Peak(s):  Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,042 feet
Date Posted:  11/24/2010
Modified:  12/06/2010
Date Climbed:   11/19/2010
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise
 Moonlight on Como  

Moonlight on Como:
Blanca and Ellingwood

Peaks: Blanca Peak, Ellingwood Point
Route: Como Road approach
Date: November 19, 2010
Length: 16.5 miles RT
Vertical: 6800 feet
Travel time: 10.5 hours
Total time: 11.5 hours
Ascent Party: Mountainmicah83, Dancesatmoonrise

Blanca Peak, as seen from the Ellingwood-Blanca connecting ridge

A Fall Day on Como

Solos are nice, but I'm feeling a little lonely. Last minute the phone rings. Micah's in. Excellent. We've got a nearly full waxing moon, so we opt for the sub-alpine start.

I'd never seen the Como Road. Micah's been up it five times, so he's the designated tour guide. We see a lifted Toyota parked on the flats. Micah balks, what's that guy doing, he could easily make it in that truck. I raise an eyebrow and continue on. Micah skillfully back-seats us toward the aspen grove at 8800 feet - but my puff-ball SUV has other ideas. The road is a bed of loose gravel - 8" gravel. Something a backhoe might love. The Honda gets stuck. Smoke; burning tire smell. We get out to inspect. It's a flat river rock on a flat section of road. This does not portend well. Meanwhile, it's getting later.

The aspen grove at 8800 feet on the Como Road

The lower Como Road

Do you guys ever spend a lot longer getting unstuck than it would take just to park and walk? One day I may learn this virtue.

A little sketched out, I manage to turn around and drive back through a tough section so we aren't faced with it after dark when we're tired. I pull over and park. Seven thirty, sun's been up half an hour.

Hiking the Como Road

Micah describes how they drove up the Como Road last Spring.

This legendary road does not seem so bad to hike. Uphill, at least. The lower road is dry. We have the place to ourselves. Micah entertains us with the story of he and Matt driving it with their friend John. They made it to the Lake, apparently quite the accomplishment. With every "Jaws" we encounter, Micah provides a full account of just how John and the gang managed to get the car through.

"Oh, yeah, the right wheel has to get clear up over this thing..."

"Yeah, it's dangerous. See that plaque?"

We pass Mike, who is learning the first rule of winter fourteenering. He is sitting in camp, playing with a frozen camelback. Apparently he gets it unstuck, and later follows our trench in the alpine.

There are a number of spots where warm days have put water across the road, which is now frozen. Soon we're into snow over ice. I finally give it up and don spikes and gaiters.

Contemplation of Little Bear

Nearing the lake, a lively discussion ensues, debating a change in plan. Micah wants to attempt Little Bear from either the hourglass or the NW face, then traverse to Blanca, and descend Blanca. I want to stay with the original plan, to ascend Ellingwood Point, then Blanca, then look at the traverse from Blanca. If we're ahead of schedule and it looks good, we do the traverse, and descend the ascent route. Neither of us wants to descend Little Bear in current conditions. I point out that if we are unsuccessful on the traverse after ascending LB, that's exactly what we'd be faced with. Micah compromises with a plan to do Blanca first, look at the traverse, do it if it looks good, then come back and get EP, promising to do EP even in the dark, assuring me it's an "easy" peak. Micah can't resist a nighttime mission, especially under a nearly full moon. I almost agree.

The Alpine

It's cold, windy, and intermittently overcast, but the alpine is beautiful. Leaving the lake, we get into about six or eight inches of fresh powder. By the time we're at Blue Lakes, we get into knee deep snow, and at times post-hole thigh-deep. Snowshoes would be a luxury. After the next storm, they will become a necessity.

Blue Lake in November

The Blue Lake is looking beautiful, its clear icy surface reflecting the peaks above.

Micah makes way for the first headwall.

The cirque above Crater Lake

After Crater Lake, we look up at the headwall in the cirque. Micah points out that the headwall can be turned either left or right. I feel a direct line up the middle is feasible, and take the lead. There is snow, but the steeper rock is relatively dry, providing plenty of options for safe ascent. The rock is solid. I revel in a few moments of shear climbing bliss.

