Ellingwood Point - Southwest 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:|| Class 3 |
|Trailhead:||Lake Como (Blanca Peak)|
|Total Gain:||2,200 feet|
|RT Length:||15 miles|
|USGS Quad.:||Blanca Peak|
|County Sheriff:||Alamosa: 719-589-6608
|National Forests:||Rio Grande, San Isabel|
|Wilderness Area:||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.
Hike up the Lake Como Road from the Lake Como Trailhead for 5 miles until you reach Lake Como at 11,750 feet. Keep hiking past Lake Como on the road until you are above treeline. From here, the southwest ridge will clearly be visible. Photo #1 Continue past the end of the Lake Como Road and onto the dirt trail near the Blue Lakes around 12,200'.
Hike 200' feet up the talus trail to the left of the waterfall. When you get to the top of the slope, you will see a small lake in front of you (the first lake above the waterfall) at an elevation of 12,540'. Walk north and cross the small stream flowing out of the lake (the same stream that creates the waterfall downstream). NOTE: From the moment you cross the stream to the summit of Ellingwood Point, there is no trail and there are no cairns to follow. Continue hiking around the edge of the lake and proceed through a grassy area to the base of a large rockslide. Photo #2
Make sure to look near the top of the rockslide for a unique couloir that leads up to the crest of the ridge. This couloir is the key to the entire route; it is the fastest and easiest way up the ridge. Here are two pictures of the couloir from the small lake: Photo #3 Photo #4. If you look closely, you'll notice that the couloir is in the shape of a slanted 'Y'. As you are climbing up the couloir, you must know that only the 'right' arm of the couloir leads to the correct path along the ridge. The 'left' arm continues up and stops abruptly in a small saddle as a dead end. Here is a picture taken in the couloir just before it splits into the 'right' and 'left' arms. Photo #5
As you exit out of the couloir, you will find yourself on the side of Ellingwood's southwest ridge. Make your way East along the ridge up towards a relatively small spine protruding from the ridge. Photo #6 Once you are at the base of the small spine, drop down to the right shoulder and skirt the South side of the spine. The spine gives you a small taste of what's to come. Here's a picture of climbers beginning to traverse across the spine. Photo #7 On the other side of the spine is another small saddle on the ridge just below an abrupt headwall. Climb back up to this saddle after you're past the small spine, and you'll find yourself standing in front of the large headwall. Photo #8
NOTE: From the base of the headwall to the summit of Ellingwood, the climbing difficulty increases from class 2 to high class 3 and there is no good escape from bad weather if you are caught further up on the ridge. Take a look around and use your own judgement to determine if the weather will hold, and continue with caution.
From the saddle, proceed to the left (North) side of the headwall. Photo #9 At a place that is suitable for you, begin to climb directly up the headwall all the way to the top. Though the rock is of excellent quality and stability, make sure to test every handhold and foothold because many are loose and cannot support weight. Carefully climb to the top of the headwall. Photo #10
Once you are on top of the headwall, you will discover that the route continues along the ridge which, in places, will bring back memories of the Knife Edge Ridge on Capitol Peak. Be sure to stay on top of the ridge and pick your way East towards the summit of Ellingwood. Photo #11
After a couple hundred feet of crawling along the ridge that's above the headwall, you will reach a large gash in the ridge that you are on. Downclimb into the gash, and keep climbing up until you are on top of the next section of ridgeline. Photo #12 Once you have made it to the top, the view of the remaining route seems very straightforward. Photo #13
Keep moving along the top of the ridge towards the summit. The climbing is continuous class 3. Photo #14 As you move further and further up the ridge, you will notice a large horn connected to the summit by a saddle. Photo #15 Aim for the horn while continuing along the crest of the ridge. You may encounter a few class 4 moves. Once you are at the base of the horn, climb directly up it until you are level with the connecting saddle. Photo #16 Make your way up, over, and into the saddle. This connecting saddle is at the top of a long couloir that runs down the entire South face of Ellingwood Point. From this vantage point, you have a really good view of the entire route looking down. Photo #17
Once in the saddle, you will notice a patch of crumbling, red rocks. Somehow get up onto this obstacle. Photo #18 Once on top of the red rocks, continue to the right. Photo #19 Scramble up the remaining easy talus all the way to the summit. Photo #20
There is no good escape from bad weather if you are caught on the narrow sections of this route. Take a good look around and use your own judgement to determine if the weather will hold before you commit yourself to the ridge.
The general rule of this route is that once you are on top of the ridge, make sure to stay there; the route deviates from the crest of the ridge in only a few places.
The rock on this route is surprisingly solid. However, make sure to test every handhold and foothold; don't gain a false sense of security. Scree and talus exist in large quantities only on the lower flanks of this route and on top of the summit; they are not a major concern during the class 3 sections.
The round-trip length from the bottom of the Lake Como Road is 16 miles. The elevation gain from the Lake Como Trailhead is 6,042 feet. 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 Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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