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Combo) Blanca and Ellingwood
6,800 feet 3,000 feet (starting at Lake Como)
18 miles if you start at the bottom (8,000') 7 miles if you start near Lake Como
Lake Como (Blanca Peak)
Rio Grande, San Isabel
Sangre De Cristo
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.
Climbing Blanca and Ellingwood from the Lake Como Approach can be done by either traversing the Class 3 ridge between the two peaks or by descending back to the "standard" trail and then up to the next peak. The later option requires several hundred feet more of elevation re-gain, but it keeps the difficulty at "Difficult Class 2." This route description will briefly describe the Class 2 option but focus mainly on the Class 3 traverse.
The Easiest Option (Difficult Class 2):
This method keeps the difficulty at "Difficult" Class 2 and follows the main (standard) trails up each peak. Most people start with Blanca because it‘s the prominent peak, but on a busy weekend it may be best to start with Ellingwood, which may provide some early solitude. So, climb your first peak: Blanca Route #1 or Ellingwood Route #2. Described in the Ellingwood route, you will find a location where the standard trail to Ellingwood starts off of the main Blanca trail, near 13,300‘. After climbing your first peak, descend back to this location and begin up the second peak. This method will keep you on the trails used by most climbers. The most confusing part is usually trying to locate the Ellingwood trail when it leaves the main Blanca trail. This is partly because many climbers have created some small, alternate trails toward Ellingwood. It may be helpful to study photos #11 and #12 on the Ellingwood Route to locate some landmarks that assist with the turn-off to Ellingwood. After your second peak, return down the standard trail into the basin.
Traversing near the Ridge (Class 3):
If you are comfortable with Class 3 scrambling and don‘t mind a bit of loose rock, this is a fun alternative that will keep you from losing (and re-gaining) approximately 300‘ when compared to the easier option, described above. The traverse can be made in either direction, but I have chosen to describe it from Ellingwood-to-Blanca. Photo #1 is a broad view of the ridge connecting the two peaks. Climb to the Ellingwood summit where you have a good look at the remaining challenge to reach Blanca‘s summit - Photo #2. Start back down Ellingwood‘s East Ridge (Photo #3) toward the rugged ridge connecting the two peaks. Near 13,800‘, and before the difficulties of the ridge, descend to the right (Photo #4) to reach a vague "trail" about 150‘ below the ridge crest and turn left onto the steep rock below the ridge. Look for cairns and begin your traverse below the ridge crest. Photo #5 shows some of the scrambling below the ridge. Nearly half way across the ridge, carefully cross a gully (Photo #6) which contains some loose, white rock. Photo #7 and Photo #8 are good reference photos which show the location of the gully. Continue (Photo #9) southeast on the tiny, cairned trail and after traversing for a while near 13,600‘, the route becomes easier. Photo #10 looks back on the traverse and Photo #11 is a closer look at the final difficulties. After passing beneath a notch in the lowest part of the ridge, follow easier terrain to reach the main Blanca trail. Turn left (Photo #12) and continue up Blanca‘s Northwest Ridge route. From Blanca, Photo #13 looks back on the entire traverse.
Traverse Variation (More Difficult Class 3):
After leaving Ellingwood and descending to 13,800‘ continue along the ridge crest a bit longer. Shown with a dotted line in Photo #13, stay on the ridge and enjoy some exposed (still Class 3) scrambling - Photo #14 and Photo #15. Continue to a large notch (Photo #16) where the ridge becomes much more difficult. Downclimb to your right, into a gully (Photo #17 and Photo #18) and reach the main, Class 3 traverse route, described above.
Wear a helmet and watch out for loose rock. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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