Taking the third class direct

Micah and Mike approach the cirque direct

On the bench above the headwall, I emerge to find Micah, with Mike in tow, a ways behind, and at the far right of the bench. The bench is a minefield of talus covered in unconsolidated snow. Getting over to Micah risks a case of Teresa-leg. I call out but the banshees carry my voice up the cirque. I'm a little miffed that Micah doesn't stay the course when I'm on lead, but we've been partners long enough that we have a sort of silent communication. He knows I'm miffed, but communicates that he's feeling a little pooped, and why don't I go get EP while he and Mike take a more direct line to Blanca. Did he really say that?

The more direct line to Ellingwood Point sports the worst of summer and winter. Scree is not yet frozen in place, but covered with unconsolidated patchy snow. The terrain gets steep, becoming a nightmare of small loose rock. After a few slips and near-misses I head straight for the safety of the summit ridge. Travel is tricky. A slab cracks. I move to shallower snow, get out the axe, and go for the steeper but more solid rock above. I'm making moves that nag me, but I tell myself it's within my capability, the rock is solid, don't look down, and just keep climbing. Finally, the ridge offers solace. I find hints of the traverse trail, and a solid cairn on arrival at the summit ridge. Glad that's over. The traverse on the ridge should be a lot more reasonable.

On the Ellingwood-Blanca traverse, looking back at Blanca

Ellingwood Point can be seen at top left.

The rock is solid. The ridge has some snow, but is very reasonable and a lot of fun. Staying on the ridge proper, the exposure to the east gets interesting at times. I arrive at Ellingwood Point in about five hours after leaving the car. The views are spectacular.

Looking north to the remaining Sangre de Cristo range, the Crestones, and the Sand Dunes.

Lindsey's west aspect

Gazing at Little Bear from the summit of Ellingwood Point

The Ellingwood-Blanca traverse is the most enjoyable part of the trip. I look up to find Micah and Mike descending Blanca. I presume we'll meet in the saddle or just below, but it turns out I'm wrong - they're still ascending. Moving across the gap, I drop to the west to get around more difficult rock, and continue on to the saddle, starting the Blanca ridge.

Looking back up at Ellingwood Point from the Blanca-Ellingwood saddle

Near the top I bump into Mike, who is now descending. We exchange greetings. He's not on 14ers, but uses the beta. I welcome him and suggest he join in the discussions. We bid adieu. I continue on to find Micah waiting at the summit, where we have a look at the Blanca-Little Bear traverse.

Little Bear Peak, and the Blanca-Little Bear traverse before us, from the summit of Blanca Peak

Standing atop Blanca Peak, the fourth highest point in Colorado, the views are outstanding. Lindsey looks stately and relatively dry on its west flanks. The Gash Ridge looks fabulous. But Little Bear stands before us, to the west, stately, compelling, sovereign. The traverse looks doable. We both know without speaking that it's too late in the day for safe passage. The traverse looks long. It's three o'clock in the afternoon. We both know this means watching the sun set from Little Bear, at best. Considering the condition and seriousness of the descent, we're content to bag two peaks and call it a day.

Spanish Peaks and Culebra in the distance to the south, from Blanca Peak

Cold Turkeys on Blanca

Descending Blanca's summit ridge

The descent goes pretty much without a hitch. The talus-hopping in the lower cirque is a little tricky. The direct descent down the rock headwall is a hoot. The frozen lakes exude their quiet, tranquil beauty in the setting sun.

Blue Lake in November splendor

Looking back on the Ellingwood-Blanca cirque

Happy dude

We know it will be nearly dark by the time we're at Como Lake. We stop to eat at the little cabin and gear up for hiking the road by the rising moon.

Micah comments that once again, we are dancing at moonrise. What a lovely dance this day has been.

Well, I guess you can tell I like story-telling. Thanks for staying with me on this one, and sharing a fabulous Fall day in the mountains.

