Peak(s):  Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,042 feet
Date Posted:  08/04/2015
Modified:  08/06/2015
Date Climbed:   07/19/2015
Author:  buckeyejes
Additional Members:   AdDoBe
 My bacon brings all the bears to the yard   

Subtitle: Bad News Bears

Saturday 7/18:
Left car - 2:30pm
Arrived at Camp - 6pm
Bear at Camp - 7-8pm

Sunday 7/19:
Wake up - 2:30am
On the trail - 3:45am
Shelter at 12,775 ft - 5-6am
Back to camp spot - 7:10am
Left camp - 7:30am
Back to car - 11am
Post trip slopper/schooner - 1:30pm

Although the weather outlook was grim, it looked pretty terrible at our backup plans too. We already had the dogsitter set up, so we decided to go with our plan of Blanca-Ellingwood via Lake Como.

So....we read the forums, did some homework, and, research revealed that (drum roll, please...):
There is still a bear problem and the hiking the road sucks.

Spoiler alert - Both of these are very true.

I was traveling to sea level for work and didn't return until Friday, so we planned to camp Saturday night and hike Blanca/Ellingwood Sunday. After all the reports, we decided to use a bear canister, rather than bothering with a bear bag. We also made sure to take bear spray. We took our time on Saturday morning and stopped at a restaurant in Walsenburg called "The Hungry Bear". (Foreshadowing?? Oh, the irony!!)

After a nice lunch, we headed to our destination, and to make it as far as we could on the road.

The beginning where the road "isn't so bad"

Lake Como Road, even at the bottom, was awful, and it didn't take long before our A/T temp went off and we found the quickest pull-off right after. We chocked the wheels, got our packs, and starting heading up the "road".

Almost ready to go

On the road

and on

and on

will this ever end?

The hike was long, as predicted, and that elevation gain was no joke. We stopped to chat with all the hikers coming down for the day, and each person told/warned us about the bear. We heard several stories of the bear destroying things while they were out hiking, or some who got lucky, but saw other camps get damaged. With our canister and spray, we thought we might be okay. We had asked if camping lower would be advisable, and some had said the ones that camped even a mile below the lake still had bear issues.

When we were about a mile away from Lake Como, there were a few hikers that said they could see the bear from the road. When we were about a half mile away, we did see the infamous bear. This sighting sealed the deal for camping past lake como (rather than lower).

The bear of Lake Como

Once we arrived at the lake, we took in the views for about 2 seconds before being viciously attacked by mosquitos. We got out the bug spray, and then warned some other hikers that were about to go down, about the bear sighting. After a few photos, we continued on a bit on the trail. (side note: we saw some camps set up where people were starting a campfire right next to the tent.....not helping the bear problem...)

Finally at the lake so we could enjoy being attacked by mosquitos

Beautiful views though...

We found what we thought was a fantastic area, very close to the Little Bear turn off. There was a nice flat spot for the tent, and we decided to set up camp there. The mosquitos were relentless, so we sprayed more bug spray.... (note to self - keep eyes closed until you are sure there is no more bug spraying happening near your face. Bug spray burns eyeballs...), and set up our tent before finding our kitchen area and cooking dinner.

A little further up the trail...thought we found such a good spot...

The tent was set up nicely and we took all the smelly stuff (including the sunscreen and bug spray) and headed downwind (up the trail) where we went at least about 0.1 miles and found a nice area to cook.

On our way to our dinner spot

After that long grueling hike up Lake Como road, I was ready to eat my favorite camping dinner....mashed potatoes and bacon. After a satisfying dinner, a visit from some friendly wildlife, and some evening tea, we gathered everything in the bear canister and "hid" it near some rocks.

Local wildlife smelled the bacon

Image good, i needed to take a picture of it...

We then headed cheerfully back down the trail, ready to go to bed early for an early Sunday hike. As I made it to the far side of the tent, where my vestibule was, I was shocked to see a tear on my side of the tent.

jerkface bear...ripped through both the rainfly and the vestibule...

After a few seconds of processing what had happened in an hour of being away from the tent, we both looked around the area to see if the bear was near. After we got over the initial shock that this happened to us, I went to check out the damage. On close inspection, the bear had ripped the rainfly and the tent (just on one side). The bear did not destroy anything else, thankfully, but we didn't have anything that would interest a bear in/near the tent. As it turns out, the Lake Como bear is just an asshole that likes to destroy tents.

We then had a team meeting on what to do next. Do we pack up and just hike back to car (I was pretty adamant that I did not want to hike lake como road via headlamp downhill...), stay (clearly the bear was near...), or pack up and camp somewhere else (above treeline when storms were likely overnight?). We figured we had a little less than an hour of light left. None of these were fantastic options, however, after much discussion, we decided to stick with the plan to stay the night. It did not seem (based on the stories), that the bear would attack people at night. The bear likes to visit campsites when everyone is out hiking during the day.

The next problem to solve was the hole in our tent. With storms imminent, it would not have been a good plan to leave it as is. We decided to use a space blanket over the area so rain couldn't get in. It took some engineering skills, but we made an acceptable cover for the ripped part of the tent. An extra trash bag and the other space blanket we had were used to keep the packs dry and "hidden" in the trees nearby.

how many engineers does it take to fix a tent?? (the answer is 2...)

Even with an early alarm setting, the sleep did not come easy after feeling violated by the local wildlife. Every noise (even my growling stomach at one point) ended up being bear spray out and checking around the tent. It wasn't until it began raining really heard that we actually able to relax and sleep a little. The space blanket cover worked like a charm and we didn't have any issues with the rain getting inside the tent (yay engineering!!).

