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Charged with B&E - Sentenced to 4hrs to Life on the Como Rd
Blanca & Ellingwood
Elevation Gain: 5,779'
Partner in suffering: Dan
After the snow storm on Culebra the week previous, I knew I had to get up the Como Rd for Blanca and Ellingwood ASAP. I don't trust snow to stick to Blanca's NW face for long with the wind we've been having. Dan having learned the valuable lesson of utilizing rocks skis on Culebra, raced to get another setup in time. Despite one of the inserts missing threads, and having to use his precious DPS skis on rocks again, he consented to suffer with me on this trip.
After a traffic delayed departure out of Denver, we were on our way with every other gaper leaving Denver after work. So arrival at the trail head/road was delayed. We stopped at a switchback when Dan no longer felt comfortable with the narrowness of the road, just 0.8mi and 600' shy of Jaws .5. We started up the road a little after 9pm, with visions of slumber around midnight or better. The road, as always, had other plans for us. The snow starts on the downhill portion after Jaws .5 and becomes intermittent frequently. After the stream crossing it is dry until Jaws 2, then snow till Jaws 3 with more dry patches intermittent all the way to the lake. No rhythm to the skinning, with skis on and off the pack, it took us waaaay too long to arrive at the lake. At 2:40 am, we were set to sleep in our respective bivys, finally. The dream of a 4am departure slipping through our grasps, as the 6am wake up alarm becomes reality.
A reasonably comfortable morning greeted us, filling me with the promise of soft corn down the south face of Ellingwood, if we would be so lucky. Maybe the wind and clouds will hold off for us? We started up the drainage filled with hopes of quick ascents and ever quicker drops.
After the firm morning's skinning, it was time to transition to crampons and couloir climbing. It would be Dan's first time on the pons, and learned quite a few tips and tricks as we started up the lower icy section of steep snow. Blanca and Ellingwood were my first Colorado steep snow climbs back in 2009, so it was nice to pass on some knowledge where it started for me too. We switched off lead periodically, and Dan even lead the final pitch so I could save my strength for the Blanca push that was upcoming. Dan didn't like all the rocks near Blanca's summit, and nor can I blame him!
Ahhh the sweet summit of Ellingwood Point! Still sunny and warm, but intermittent clouds have kept the snow cool for us. A team of two are on the other side of the drainage, making steep switchbacks up the snowy face of Blanca. Great unintentional planning! Now we get to harvest the fruits of each others labors, as they would climb and ski Ellingwood after us.
I leave my skins on for the ski over to the false summit. My BD Joules are now "rock skis", but no need for extra damage on a crap traverse! Once below the false summit the ski down to the basin, while rough and tough with punchable crust, will be 99% rock free! The sun has baked the surface enough to make it slick and fast. The new snow has bonded well to the old, with the dust crust welded in between. Now we just have to find a non wet-slid slot to get to the other side of the basin!
We transition halfway across the drainage to salvage precious elevation. Dan lets me race ahead, as his thoughts on summitting Blanca involve no joy. Up the steep switchbacks I go, making tough kick turns as my body screams in protest. Soon I run into the makers of the tracks, and we converse about snow, skiing, plans and the usual friendlies and formalities.
Beyond that point, I switch to booting it straight up the snow, as it's not consolidated and there are tons of rocks now. This gets time consuming. Swimming uphill on loose rocks and snow, I finally make my way to the lookers left side of the continuous snow up to the ridge. Phew! Lookers right has a steeeeep cornice like thing, so I wanted to see if left was a better option. For a few feet on the ridge it was. Then came the big blocky class 3. Ok to go up. Not ok to come down with skis on. Hmmmm plan B... where are you?
Just above the scramble, there's a steep snowy entrance onto the face of Blanca, with plenty of loose rock bands to cross on a traverse over to the good stuff. Hmmm, maybe...
On the summit, I contemplate my options as I gulp down some fluids and a bit of food. In my race against the storm approaching, I forwent sustenance, and found myself parched and exhausted. I look down the dry, steep, rocky west ridge where the others had ascended and returned. Oh heck no! Guess I'm gonna have to b@!!s up and go down the face. Training for more technical peak descents here we come! Skins on for the face ski, as I knew I would have to balance on some steep rocks. Just hope the skins aren't too bad for the steep edge traversing midway...
My route, as annotated above: green=awesome pow blue=pow+sharks purple=don't lose that edge red=I must be stupid/insane to down climb/ski this
Once beyond the ridiculous, I blow my whistle to let Dan know I'm coming down the goods. He wanted to wait for me in the pow zone so that he could take some photos of me skiing. What a considerate partner! Too bad the sharks proliferated the 20' above his position, and I played it safe in such shark infested frozen waters.
