June 18th, 2004
We weren't able to get out of Boulder until about 4 p.m. and we learned from 2 weeks ago that the traffic from Denver to Colorado Springs would absolutely suck, so opted to take HWY 285 up to Buena Vista, then head south through Poncho Springs. Traffic on 285 wasn't bad and we were hoping to get down to the Blanca Group with some daylight left to head up Lake Como Road. As we traveled past the the Sangre De Cristos, the very tops of the peaks, were covered in some whispy clouds. It was very cool looking. Kit Carson and the Crestones could be seen towering above the San Luis Valley. We were making pretty good time, but didn't get to Lake Como Road until about 9 p.m. Looks like we would be contending with the road in the dark, maybe it is better that way. The photo below is the Blanca Group taken on the way back to Boulder Saturday afternoon.
The road starts out pretty bumpy, but lacks any major obstacles to prevent a 4wd from proceeding. We came to a spot where a bunch of vehicles were parked right before a section with some pretty big ruts. I had to throw the 4runner into 4wd and lock out the rear differential to get through this section. It wasn't really that bad, but my 4runner has traction control on it, which in these situations, is really quite annoying, because as your tires lose traction and spin, it cuts power to the engine, and eventually, you're basically stalled out on the steep slope. Locking out the rear diff is the only way I can disable the traction control and I made it through this section with no trouble. Continuing onward, the road has a couple tight switchbacks, but nothing that poses any major problems unless you were driving a long wheel base vehicle. We made it about 3.5 miles up the road where we found a nice pullout before the road switchbacks to the right, and decided this was a good place to park. We set up camp in back of the 4runner and hit the sack around 10 p.m. The stars were big and bright and off in the distance to the southeast we could see lightning flashes every couple seconds.
June 19th, 2004
The alarm sounded at 4 a.m. and we were slow to get up and eat breakfast. We started hiking about 5 a.m. and as we headed up the road we hadn't come to anything that the 4runner wouldn't have been able to get over. After hiking for about 20 or 30 minutes, we came to the first major obstacle, which was a large rock bisecting the road, about 3 or 4 feet tall. No way was the 4runner getting over this.
We kept hiking and quickly came to a stream crossing that was about 30 or 40 feet long, with no rocks to hop on. We figured there had to be a better place to cross so we hiked through the trees about 100 feet above the road, and found a nice place to cross on some logs. The road climbs pretty steeply and continuing onward we came to the next batch of serious obstacles. One section even has a plaque mounted on a rock that claimed a guy's life back in 2002. We finally made it to Lake Como at 6:30 a.m. and the view of Little Bear's northwest face is awesome.
Looking across the lake, we saw 2 vehicles parked, one was a Toyota truck lifted about 6 inches with 35 inch tires, the other to my amazement was an older Jeep that looked almost stock. It had a winch on it, and I wonder if he had to winch over some of the major obstacles. Blanca and Ellingwood are still not visible from the Lake Como. We skirted the east side of Lake Como and continued up the road to the Blue Lakes. There were several campsites near the spot where the route to Little Bear departs from the road. We came over a hill and had our first views of the Blue Lakes with an awesome waterfall to the east. In the photo below, the route heads up the slope to the left of the waterfall, then crosses over the stream at the top of the waterfall. Ellingwood Point is the highest peak in the photo below.
As we neared the bottom of the waterfall, we noticed 5 bighorn sheep relaxing on a grassy ledge, can you see all 5 in the photo below?
We were originally planning to climb Ellingwood Point first via the southwest ridge, but the weather was spotty and the peaks became socked in with clouds. Amy and I decided to do the standard approach and now climb Blanca first, and if the weather allowed, traverse over to Ellingwood. From the top of the waterfall, you would proceed up the slopes to the left to gain Ellingwood's southwest ridge. The photo below shows our route up Blanca Peak, taken on the descent.
As we neared the saddle, we took advantage of the snowfields, which were easier to ascend than the rocks. We had brought our ice axes just in case but never used them since the snow was suncupped pretty well.
Nearing the saddle, the clouds surrounding the peaks seemed to be getting thicker. We decided it was time for a stash-and-dash. We dropped our packs and made a mad dash to the summit of Blanca Peak.
We hurried up the ridge towards Blanca Peak, not knowing exactly where the summit was. After about 15 minutes from dropping our packs, we couldn't climb any higher. We summited Blanca Peak at 9 a.m. and were treated to the wonderful views below.
I was a little bummed out by the view, I wanted to see the gnarly ridge over to Little Bear Peak and also peer down into the Huerfano Valley to the east. I'm sure the views from Blanca are quite spectacular on a clear day. We snapped some summit photos, found a place to write our name in the very filled up summit register, and took off back to the saddle to retreive our packs. Midway down to the saddle the clouds were beginning to break and we could actually see Ellingwood Point. We could also see the San Luis valley and there weren't any threatening clouds forming yet, so I knew we would be able to sneak up Ellingwood as well. The photo below shows our route up Ellingwood.
We retreived our packs and began the traverse over to Ellingwood Point. You can bypass any of the difficulties by dropping a couple hundred feet of elevation off the saddle, but we decided to stay higher and traverse the funner looking portions of the traverse. Our route took us across some broken cliffs and ledges, and also gullies filled with snow.
The south face up Ellingwood is pretty loose rock but luckily is pretty short. We made it to the summit of Ellingwood Point at 10 a.m., 1 hour from the summit of Blanca Peak, Little Bear Peak is behind me in the photo below.
The views had improved dramatically and we could see the Huerfano Valley to the east and the San Luis Valley to the west. For a larger version of the photo below, CLICK HERE.
While we were enjoying the views from Ellingwood's summit, we could see a large party traversing the ridge between Little Bear and Blanca Peak. They looked like tiny ants on this long and gnarly ridge. I made an early Father's Day call to my dad and this time he was home. Last year I tried to call him from the summit of La Plata Peak but he wasn't there, D'oh. We stayed on the summit for about 20 minutes before departing. It was slowing going down the loose slopes of Ellingwood's south face until we made it back to the snowfields. The snow made travel much faster and I had a couple of good boot-skis. The views back toward Crater Lake were incredible.
We made it back to the trail and as we proceeded down to Como Lake, we passed a couple of parties heading up to Blanca. It was noon when we made it back to Lake Como and now we just had the miserable descent down the road. The road is like walking across a floor covered with marbles and loves to twist ankles. We took some photos of the more menacing obstacles on Lake Como Road and were hoping to see somebody come by and try to drive up them. A couple of jeeps passed by us, but unfortunately we were well below the serious obstacles. The wind was blowing a little bit, but it was still pretty hot walking down the road. On a calm summer day walking the road is probably unbearable. We finally made it back to the 4runner at 1:30 p.m., bringing our roundtrip time to 8.5 hours. We weren't home free yet, we still had the drive down Lake Como Road. Going back down the road with gravity on your side is much easier, but you do get tossed around quite a bit. I promised my 4runner I wouldn't take it on that road ever again. Amy and I have now finished the Blanca Group and only have Culebra Peak left in the Sangre De Cristos. I'm up to 46 fourteeners now and Amy is at 34. It was one year ago this weekend, that Amy and I climbed Huron Peak, her first 14er. 34 in one year, not too bad.....for a girl. Just kidding. Time to start traveling to Aspen and start working on the Elk Range.