Peak(s):  Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Date Posted:  03/05/2020
Date Climbed:   02/29/2020
Author:  PeakSixTD
 Pilgrimage to Sisnaajini   

On 2/28/20 I set out from my house near Lake George in hopes of bagging Ellingwood point and Blanca peak in calander winter. For those unfamiliar, Blanca also goes by another alias. The mighty "Sisnaajini" stands proud and tall over the eastern homelands of the Navajo people. This peak was much more than just a landmark; it was considered to be holy grounds. I had read an article written by a member of the Navajo people a few years back stating that the peak was allowed to be climbed by members of the tribe seeking a spiritual pilgrimage. In fact, it was documented that Lieutenant George Wheeler led an expedition to the summit in 1874. What they found was shocking. Not only did they find out that they were not the first humans to step foot on the summit, they had also found a man made structure at the top! This is fascinating to me. It is widely speculated that this would have been constructed by the Navajo for spiritual or ritualistic purposes. Im not a historical expert, and this is simply information i found online... However my sense of wonder is always invoked by hearing stories of my predecessors venturing into the high peaks. It sounds like the mountains were more than just piles of rocks to the early peoples of our state. What a coincidence... they are to me as well. Each time I embark on a journey to this area I always try and treat it the same way they did. As a spiritual pilgrimage...

Now for the climb! Since i had to work the day before (poor me right?) I decided to do something unusual and stay in a motel the night before. Feels weird paying for a room your only going to spend four hours in.... oh well. I had my alarm set for 2:50 am. I was awake when it went off...lovely. No time to fret, coffee was slammed and i was on my way. For those wondering, it only takes 25 mins to the start of Lake Como road from Alamosa. I drive a Jeep Cherokee and have made it to Jaws .5 in the past. Probably could take it to 10,200 in summer conditions. It would take very careful driving though. I only ended up making it to 8,600 due to a brief down sloping icy path. Had i made it past this, I could have shaved off a couple more miles and made it to 9,200 or so. I was 90% sure i could get back up it, but why chance it? Especially with the unusually warm temps forecasted this day.

The first few road miles went surprisingly quickly. I didn't run into continuous snow until 10,000 feet. There is a "trench" if you want to call it that. More of a walk on old congealed snow shoe tracks if you ask me. Still helped to aid against post holing. The trench splits off around 11,200 or so. One way goes to Lake Como and then to the standard route around the lake. The other one skirts the left side of Como, ascends the short steep section over the rocks, and spits you out in the lower basin. I would definitely recommend this variation, as it saves close to a half mile by my estimate.

I had put a post out on the dot com stating that i was planning on being here on this day. I received a response from another soloist saying that he was going to make a go at these peaks as well. He was planning on parking very high in a highly formidable 2020 Jeep Wrangler. He had also planned to start before me as well so i wasn't sure if we would end up linking up or not. At first i was convinced i was alone, as the tracks coming the other way seemed to be more pronounced than any leading towards the lake. It wasn't til the fork in the trench that i began to think i had company up there. The tracks slowly became more defined. Someone was ahead of me...


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Taken on the way back...


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Our snowshoes tracks through the lower basin


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Here we are at the base of Vinson Massif, Antarctica. Or maybe that's Colorado?

Snowshoes were invaluable once past Lake Como. The snow was very supportive for the most part, but when you did post hole it would be up to your waist. Flotation made this stretch absolutely cruiser. Great time was made and I even caught a glimpse of my predecessor! I sped up and flagged down my newly acquired climbing partner. He was happy to see me as well, and we began to chase down our objectives together. We started up the slopes leading out of the upper basin, finding bullet proof snow. Snowshoes were stashed and crampons came on. The first stretch was a breeze, and the steep consolidated snow made for an easy ascent. Unfortunately, this was about to change. After a few hundred feet the snow turned into a sugary and sometimes slushy nightmare... A stark contrast from the prior pitches. Generally i find that the snow is more stable higher up... not the case today. The ridge proper on Blanca seemed to be an exception to this. Nice hard packed snow dotted the somewhat narrow ridge making for some seriously enjoyable mountaineering. Im not a path of least resistance kind of guy (unless on loose, unstable terrain) so my line traversed the edge of the ridge the entire time, sometimes even climbing on the other side. Even 10 feet on the other side of the ridge gave way to unsupportive snow. Weird.


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The other climber heading towards the ridge


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Too much fun


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Sweetness


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Some loser soaking in the views

It was around this point that I started having my doubts about Ellingwood. I really wanted to hit the traverse in winter, but given the highly varied snow conditions and rising temperatures, I figured it probably wasn't worth risking it on this day. Im pretty confident I could have ascended it without issue, but wasn't sure how things would be mid day during peak melt. Particularly if I descended an alternate route to the traverse... Ellingwood was holding much more snow. There hadn't been a significant storm in a week, so i figure this might be due to wind patterns. Either way I was thoroughly enjoying myself and was totally content with having to return to a beautiful region. Getting greedy and going for Ellingwood as well might go against the spiritual pilgrimage philosophy, which was not something I felt like compromising on. Having a good time took priority over my list ticking endeavors.


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Who wants to hit Gash Ridge someday?


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Another time =]


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Sisnaajini summit... snowflake #20!!


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Pristine... i spent 45 mins up here.


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The Sierra Blanca... White sawtooth mountains.


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Woohoo! Snowflake #20 in the bag. It's been quite a journey so far. As harrowing as winter climbing can become, we get to appreciate views that few people on earth ever do. I wouldn't trade these memories for the world... and I dont plan on ceasing to make new ones anytime soon! The wind that accompanied me on the ridge was basically still at the summit. So peaceful. My new acquaintance was in my sights the whole time, but his pace was decreasing drastically. I descended down to him to check on his well being. He did mention that he started to feel mountain sick. Not what you want to hear in the high country during the winter months. He was so close to the summit that he wanted get up there despite his condition. He was only 10 mins off so I felt confident he could bag it safely. I stayed high on the ridge and waited for him. I crept down as slowly as i could while still staying warm. Despite the ambient air temperature, there was enough wind to keep me chilly while stationary. I would wait for him to get down to where i was, then descend another 50 feet. That's how the next several hours went. We encountered one other climber on this day who started after either of us. He decided to wait with me at incremental points down the mountain as well just in case our third soloist took a turn for the worst. Fortunately his pace increased significantly as we descended. Once back to Lake Como, it was apparent he was no longer in danger. He had confided in me that he was feeling basically all better. With that news, I began racing back to my vehicle at 8,600. I had forgotten that I noticed a headlight out on my jeep when I got going in the morning. I had a four hour drive back home and didn't feel like getting pulled over 42 times so i had to figure out other accommodations.


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Last views for the day

I was hoping to reach my vehicle before dark, but I lost so much time making sure the other climber was okay that i knew that wasn't going to happen. I proceeded to talk myself into getting another motel that night, as I dont own winter camping gear. One perk of this was waking up the next morning only a 30 minute drive from one of my favorite mineral collecting localities in the state, the Del Norte agate fields! Had a fun time the next day recovering a few quality specimens for the cabinet. My pilgrimage to Sisnaajini provided everything i had hoped for, despite not reaching one of my predetermined objectives. Even as i write this, my soul feels free and my spirits are rejuvenated. What a marvelous day.




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
ltlFish99
Excellent report
03/06/2020 00:23
Nice job. What a beautiful mountain.


Will_E

Nice
03/06/2020 12:19
Great job, Blanca is amazing. Nice pics too!


JaLoh

Great story telling!
03/07/2020 08:11
Appreciate the report!



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