The alarm went off at 2:30am, and I have never been so anxious to wake up early. I was ready to be out of the tent and getting ready for the hike. We had purposely wanted to get a very early start for our Blanca/Ellingwood goal because thunderstorms were likely late morning, and very very likely by noon, and we wanted to be sure we gave ourselves the best chance to beat the weather. We chose to tear down camp so we didn't tempt fate again, and the tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads went in a trash bag and set by the trees.

We then went to our "kitchen" area, only to find that our bear canister was not even close to where we left it. Everything inside was unharmed, so the next task was getting the bear canister open (I swear those things are human proof too...). After breakfast, we were on the trail by 3:45am in the dark. Shortly after we started, it began to drizzle, which wasn't too big of an issue, but there were some visibility problems with the fog around us. The trail was well marked, so we were able to keep going at a good pace, even in the foggy dark. We eventually got to the Blue lakes area and we kept crossing streams (or it just felt like it was a lot of stream crossings...). It was still very dark when we arrived at what we could only assume was Crater lake. It was here where it began raining a little harder (still bearable, but visibility was still very poor), and we were a bit confused once we got to this section of the trail. We actually headed the wrong direction (away from the trail), before turning around and finding a cairn (yay cairns!), and getting back on track. Once a little higher, the rain started coming down more and we still had an hour before sunrise. We decided to build a little shelter and try to wait out the rain, or at least the light to make an assessment on the clouds/sky.

Rain, rain, go away!!

We huddled semi-comfortably under the shelter and waited for light while it rained even harder. Once we started to get some light, we saw we were actually above crater lake.

Now we can see where we are! Pretty looking down at crater lake...

We took a peek outside of our shelter and saw nothing but clouds all around us...not a great sign. We gave it until 6am, and then finally called it. Even without hearing thunder, this was not a great day to be climbing either peak, let alone both. The rocks would have been slippery, the visibility would be poor, and we were starting to get cold, even with the rain gear. We put on some extra layers under the rain gear, put away our space blanket, and then began to head down.

Not so pretty looking up...

Where are the peaks??

At least the trail down is super obvious now...

Once we were moving again, we warmed up quickly. The trail was very clear now that it was light outside. All the "confusion" we had at crater lake seemed very silly now! Even though the views of the peaks were hidden, we did enjoy some of the waterfalls and glimpses of the alpine lakes on the way down.

woohoo for waterfalls!!

and another!

a foggy blue lake

foggy morning and still drizzling a bit

Looking back, our decision to turn around was the right one...

Soon, the rain subsided a little, so it was only a drizzle to deal with again, rather than a steady rain. (Side note: We saw several instances of trash left near the trail....we picked up everything we saw, but seriously aren't helping the bear problem). We headed to camp, pleased to find it was untouched. As we packed up, we fought off the intense mosquitos once again (just an added bonus to an already awesome trip I guess...).

and another!

Moisture brings mosquitos...but it also brings wildflowers!

Back down at the lake

on the road again...

The "hike" down Lake Como road could be described in several ways...some I can't repeat. Mostly, it was never-ending and grueling.

how does a vehicle get up...or down...this thing? I am amazed...

felt steep on the way down too...

Several rolls of the ankle, I cursed the "road" many times on the way down. We had a second wind once we got out of the canyon area and made it back our pilot.

Blue sky!! although...still not blue skies on the peaks...

The short drive (since we didn't make it very far) almost seemed worse on the way out, so I am not sure if the rain had something to do with that, or if it was just our imagination. Even though we didn't have any summits to celebrate, a few days in the mountains should always be followed by beer and a burger. We stopped in Pueblo at the Grays/Coors Tavern for a slopper and schooner and to at least celebrate our misadventure before heading home.

The best slopper and schooner in town!

In summary, even though the road sucked, the mosquitos were terrible, the weather didn't cooperate, we didn't get to summit anything, and that bear is a jerkface.... we still enjoyed our time in the mountains and will be back.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

Of Bears and Bacon
08/05/2015 08:18
Maybe he/she just wanted some of your bacon and mashed spuds?

This report was a fun read. Glad you both survived.


Bearly Legal in 49 States
08/05/2015 09:29
What an adventure and exciting trip report! You guys are hardcore for sticking to the climbing plan after the rip in your tent. I don’t think I would have gotten much sleep that night. Thanks for bringing the necessary Bear Essentials and setting a good example. I’m sorry the weather didn’t cooperate for your hike.


Stick it out
08/05/2015 11:41
Enjoyed your TR. It’s refreshing to see that you two, despite poor weather reports, decided to go. I see so many people ditch plans because "it might rain." You were prepared, went through a very good process of deciding what to do, managed to stay dry in your tent, hunkered down when you thought it necessary, and knew when to call it due to conditions. Well done.


unbearably funny!
08/05/2015 12:00
Loved your TR, it was a hilarious take on the misfortune and misery this group of 14ers seems to often bring. Glad your run–in with the weather and bear alike wasn’t worse! Here’s hoping next time goes smoother...

Wish I lived in CO

Way to grin and bear it
08/06/2015 09:10
Those kinds of trips suck, but as you say still have their own element of fun. When you summit later on, it will be very rewarding! Personally I’m kicking the Blanca trip down the road, hoping the bear problem goes away.


Noble Effort
08/07/2015 17:12
What creeped me out is that you guys did all the right things and that bear still jacked with your tent. Becoming almost as infamous as the South Colony Lakes goat that terrorized people way back.

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