After Dan transitioned, we thought it would be an easy ski down to camp and beyond. The initial section was still wonderful pow, but exhaustion was catching up to me, and the continuous jump turns were draining my energy quickly. Down below the upper drainage, the snow had rapidly cooled and was a bit of an icy scrapy descent back to camp. Oh well, still faster than slowshoes!
Back at camp I eat and drink my fill, and the warmth and life slowly returns to my exhausted body. It's after 6pm, and while others are wooo-hooing down LB's north gully, we're facing a horrendous descent on unsupportable snow. We finally get camp packed up and we're ready to start the suffer-fest we know will happen on the road, just before 7pm.
On the way down, we meet many of those making their way up to tackle Little Bear the next day. We give them the beta on various fronts, and keep going. The ski down the initial road ends quickly, as too many rocks are sprinkled into the icy thin surface. Stumble, slip, grumble, pack off, skis on, skis off, pack on => repeat. After the stream crossing, I know the snow is fairly continuous for awhile. We need flotation, as post-holing will await us otherwise. I go a few feet lower to be friendly with a tree. I call up - "Ready to ski?!". The next 20 minutes are consumed by the yells of Dan every few minutes, as his skis plunge into the unsupportable mashed potato soup snow. Very creative swearing combos echo in the valley. Eventually a careening Dan comes screaming out of the darkness, and to avoid hitting me, plunges into the snow at the side of the trail once again. I've fallen and I can't get up - or variously themed utterances are grumbled. Batteries are swapped in dim headlamps, skis are repeatedly pulled out from the depths of the horror show that is the snow in the San Luis valley late on a spring night. I implore to utilize the alpine snowplow for all its worth, but it's to no avail. We both plunge into the mucky snow on a way too frequent a cycle. Eventually we have to face reality, and put the skis back on the pack, and suffer the postholing. The heavy packs sway, and we loose balance for an instant, careening us mere inches off the skin and foot path on the road. We post hole to our nether regions on more than one occasion. We curse, we cry, we battle on with this evil road. It now becomes a battle of who hates this road more. It's to the death!
After what feels like an eternity, the snow finally ends, and the dry road begins. But that is not where our troubles end! Oh, no! This is where the land of the baby head boulders and the loose truck churned rocks lives, and they're out to trap the unsuspecting ski boot wearing soul. Crawling down the road is our top speed. Dreams of liquids fill our every delirious moments thoughts. Somehow, miraculously the torture ends. We're back at the Jeep. It's 11pm or something, but my brain doesn't fathom how THAT much time could have expired!
I have a few theories, they go something like this:
Theory #1: Multiply the mileage of the road needed to travel by 10, then you will arrive at a more reasonable estimate of sufferage. So 3.5 miles on the road becomes 35 miles of suffering.
Theory #2: Dan Time Warp - The mere presence of Dan and his endless vocalizations of stream of consciousness thoughts create an alternate universe where time is slower than in reality. This allows for vast amounts of time to pass unawares.
Now, you might think arrival at the vehicle would end the strife of this torture device called the Lake Como Road. Nope. The road takes an hour to drive, as we slowly bounce down the road, our skis crying for mercy in the Thule box above our heads. But eventually, the torture ends and we arrive at pavement, glorious pavement! My final, last, never again to set food on the Como Road again body rejoices! Now we just have the long drive home. 6am, and my head hits the pillow, I ache from head to toe from the gauntlet that is Lake Como Road. It is Done!!!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
So that explains all of the cursing... 04/16/2014 16:43
I heard a ton of colorful language while brewing up water on Sat night. Peter and I weren't entirely sure why you guys were having so many issues with the road, it wasn't all that bad for us and we didn't put on snow shoes till we got to the cabin.
I think the lesson to take away is that the snow on the road is much, much better in the morning than the evening.
Yup. That's right! ...and the colorful language didn't truly start until we were ~1 mi down the road. Though it was probably loud enough for ppl in China to hear. Skis with 130 mm tips shouldn't collapse the snow with 160+35 lbs on them...like every time ya get 10” off the beaten path.
Ohhh, and I'm Dan, and I approve this message (TR). Well written Otina!
Bill - Wish you were there for Blanca, but maybe it'll get more snow by the time you ski it.
