Alamosa County High Point Trip Report

Blanca Peak (14,345 ft)

Date: July 14, 2000
Author: Adam Helman

The Blanca Peak massif forms a most impressive sight near the town of Alamosa and is a short drive south from Great Sand Dunes Nat'l Monument. Indeed, Blanca Peak has, aside from Mt Elbert and Pikes Pk, the highest prominence of any other Colorado summit (5,305 ft). On approach by car from the south or west, the peak looms over six thousand vertical feet above the valley floor.

It is the only "three-fer" in the United States, as it is the highpoint of Alamosa, Costilla and (almost - see below) Huerfano counties.

From I-25 turn west at Walsenburg and head for some 60 miles on route 160 until the northbound turnoff onto route 150 to Grand Sand Dunes National Monument. Or, if traveling from central Colorado head south on route 17 until Alamosa, when east on route 160 about ten miles until the aforementioned intersection with route 150.

After three miles N on route 150, encounter a dirt road heading northeast directly towards the Blanca massif. Take the road as far as your vehicle's suspension system and ground clearance will permit:

A normal automobile, such as my rented Grand Am, will go no further than where the alluvial fan has spread out at the mountain's base (7,800 ft). A 4WD vehicle will be fortunate to take the jeep trail to perhaps the 9,000 ft level or slightly higher. Only a "superjeep" with an articulated suspension system and two foot ground clearance will safety negotiate the large rocks, and even boulders, sitting on the jeep trail beyond that level. In so doing it is possible to reach the jeep trail's end, as Lake Como at 11,740 ft.

I had arrived the prior evening at six and was lucky enough to be offered a ride in a 4WD jeep by another hiker. We managed to get up to perhaps 9,200 ft before he decided that enough was enough. He started walking up the trail, as sunset approached, while I pitched camp near his vehicle and settled in for the night.

There are two main options for climbing Blanca Pk by this standard route. The first option is to make a one-day ascent from as far up as your vehicle will tolerate. The second option is to start at the base, overnight at Lake Como, and summit the following morning. My original plan called for the overnight option. However at 9,200 ft I would have "only" a 5,150 vertical foot day hike and would save a precious day for other activities.

I awoke at 4:15 AM and was hiking up the jeep trail by 5:15. The jeep trail was boring, and would have been terribly uncomfortable with a full pack by the mid-day sun (which I would not recommend seeing as on descent the following day I encountered several backpackers enroute uphill to Lake Como who appeared miserable from the combined effort and heat). However, should one decide to overnight at Lake Como (and many do), there are camping facilities and even a few cabins. I passed Como at 7:30.

After Lake Como a horse trail continues up through thinning forest to timberline at 12,000 feet. One passes some lakes at this height, the trail reaches 12,200 feet, and then steepens as it winds through a rocky slope until you top out at 12,600 feet.

At this elevation the Crater Lakes are visible. Stay to the left of the lakes, that is to their north, and keep a sharp eye out for cairns that mark the ever-narrowing trail. You traverse the length of these lakes, and then climb another rocky terrace until you top out at perhaps 12,900 or 13,000 feet.

At this point your destination becomes obviously visible to the southeast while Ellingwood point (14,042 ft) is also visible to the northeast. Little Bear Pk (14,037 ft) has been in view ever since timberline.

Try to follow the narrowing trail, marked by cairns every 100 feet or so, as it generally heads east towards the saddle connecting Blanca Pk with Ellingwood. If you lose the trail that's OK: just generally head east towards the ridgeline. Regardless of whether on trail or not, above 13,000 ft you are relegated to rock hopping at nearly every step.

Do not attempt to "cut out" early and head directly to the summit without first reaching the saddle! Although it will appear to lower the distance traveled, the overall time saved will be negligible owing to more precarious rock outcroppings.

Encounter the saddle at perhaps 13,800 feet and head south up the ridgeline, now over boulders and with excellent handholds throughout. This is fun since by now the adrenaline rush of success is hopefully at hand. I spy Little Bear Pk and then Ellingwood fall beneath my horizontal gaze.

It is stated that the Huerfano county highpoint lies along the northeast ridge of Blanca Pk perhaps 100 feet horizontally from the summit. Thus to claim this county you must remain on the ridge, i.e. do not veer off to the right as you approach the summit.

I attained the summit at 10 AM and stepped on both of two possible points that could have been the physically highest point (and, of course, the highpoint of both Alamosa and Costilla counties).

Here is a summit photograph of myself.

After a one hour summit siesta I departed (11 AM), retracing the route of ascent as much as possible. I was back to my tent at 2:30 PM and hunkered down while a passing thunderstorm dropped its unwelcome trash.

Despite the inclement weather I decided to pack up and head down - I was low on water and would not have enough for the totality of rehydrating myself, cooking supper, and the hike down the following morning.

I took a motel for the evening in Alamosa, showered, cooked supper in the room, and made telephone calls. I used the "extra day" the very next day to investigate central Colorado real estate for my brother who fancies a ranch at retirement.

Blanca Peak was very rewarding. The views above timberline are inspiring. Besides, where else may one collect three counties in a single step?