And many thanks to Micah, my friend and partner, for sharing a few more alpine miles together. Micah, you're solid gold.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

11/24/2010 23:01
What wise words about parking and walking instead of trucking on! I've had to learn the hard way too

I always look forward to your trip reports. Once again your pictures and the story kept me captivated start to finish. Thanks for letting me live vicariously until I can get back out there next year!


11/24/2010 23:03
Photos are fantastic and the narrative even better. Thanks for posting this!


11/24/2010 23:04
Amazing pictures and nice write-up. I sure hope to meet the legends of Colorado mountaineering someday. Congrats on a great day in the mountains!

James Scott

stunning pictures
11/24/2010 23:17
and what sounds like an incredible day. I especially love the sunset picture over the water. Thanks so much!


like it
11/25/2010 01:52
nice TR, gorgeous pictures!


11/25/2010 03:02
I've been looking forward to your TR for this outing and it did not disappoint. Your pictures and narrative were first-rate, as always. Congrats on a great day out!


Once again, Jim -
11/25/2010 04:13
- a respectable accomplishment and a great story! Thanks for a highly entertaining report.


11/25/2010 06:20
a great read when you post trip reports, thanks for sharing.

Wyoming Bob

Well done
11/25/2010 14:19
Photos . . . narrative . . . you set a very high bar with your reports . . .


As it goes...
06/02/2011 14:57
Another excellent report. I really appreciate you taking the time to post these. Thanks!


11/25/2010 15:59
Jim that 3rd to last photo of the sunset is amazing - great stuff!

Micah - how many times you gonna climb these


11/25/2010 16:19
Great report Jim--- still feel bad about being one of two snorers that had you move your tent at Snowmass Lake (after you made room for my tent) ---tremendous photos in your TR!



11/25/2010 16:52
Thanks, everyone!
Craig, no worries - I love that little private spot across the water and probably should have just planned for that to begin with. Great to see you getting some of these in the bag.
Barry, thanks for saying so. They are a lot of work but I enjoy it, and it's great to see others enjoying them too.
Bob, you're too kind!
Matt, I have a feeling there's a trip in the cards for us this winter.
Mountainjam, you probably already have. : )


11/25/2010 18:05
Jim...Your report looks like this was easy for us or something.

Matt- I'm not done with that basin yet. As Jim said, we still have big plans up there in the near future. I just had a day off come up at the last minute. You know... I got real sick suddenly and it was altitude sickness. I was sick of not receiving any altitude treatment for too long. This was where my partner was headed so I joined because I would rather a partner than a solo any day.


Good beta Jim
11/25/2010 19:03
I'm still heading off for the two on Saturday (after a quick warm-up on W. Spanish Friday). I very much appreciate the update on conditions. Hopefully the high winds from past few days have scoured that ridge.


11/25/2010 23:28
Dr. Dan, get your glutii back here asap. We miss you! Seriously, congrats on the scholastic achievement.
Michael, thanks. I'd head straight for the saddle, or even toward the right of the saddle, then catch that traverse trail and take it to the summit ridge. Do that, and you avoid any nasty stuff I hit on EP. Let me know how it goes. GL, and be safe.
Micah - big plans? Uh-oh. Hey, thanks for joining me on this one. It was nice to have a couple o' turkeys up there this Thanksgiving. I still can't believe how well your mental fortitude carries you physically when you've been working two jobs and not getting out. CB was incredible. We'll just have to get you more altitude therapy. Micah, you're a solid partner. Thanks, bro.


Premium Report Jim!
11/26/2010 01:03
With the star rating system this would be a 6 star. Excellent photos and report. Good Luck with your finish.


You guys are amazing....
11/28/2010 06:48
This is a tough round trip to do in summer much less winter time. And to do it all in 11.5 hours! Strong work. And Jim....Super nice photography and colorization. I'm mesmerized with photo 17 of the Crestones and the dunes. Your effects work is wonderful.

Another outstanding climb and trip report. Hope to climb some with you this winter.


Nicely Captured!
11/29/2010 04:49
Nicely captured Jim - photos are fantastic!

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