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Ellingwood Point

North Ridge via South Zapata Creek
Difficulty Easy Class 3 
Risk FactorsExposure: Considerable
Rockfall Potential: High  
Route-Finding: High  
Commitment: High  
TrailheadZapata Falls
Start9,060 feet
Summit14,057 feet
Total Gain5,000 using C2 Couloir, 5,500 using C3 Couloir, 6,000 using C2 + traverse to/from Blanca Peak
RT Length12.5 miles using C2 Couloir, 13.5 miles using C3 Couloir (both ways), 14 miles using C2 Couloir + traverse to/from Blanca Peak
Last UpdatedOct 2022
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From the town of Blanca, go west on US-160 and turn right (north) onto CO-150 for 10.7 miles and turn right onto a gated, graded, unpaved, 2WD road. Drive 3.5 miles up the road to reach the trailhead.


From the Zapata Falls TH 1TH parking lot head up the old dirt double track for 0.4mi towards Zapata Falls. You will come to a trail junction where the South Zapata Lake Trail splits to the right 2 . Turn right onto the South Zapata Lake Trail and the trail will begin a long switchback up onto the ridge south of Zapata Creek. From here you will get your first glimpse up the South Zapata Creek Valley 3 and of the Sand Dunes to your North 4. At 1.2mi you will reach a creek crossing. 5

After the creek crossing, there will be a series of very steep switchbacks that will climb up the side of the valley and get you high above the creek. Here you will get your first glimpse of Ellingwood Pt at the head of the valley 6 . The steep switchbacks will finally relent and will more gradually lead you up the valley and along a wide shelf. At 2.3mi you will cross California Gulch; the trail will continue climbing for another 100 yards or so before it levels off and then begins to drop ~160' of elevation over the next 0.1mi as you descend down nearer to South Zapata Creek. At the bottom of this downhill portion you will cross a side creek which is the North Fork of South Zapata Creek. Once the trail begins to climb again you will have 1.3mi to go until you reach tree line. At 3.75mi you will cross to the west side of South Zapata Creek and will continue up through the trees 1/4mi until you reach tree line at 4.0mi. Finally, you will reach South Zapata lake at 4.8mi.

You have arrived in the beautiful South Zapata Lake Basin and can gawk at Ellingwood Pt's 1200' high North Face towering above you. You will also begin to see your 2 options of how you will gain Ellingwood's North Ridge Route. Without snow 7 with snow 8

Option 1: C2 Couloir

This is the shortest option and the best option if you are doing this route early in the season and are prepared for a moderate snow climb. Or, if you are doing this route late in the season and the couloir has completely melted out. Since this is a north facing gully snow may remain in the couloir as late as mid-summer depending on snow pack.

Option 2: C3 Gully

This gully is hidden from you when you get to South Zapata Lake. It is further up in the basin to your right. It is also north facing but is not as deeply inset and melts out a month or so sooner than the C2 does. It adds ~1/2mi (each way) VS the C2 Couloir and requires more elevation gain as you have to traverse some bumps up and down Ellingwood Pt's West Ridge.

Here is a bird's eye view of the two routes taken from high on Ellingwood Pt's North Ridge. 9 The C3 gully is drawn in green and the C2 Couloir is drawn in red. Here is another view from the base of the C2 Couloir that shows the two options splitting at South Zapata Lake. 10

WARNING: You will also see the Crossfire Couloir just to the left of the C2 Couloir. It is tempting to climb this couloir as it gains Ellingwood Pt's West Ridge at the lowest point. DO NOT attempt to ascend or descend this couloir. It is VERY steep and dangerous whether snow filled (icy) or dry (hard packed scree). 14

Option 1:

Head left at the outlet of South Zapata Lake and follow a use trail that goes around a rock glacier and higher up into the basin to the base of the C2 Couloir's talus cone. With snow 11 without snow. 12 Head up the couloir/talus finding more solid/stable rock along the right side of the talus cone. Near the top, be sure to stay RIGHT when the narrowing gully branches. The left branch will lead you to a section with no good hand holds and very steep dirt with poor footing. The right branch will keep you on easier rock. At the top you will pop out onto Ellingwood Pt's West Ridge.

Option 2:

If the C2 Couloir is snow filled and you would rather not do a snow climb, from the outlet for South Zapata Lake head Right/SW up grassy ledges, benches and some talus filled gullies until you reach the upper basin and a small tarn comes into view with the C3 Gully above it. 13 Cross the talus and begin climbing the gully. There is a "use" trail you can follow up for much of the gully. This gully will pop you out further west along Elingwood Pt's West Ridge. And give you this view 15 From here it is tempting to traverse along the south slope of the West Ridge (purple dashed line in the previous image) so you don't have to go up and down some bumps along the ridge. DO NOT do this! This south facing slope is very steep, loose, and dangerous and you have to cross some VERY treacherous gullies along the way. So once at the top of the C3 gully climb up onto the ridge crest and follow it over several bumps until you reach the top of the C2 gully as you see in this picture 9

North Ridge of Ellingwood Pt:

Once you have reached the top of the C2 gully using either option, climb up the steep talus along Ellingwood Pt's West Ridge 15 seen as the red route in this picture.

After a steep slog up the talus you will gain Ellingwood Pt's North Ridge and you will see the rest of your route to the summit. 16 Ellingwood Pt's North Ridge has a spectacular precipice on its east side but there is plenty of talus on the west side so you never have to go too close to it except for the last 100ft near the summit. Continue up the North Ridge until you reach a section of easy Class 3 climbing in the last 100' to the Ellingwood Pt's SW Ridge. 17 This picture is taken looking down this section 18

Once you reach the summit ridge, turn left and scramble on easy Class 2/3 rock ~50' up to Ellingwood Pt's summit.

From here you can either return the way you came or if you have the time and energy and MOST IMPORTANTLY the weather is cooperating, you can do a traverse to Blanca Peak.


Here are some pictures of this route in Spring (May 2014) conditions.
Nearing South Zapata Lake 19
From Zapata Lake looking at Ellingwood and C2 Couloir 20
Starting up C2 Couloir looking down 21
Halfway up C2 Couloir looking up 22
Almost to top of C2 Couloir looking down 23
Topping out on C2 Couloir looking at rest of route to Ellingwood Pt 24
Ellingwood North Ridge 25
Along Ellingwood North Ridge looking back towards Crossfire Ridge 26
Snow traverse just below summit of Ellingwood PT 27


REMEMBER: If you do the traverse to Blanca Peak you MUST climb back over Ellingwood Pt's summit and descend the C2 couloir or C3 gully. Having said that, doing the combo of Blanca and Ellingwood by this route has a similar elevation gain compared to hiking the Lake Como Rd from 8800' but is still 1-2mi shorter. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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