugar and bulletproof slab, and everything in between. The scree isn’t frozen in place; unusual for this time of year. Matt and Ben forego the ski descent of Ellingwood, opting just to climb it.
If we can make our respective summits by 3:30 pm, that puts us below the critical areas before dark. It’s tough when you’re this close, but we’re well prepared. For that matter, I recall seeing plenty of vacancy signs on the cabins down at Lake Como Resort, just a thousand verts below. The accommodations aren’t much, but the rates are surprisingly cheap this time of year.
The rock in the center of the cirque is fairly dry 3rd class, making a nice winter line.
Matt, Ben, and David approach the large rock.
Ellingwood looking magnificent under moody skies.
A look down at the talus field below Blanca.
The scree has just enough unconsolidated snow to make travel a tad treacherous. Best to rock hop when possible, but the rock is not entirely frozen, and some is loose. Unusual for January.
Finally on the ridge.
The last 300 verts beckons.
The summit always feels like the end of the trip, for the moment, until considering the hardest half still lies ahead. Still, it’s nice to finally be here. Hello, again, Blanca!
Lindsey, seen from Blanca's summit ridge.
The impeccable Huerfano drainage to the north.
Looking west down impressive cuts in the massif.
Finally, that recon shot. Little Bear is seen as the high point just left of center; South Little Bear is at the other end of the ridge further left.
The entire east aspect of the SLB/LB traverse is visible. It looks doable.
Crestones looking mighty fine from Blanca’s summit.
Wonderful to bag a summit this fine winter day. Time to settle up with the clock and scrub off some verts.
Meanwhile, the other half of the team goes for Ellingwood Point. (Photo: Benners)
Ben and David. (Photo: Pioletski.)
Matt pushes for the summit. (Photo: Benners.)
Jim descends Blanca. (Photo: Benners.)
Matt and David. (Photo: Benners.) (Ben, this is one nice shot, bro!)
One mountain, three alpinists. (Can you see them at far right?)
Love those spikes: Descending the lower cirque.
The Ellingwood team descends.
The winds start to get a little rough.
I’m disappointed to learn the guys are forced to turn back 300 feet from the EP summit. I’d been elated to think we’d all made our respective summits. We have to put it into perspective: though cold and windy, we’re doing pretty well for a winter’s day high above Como.
Last light sure is beautiful in the alpine.
I’m quietly thrilled that my partners gave Ellingwood a solid attempt. We know we'll be headed back by headlamp, but that's pretty much a given in winter. I watch as Ben makes first turns down from our 13,200 perch.
Bathed in late-day glow, Benners clicks in and fires up the afterburners.
David and I take up the rear, dreaming about IPA, following the glow in the west.
Blessing? Or curse? The headlamp is both the bane and the joy of winter travel.
Headlamp: Alpinist’s aegis, Mountaineer’s badge of merit; Friend, companion, salvation, sine qua non. Is it not two ounces of solid gold? And what price, winter, in its absence?
Soon we’re below the lake. Winter 14er sixteen, in the bag. Gratitude on this long day.
I’m alone, quietly taking up the rear. The stars are beautiful. The Como Road is a bit spooky, well after dark. Every now and then I hear the soft hushed rustle of something following behind, just this side of the threshold of human hearing…
…and before long, we’re at the cars, tipping a beer, the guys calling wives, tossing gear, heading home, down the bumpy Como Road, from yet another full day’s winter sojourn into Colorado’s noble 14ers.
We didn't get everything we wanted today, but winter is like that, especially approaching some of the harder 14ers. This season is starting to become a lesson in how to be content attempting a mountain, without necessarily summiting. I was fortunate to get Blanca today, and feel some disappointment for my partners not getting Ellingwood. I personally wanted both. But did I really think this was our last trip up the Como Road in winter? I hope not.
Then there's that nagging little dance I keep doing with Little Bear - like I said, the season is becoming a lesson in contentment sans summit. A good lesson to get familiar with...
Thanks for reading.
And thanks to Ben, Matt, and David for another great all-day trip.