Peak(s):  Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,042 feet
Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Date Posted: 
Date Climbed:   09/18/2005
Author:  SarahT
 9/16-18 Little Bear (W Ridge), Ellingwood (SW Ridge), Blanca  

Since it looked like we were in store for a great weather weekend, my newfound hiking buddy David and I planned a trip to Lake Como. David was looking forward to climbing Blanca and Ellingwood, but when I told him I'd also have to check out Little Bear he didn't seem too keen on the idea. Trip reports had me a little scared myself, so I figured it might be good to find another partner for this undertaking. Even though David has so far proven to be a great scrambler, he just moved to Colorado this summer and has been climbing 14ers for little over a month. Shortly after posting an ad for a climbing partner, I heard from Dan who said he'd like to join us. He had already climbed Blanca and Ellingwood but wanted to get the Bear. I was happy to have another experienced peakbagger along for the mission.

Dan and I talked Friday afternoon and made tentative plans. David and I left Denver around 2pm to beat traffic and Dan said he'd leave around the same time from Aspen. We'd call each other as we neared the trailhead. Just south of Pueblo I got a call from Dan – near Twin Lakes he discovered that he'd forgotten the key to the cap of his truck at home and had to drive back over Independence Pass to get it. Surprisingly we reached the trailhead within 15 minutes of each other. David and I were planning on hiking the infamous Lake Como road in its entirety but Dan mercifully gave us a lift to 9,700 ft. Thanks a million, Dan! At first David and I were a little apprehensive about Dan coming along since he had forgotten critical items such as silverware and his ration of granola bars, and he seemed to be concerned when David mentioned that he worked for the Feds. However, the three of us turned out to be quite the crew and I think we all had a great time.

From 9,700 ft Dan set a torrid pace and we made good time to Lake Como, Dan arriving slightly before David and I. After setting up camp under some trees we chatted for a while and decided to give Little Bear a shot in the morning. We all had our doubts about the climb after hearing horror stories about the hourglass and reading various TRs.

In the morning we met two guys camping next to us who'd done the Little Bear – Blanca traverse and they gave us extensive beta on the Little Bear route. We set out around 7:30 and after climbing talus and a scree gully we reached the obvious notch in Little Bear's west ridge after 45 minutes. From here, the route to the base of the hourglass was straightforward and well cairned. We donned our helmets and began the infamous ascent. There was a minimal amount of ice in the center of the gully but it was very easy to negotiate. We all started wondering when it was going to get more difficult and scary – we were nearing the anchor from which the ropes were hanging. It just never happened. We all thought that the scrambling was great, exposure was minimal, and found the hourglass to be quite a pleasant surprise. Above it we found a group of three hanging out and assured them we'd chill on the summit long enough for them to safely get back down the hourglass. We arrived triumphantly on the summit at 10 and found a spot out of the wind to enjoy a nice long break under the sun. On the way back down the hourglass we took turns using the rather nice looking green rope to make a quick and easy descent. We felt that there was absolutely no need to use the rope, but since it was there we decided to have some fun with it. We returned to camp around 12:30 which left us in the odd position to relax at camp all day.

Soon, a highly modified Toyota truck and Jeep parked next to camp and the two young drivers put on a show, parking one truck's tire on the tire of the other. David and Dan chatted with them for a while. When they heard that Dan was in dire need of a spoon they thought it was quite comical and graciously donated 2 of the 24 they had brought up with them. Photographer Dan couldn't resist the photo op and managed to hitch a ride with them down to the uppermost Jaws section for some photos. I took a nap. David hung out, readied the firepit, and gathered some wood. That evening Dan had couscous and tuna for dinner, a decision he (and everyone) would later regret.

After a nice campfire (thanks, David) we retired with plans for Ellingwood and Blanca in the morning. Although Dan had already bagged these peaks, he had decided to stay and do the hike with us. He hadn't climbed Ellingwood's southwest ridge before. David woke up first and got the fire going again for some extra warmth (thanks again, David). We ate some breakfast and hit the road. heading for Ellingwood's southwest ridge. As Roach recommends, we followed the main trail to the tiny lake near 12,540 ft and then worked our way up some obvious ledges to the ridge crest. As previous trip reports advised, we stayed on the ridge crest the entire way. The climbing was continuous and the exposure severe in some places – we all agreed it was more difficult than what we'd done on Little Bear the day before. The ridge narrowed to a sharp knife edge at times. Dan's meal choice last evening was coming back to haunt him. This will always be remembered by us as "Flatulence Ridge". Things got stinkier when Dan got a little freaked in one spot by the exposure and I offered to climb right behind him for mental support. David, usually an Olympic speed scrambler, stuck closer to us too. Dan quickly got his mojo back (still very gaseous though) and we enjoyed the rest of the scramble to Ellingwood's summit.

The summit was very windy and it was hard to find a descent break spot. As we sat looking at Blanca towering above us, it seemed we still had a lot of climbing to do. To get over there, we tried to stay reasonably high on the connecting ridge. The only large obstacle we saw that needed to be bypassed was a notch near the saddle. Otherwise this ridge is pretty tame. We reached Blanca's summit without much effort and met Todd from NM. A short time later, two girls arrived. After a long break everyone else had headed down and we opted to do the same as we still had to pack up camp, pack out, and drive home. David wanted to talk to one of the girls again so ran ahead. Dan and I made our way down mostly talus into the basin. The three of us arrived back at camp around 4 and starting walking back down to the truck around 5:15. David had too much excess energy and shot ahead of us, saying he wasn't stopping at the truck and that he'd meet us at the bottom! He said he was seeing if he could beat us on foot, but the real reason was probably that he wanted to talk to that girl again. Dan and I reached the truck in not much more than an hour, rode down the remainder of the nasty road, and meet David at the bottom. Since it was late, we quickly parted ways and began the long drive home. All in all it was a fantastic weekend with new friends and we all did a lot of laughing.

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