Alamosa County Highpoint Trip Report

Blanca Peak (14,345 ft) and Ellingwood Point (14,042 ft)

Date: August 14, 2004
Author: Kevin Baker

route via northwest face and north ridge traverse to Ellingwood

Blanca had been on my short list for quite some time as it is the only 3-fer county highpoint in the U.S. I had not yet hiked in the Blanca Group and was looking forward to these impressive peaks. My friends Patrick Thornley, Matt Williams, and Risa joined me on this adventure. Pat & Risa left Colorado Springs earlier in the day on Friday in order to scout the infamous Como Lake road in daylight. Matt and I headed for Alamosa after work and arrived around 8 pm. Pat reported that his stock late model Jeep made it up to around the 8800-foot level just below the wooden Mount Blanca sign. From there, he felt it would be a crap shoot to continue.

We went to bed early and headed out at 4 am with Blanca and Ellingwood on the agenda. I parked my Hyundai Santa Fe just 1.6 miles from the beginning of the road. Pat advised me to park there to avoid the cobblestones. The Santa Fe could have made it another mile or so but why put it through the abuse. We made slow progress up the road, finally parking at around 8800 feet. If we were not awake before, we were now from the bone-jarring ride. We set off at 5:10 am under clear skies and temps probably in the low 50s. The road wasted no time ascending into Chokeberry Canyon as we struggled to get into a rhythm. I was amazed at how many stock 4WD SUV's made it past 10,000 feet. This road is definitely the worst road I have ever seen. We came to the first "Jaws" section and were shocked by the steepness of the boulders in the middle of the road.

We got our first look at Little Bear about a mile or so before Lake Como. Matt spotted some climbers doing the traverse from Little Bear to Blanca. Pretty scary looking stuff. They must have started real early from Lake Como to be that high. After about 2 1/4 hours and 2800 feet of brutal road, we made it to beautiful Lake Como. From here, the ominous west face of Little Bear is overhead. At this point, we still could not see Blanca or Ellingwood until further up the trail. There were numerous 4WD diehards camping at the lake. Most of the tires we saw on these vehicles were over 3 feet high. Very expensive hobby. A few vehicles went all the way up to Blue Lakes, even though they are not supposed to.

Somewhere around 12,000 feet, we got our first look at our goals for the day. From this vantage point, Ellingwood looked higher than Blanca. Just above Lake Como, I met my friends John Collard and his girlfriend, Renata. We had hoped to meet on this hike as they camped at the lake. We chatted for awhile, then continued the climb. Above Blue Lakes, the climbers trail becomes harder to follow as it ascends the steep northwest face of Blanca. There were plenty of cairns but multiple routes. The talus soon became very annoying.

As the sun rose over the ridge, it became more difficult to follow the route through the maze of talus as we were looking up into it. We saw some parties making their way down, including a large CMC group who were on their way over to Ellingwood. I kept an eye on the route they took below the 3rd class ridge as we would be doing the traverse later. From Blanca, the traverse to Ellingwood looks harder than class 2. I gained the ridge at around 13,800 feet to the right of the saddle and made the final 500-foot assault. I stayed on or 20-30 feet below the ridge following the path of least resistance, occasionally peering over the abyss into the Huerfano valley. The final 100 feet to the summit was pretty steep and I topped out at 10:10 am with a father and son. When I was on the ridge, I became concerned with some dark clouds forming to the east, which were blowing back to the west. They didn't appear to be storm clouds yet but I kept my visit on the summit to 20 min or so. There was no register and the views were limited by the clouds.

I started making my way down, and Matt was within 100 feet or so of the summit. I told him I would wait for him near the saddle and we could make a decision on Ellingwood. In the haste to descend, I did not look for the unofficial Huerfano county highpoint, which is supposed to be 100 feet or so down the ridge at the intersection with the northeast ridge. Pat found a couple of cairns on his way down, so I don't know if I got that one. I may have to come back for that one. I told everyone else that I would play it by ear and wait at the saddle. When I got back down below the saddle, I decided to keep going since the weather was still a little unsettled. I stayed within 100 feet or so of the ridge at around the 13,800 feet to avoid the class 3 difficulties. There were a few moves to get around the corner of some ledges but it was much easier than it looked from higher up. I lost the trail a couple times but there were quite a few cairns to follow. The CMC group was finally making their way down as I neared the summit. They must have had a long party up there. At around 11:40, I summitted Ellingwood Point marking #27 for me, the halfway point. A couple of guys came up a few minutes after me, one from Iowa and the other from Chicago. Ellingwood was #51 for the guy from Iowa. Impressive for a flatlander!

Blanca was obscured for the most part in the hour I was on the summit. At one point, the steep northwest ridge peeked through the clouds and I could see people on the summit. It looked so surreal! I saw Pat and Risa making their way across the traverse, so I decided to wait for them. I never got a good look at Little Bear or Lindsey from here but the views down the northeast face of Ellingwood were scary! Clouds were now on both sides of me and I heard a couple distance rumbles of thunder, so I decided to go down. I yelled across to Pat and Risa and they wondered where Matt was. We concluded that he must have descended when he didn't see me at the saddle. I made a descending traverse down the loose talus, taking a painful hour to get back down to Crater Lake. I hooked back up with the Blanca trail and met up with John and Renatta, who decided to do Ellingwood the next day. They were carrying much heavier packs, so that was probably a good move. We leisurely made our way back to Como Lake so I could wait on Pat and Risa.

Pat and Risa arrived, and we made the final 4.5 mile death march back to our car. As always, I made a fool of myself tripping over the rocks and sliding down the steep road. We were surprised that there weren't too many 4WD's making their way up on a Saturday afternoon, but there were quite a few backpackers heading to Como Lake. We made it back down to the car, where Matt had arrived shortly before us. His knees were bothering him so he had decided to head down and do Ellingwood another day. All in all, another great day to be in the mountains!

Climb statistics:
About 15 miles round trip, with 6,100 feet of total elevation gain from 8,800 feet.
5 hours up; 1 hour 11 minutes traverse to Ellingwood Point; 4 hours down.