Blanca Peak - Northwest Ridge
Climbing mountains is dangerous! Please read the Mountaineering Safety Page and make sure you have a map+compass and can use them effectively. A GPS or cell phone can be very helpful with navigation but you should still be able to use a map+compass in case your device stops working.
(WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. Even the "easy" 14ers (Quandary, Sherman, Grays & Torreys) can be deadly in winter.
|Difficulty:|| Difficult Class 2 |
Ski: Extreme, D11 / R3 / IV
|Trailhead:||Lake Como (Blanca Peak)|
|Total Gain:||6,500 feet|
2,700 feet (starting at Lake Como)
|RT Length:||17 miles if you start at the bottom (8,000)|
6 miles if you start near Lake Como
|USGS Quad.:||Blanca Peak|
|County Sheriff:||Alamosa: 719-589-6608
|National Forests:||Rio Grande, San Isabel|
From Colorado 160, east of Alamosa, turn north onto Colorado 150 toward Great Sand Dunes National Park. Drive over 3 miles and turn right onto Lake Como road (aka Blanca Peak road). The type of vehicle you are driving will determine how high you can park on Lake Como road. Most cars can drive about 1.5 miles up before it gets rough. 4WD SUVs and trucks can slowly make it 3.25 miles to several pull-offs at 8,800', before the road turns nasty. This is a popular parking spot and gets you within 4 miles of Lake Como. If you have a very high-clearance, small, 4WD vehicle, you can drive higher. An ATV or heavily-modified jeep/crawler can go to Lake Como.
Photo #1 is a distant view of the route. Hike up the nasty Lake Como/Blanca Peak road to reach Lake Como ( 37.57009° N, -105.51547° W) at 11,750'. Continue around the lake (Photo #2) and exit the trees, near 12,000'. Ellingwood Point is ahead but Blanca Peak is mostly hidden - Photo #3 and Photo #4. At 12,200', the road ends near Blue Lakes but continue northeast on a trail until you are below a waterfall - Photo #5 and Photo #6.
Left of the waterfall, follow the trail as it weaves 300' up through talus and small ledges to reach easier terrain near a small lake - Photo #7. Pass the lake on the right and another on the left (Photo #8) to reach Crater Lake ( 37.57694° N, -105.49594° W), at 12,800' - Photo #9. Above Crater Lake, continue toward ledges near 13,000' - Photo #10 and Photo #11. Hike to the base of the ledges and follow cairns and a defined trail up the steep terrain. Taken from above the ledges, Photo #12 looks back down over Crater Lake. Continue east on the trail as it ascends onto Blanca's northwest face. In early summer, there may be snowfields I this area so an axe may be helpful.
From 13,300', on the lower portion of the face, follow the trail east/northeast (Photo #13 and Photo #14) to reach the Northwest Ridge ( 37.58022° N, -105.48701° W) at 13,750' - Photo #15. Turn right and begin climbing on or right (west) of the ridge crest - Photo #16 and Photo #17. As you ascend, do not climb left of the ridge crest because it doesn't take long to encounter steep terrain with loose, rotten rock. There are a few spots where you have to scramble around some large boulders but it's always possible to keep the difficulty at "Difficult" Class 2. Photo #18 shows the terrain near the top of the ridge. From the top ( 37.577473° N, -105.485443° W), Photo #19 looks north and Photo #20 looks east.
Blanca's northwest face is known for being scoured by southwest winds so, in most years, it's difficult to get a ski of this route with a long, solid based of snow. The snow coverage on the upper face greatly determines the difficulty of your ski and the location of your drop-in point. Some skiers climb down through the rocks to reach continuous snow but your best option is to be patient and wait for the face to be filled in, providing easier entry from the summit and a much better descent. Several hundred feet below the summit, the best skiing is usually off to skier-left in a broad, shallow couloir which drops from Blanca's south ridge down to 13,000'. Below this you may be able to ski southwest all the way back to Lake Como!
Ski overview: Photo #21
The top: Photo #22
The ski: Photo #23, Photo #24, Photo #25, Photo #26, Photo #27, Photo #28
The Lake Como road is hideous and few types of vehicles (other than ATV's and heavily-modified Jeeps) can actually get to the lake. If you attempt to drive past 10,500', make sure you have a lot of time because it will take you hours to drive this high, and you may need a winch. Start your hike early because the weather builds fast over the Blanca Massif and it can take a while to get off the mountain.
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