Somewhat of a Prick - Recording such sufferage would deter the faint hearted.
pioletski - I've been hoping for a snowy Sangre year for a while now. It was time to strike before it got worse.
clemsonmtneer - A 24 hour day after 3 hour nap. I do enjoy the creative descents, they make the easy fun ones that much more enjoyable!
Jeff - The way Eric skis, anyone's jaw would drop. I tend to take it a little slower. I remember the first time I was up in that basin, I met Rob. So I decided to crush Blanca for him, just like he did.
jmanner - The wonderful Ell will be in condition for a few more weeks, if you can stand that road again!
Nat - I both enjoyed and cursed that breeze. A bit more corn on Ell would have been lovely. Yeah, Blanca a D16. I found it harder and more intimidating than LB. I couldn't take photos in the red zone, since I had to keep my balance. One of the most intimidating no-fall-zones I've ever been in. More snow would be a different story.
spadflyer12 - We also cursed coming from below the north gully to the cabin. We saw your postholes on the way around the cabin, and we just sank through the manky snow with our skis on. Just getting to camp, and back up to the road was a struggle. I knew the snow would suck, and that we were too late in the day. But so it goes! Keep in mind, skis+boots+avy gear is and extra 13.6 pounds of weight to compress and collapse the snow.
moneymike - Original plan was a peak a day. With Sunday's forecast, I wasn't going to risk not getting Blanca (since I wanted the beta from Ell first) and have to walk that road again. After the wonder that is a Culebra ski descent, I have perfected skiing with skins on. I used to endo and face plant, but no more! I skin-tele'd Culebra summit (like Marc), so now my old crappy skins are ”rock skins”. I mainly had them on for balancing the tip and tails on the rock bands. I just kept envisioning my skis slipping off the rocks without them. The traverse was on-edge anyway, so it didn't hurt too much.
hberry - 3 bours of postholing sounds brutal. Soon though, we'll just have to boot up the trail till the nice snow, so I guess it's a trade-off.
Dan - Snow doesn't care if we're exhausted or how fat your skis are. At least you kept me entertained as we were in purgatory. Type III fun on that road.
Bill, you're correct. The dudes that laid the track went up pretty darned slowly though. (Much slower than Otina and I going up Ellingwood.) Maybe they weren't in a hurry. Comparatively, they crushed the uphill on Ellingwood afterward. Maybe our stairway facilitated that?
As for coverage, I'm not sure it was much deeper than a couple feet at best in the ski-able strips. I could be way off, but it did inspire the impression of being thin. However, comparing coverage to that seen on the cover of Davenport's 14ers book does invoke dreams of Otina's line be skiid continuously with the skis pointed closer to the fall line more often than not. All that said, more than half of the vertical on the face held ski-worthy snow that did not suck.
Hey dudes, thanks for that boot pack. Funny seeing y'all there. That area's fricking popular for such a pain in the butt road and supposed isolation. Nice rock thread on Blanca. We wondered how you'd do. Need a rock board for sure. you make me want core shots Get at me if you need a mid week partner. Went up LB like the other 5000 people the next day. kinda puckering.
I just noticed the skin track which zig zags up the looker-right side of Blanca's NW face in pic #18. Looks like they were able to skin all the way up to the short, steep, snow pitch below the col on the upper, west ridge.
Maybe I'm getting too picky or Brian's posts are echoing in my head, but I'd really like to ski it with more snow. Kinda like this day when Jordan and Frank got it in 2007:
Waiting on a Sangre Powder Day... 04/18/2014 16:09
Seeing photos from 2007 make me wonder if that was the last time the peak looked like that. When will we see a season like that again? Maybe next year's semi-forcasted El Nino will come to fruition. I didn't want to wait and see
Sara - It's all about the bacon, and the # of meat
freeinthehills - Glad you enjoyed the boot pack, I was enjoying the skin track, until it exhausted me! While my Joules may be my rock skis, and have 4 seasons on them, they've never gotten a core shot. My 2 new sticks - core shots on Day #1. Just my luck! The area is certainly popular this time of year because of the ”easy LB climb”.
As we were skinning just north of you on Saturday (I think you can see our group in Pic 12 ), I kept looking in your direction, thinking how you guys were faring (and wishing you luck!). We all could wish for more snow in the Sangres, but it is what it is. The weather held for most of the day and the breeze kept the snow rather cool, so that's very fortunate on a big day like that.
Big congrats on getting both peaks done in one trip, especially Blanca. Blanca is D16? Seriously? Just because there are so many obstacles? Given that rating I may postpone the ”pleasant” hike up Lake Como road for longer than I thought.
And big props to Dan for maintaining an upright position, mostly, at least when it mattered.
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