A Long Day on Ellingwood and Blanca

After Culebra last Saturday, I thought the misery would be over for a while. It’s turning into spring, I thought. No more bitterly cold, painfully long, 11+ hour days for a while, I thought. We’ll have good, stable, easy to climb snow, I thought. And then this past Saturday happened. After driving for a few hours to the Lake Como road, and an hour of 4-wheeling (which included cutting branches and shoveling snow-drifts that were obstructing the road), we arrived at 10,100′ for a luxurious three and a half hours of sleep, my spot being the front passenger seat. It was not warm, and I was only able to be comfortably warm by wearing a puffy on top of my other clothes inside my 15 degree bag.

The 3:30 wake-up call was not a pleasant one. It was so cold that I abandoned my oatmeal plan, and just shoveled down a PB&J that I didn’t eat for dinner, and downed a bottled Starbucks thing that I grabbed at a gas station the night before. As tends to be the case, getting started in the morning was slow, and an hour later we were walking up the rocky road towards Lake Como.

Another hour and a half later, it was still bitterly cold, although it was finally starting to get light out. Shortly after crossing the lake, we saw a group of five or six approaching for Little Bear.

As seemed to be the case with everything this day, we took an approach line that, while beautiful, was certainly “interesting.”

The sun kept getting closer, and we kept getting colder on the long approach. Our first target of the day was Ellingwood Point, which is the far peak just left of the large saddle in the middle. We’d already been moving for over two hours when this photo was taken.

The appearance of the sun in the valley was a welcome sight. We were still cold, but at least we were getting higher and closer to the first peak.

It was near this point that a discussion on our route to the top took place. Some felt that gaining the west ridge directly would be faster, while others preferred an approach to the south face. This is also the spot where we went from freezing cold to boiling hot.

The ridge approach was made. While it was certainly more interesting, it was by no means faster (Ellingwood is off to the right of this photo).

As we climbed, we encountered several non-trivial sections. While I felt less secure with my two wippets than I would have with an axe, the climbing certainly seemed easier for me. Tradeoffs I suppose

Onward and upward, we slowly approached the summit.

Due to the difficult snow and terrain, we didn’t top out until 10:45. The views from here were amazing, as the Sangres simply drop 7,000′ to the huge flat desert.

Despite feet of snow last week, things were thin on the high peaks. Little Bear:

And Blanca, with building storm clouds behind (and the Spanish Peaks off in the back to the left):

It didn’t look good. The snow was thin, crappy, and full of rocks. It didn’t sound good, either, after Carl skied off the top.

This shot of Ben is from a little ways down, where the coverage was much less bad (though still not good):

Before traversing over to the base of our climb for Blanca, there was discussion of a mini-mutiny, of bagging it rather than climbing back up. It was hot, rocky, and clouds were brewing. This talk proved to be fruitless, though it provided plenty of laughs later in the afternoon. After first discussing not climbing it and then saying ok we’ll climb but leave our skis, we all went for the top, skis in tow.

After a couple hours of an ill-conceived scaling of the relentless north face of Blanca through rock slabs and talus with a thin covering of light snow (and without a single ledge to stop and rest on), we were on top with a storm moving in. Because of this, we spent no more than five minutes on top. Here’s Carl descending, with Ellingwood in the background.

On the way out, I stopped to take a photo of this rock, because it’s gigantic and looks like a bear. It was more bear-like in the morning, but was still clearly a bear. I showed this to one person who vehemently denies the fact that it looks like a bear, though I merely mentioned “the huge rock that looks like a bear” to a guy who was there a week prior and he knew exactly what I was talking about.

The ski out was remarkably decent, though the couple-mile walk down the jeep road was miserable. It ended up around 13 hours with terrible cold and heat, and horrible snow for climbing and skiing. Not what I was expecting, but certainly rewarding.

We stopped for calzones at a place in Fort Garland called All-Gon, and I will be going back any time I’m hungry and in the area. With that and a Dairy Queen stop in Pueblo for blizzards, we weren’t back in Denver until about 11pm. I slept in before heading to Loveland for closing day, which was an absolute blast, despite exhaustion and sore muscles. Until next time..

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