Peak:  Blanca Peak (14er)
 Route:  Lake Como Approach
 Range:  Sangre de Cristo
 Posted By:  SHmids
 Date of Info:  12/22/2012
 Date Posted:  12/24/2012

Just an update for those interested in current information about Blanca / Ellingwood. Chuck, Sara and I went up Lake Como Rd. on Friday and Saturday, 12/21 - 12/22. We were able to drive to about 8,800 in a full size F-150 4x4. The snow at that point was about 4-6 inches and powdery and unconsolidated, so we decided not to take snow shoes.

Because of work schedules, we got a really late 6pm! The moon was a little over half full and with the snow, made for a perfectly bright hike with no need for headlamps at all. :-)

The road was tough hiking with full, over-night winter packs (about 40 lbs.). There was just enough snow to cover the rocks and make you unsure of your step. Goggle told us we had parked 3.6 miles from the lake. We only made it 2.7 miles in about 3 hours and 45 minutes! I'm sure there were several factors (including lack of feeding and hydrating myself properly), but I have never hiked that slowly (at least when I am in very reasonable shape) and been that exhausted in that short of a distance! We decided to set up camp in a nice flat area that I'm guessing is a pull-out before one of the more difficult sections of the road.

With the late start, and setting up camp and taking the time to melt/boil snow for making dinner as well as the next day's drinking water, we did not get to sleep until around midnight.

In the morning, Sara felt ill and decided to just rest. Chuck and I got going around 7. The snow further up the road was deeper and still unconsolidated, so even with the lighter day packs, it was still tough going. It took about 50 minutes to cover the remaining 0.9 miles to the lake. The day was beautiful and at that pace, it seemed like we would be able to make at least 1 summit.

We made a couple mini-excursions into deeper snow a little too early before finding the route going up from the lake. I don't know if the signs are new or not, but there were signs indicating no motorized vehicles were allowed after that point.

From that point, the snow got much deeper. That area is on the south side of the valley and gets little to no direct sun. Chuck did most of the trail breaking and was frequently knee to mid-thigh deep. When I did some of the trail breaking, I was usually thigh deep or deeper! The snow was a bit more consolidated, but it seemed like even with snow shoes, the post holing would have been pretty significant.

We were pretty beat by the time we got to the large clearing just below Blue Lakes around 10am. Looking across the opening, the conditions did not look any better for at least another 1,000 feet of elevation, so we decided to call it a day. We hung out for about 45 minutes, thoroughly enjoying the great view of Ellingwood and Little Bear!

The return to camp was quite a bit easier, following our own tracks back, but the deep steps still took a toll. We met Ed (ETA) heading up just as we getting back to camp. He thanked us for the broken trail :-) At camp, we found Sara just waking up after an extra 5 hours of sleep! We decided a nap was a great idea and snoozed for about 45 minutes before breaking camp and heading back down the road. The snow was much softer in the afternoon, of course, and it took us about 2 hours to make it back to the truck.

If any of this sounds negative or like complaining, it really isn't! It was a tough, winter slog, but I don't regret a minute of it! It was truly a winter wonderland!! Temps were right about as projected...probably mid-20's for highs and single digits for lows. For me, as my first real winter over-night outing, I learned a lot about myself and how I perform and what I need to do to manage my energy levels, in winter conditions.

I took a few pictures on the driving approach, in the morning on the approach to Lake Como, and at the highest point we reached, but was too tired to bust out the camera much during the hike after the lake and before out stopping point.

Sorry, I was going to add a couple more pictures, but did not realize there was only room for 4 pictures in a conditions report. I guess I should have written it as a trip report instead, but I did not intend to get so wordy!

Please feel free to pm me if you have any additional questions or want more pictures. For those planning a day-trip next weekend, if the snow consolidates decently between now and then, it might be manageable, but it will be a very, very long day. The day pack weight will certainly help! Best of luck and not matter the outcome, enjoy the beautiful area!

The last picture I attached is of the gulley heading up to the west ridge of Little Bear.

 Comments or Questions

Lack of Pictures
12/25/2012 01:23
I guess I don't know how to add pictures...


12/30/2012 02:15
If you were to approach this again/differently, what would you have done? (Attempting LB wk of 1/13)


12/30/2012 18:41
I think the obvious thing would mostly be timing. The late start was a contributing factor. For me personally, eating more / better is another factor. I kind of bonked and that limited how high we camped, so impacted the start in the morning.

Really though, even with all of those factors in order, the condition of the snow was just bad enough to really bog you down and require a ton of energy every step of the way. I would imagine with some consolidation, this would be less of an issue.

So I guess, avoiding a trip a day or two after a fairly major snow dump, is probably the easiest answer!

Also, it seems like the conditions in the valley can't really be compared to the conditions on the Southwest Ridge of Little Bear. The trail from Lake Como to about Blue Lakes probably had not seen any direct sun in quite a while, but that ridge line gets plenty of sun and wind. If you are looking at the standard route on LB, let me know and I can get you a couple picture of the gully going up to the west ridge.

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