We almost bailed. The plan to hike Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point was to drive down to the Sangre de Cristo range then up the 4wd road towards Blanca Peak. We’d drive the jeep as far up as we comfortable, backpack the rest of the way, and camp at Lake Como, summiting the next day. But Friday came with a weather forecast that did not look promising: rain and thunder. But we went anyway, counting on the mercurial mountains to prove the forecast wrong.
And yes, by the time we hit La Veta Pass the rain was coming down in buckets accompanied by more than enough lightning and thunder. It had stopped by the time we started up the 4wd road, but the clouds still had some anger in them. The jeep had a fairly easy time of it. But the 4wd road is reputedly the most challenging one in Colorado. So around 10,000 ft we felt that we didn’t want to press our luck — we parked, strapped on the packs, and continued on foot.
The road confirmed our decision to stop when we did – there were parts that would have just eaten my unmodified Wrangler, aptly called Jaws 1, 2, or 3. The road for hiking had a good share of cobble-sized rocks, but we made the 3 miles & 1,750′ to Lake Como in a little under 2 hours and no rain.
And Lake Como! Wow, just wow. With the skies clearing and Little Bear Peak lit by the setting sun, we had one of our best campsites ever. Maybe one other group across the lake and more came in after dark, but for the evening we had it all to ourselves.
The mountains did prove mercurial, and contrary to the forecast summit day was as clear and blue as Lake Como. We made the usual alpine start and began the trail with headlamps. The sunrise with the Blue Lakes was especially charming. The ridge & saddle between Blanca and Ellingwood runs roughly north-south and our approach was from the west. So we passed the end of the 4wd road, the waterfall, Crater Lake, climbed the ledges all in shadow. It took us about 3 hours to finally reach the ridge and get into the sun.
The climb up to Blanca Peak was a not-too-complicated, steep, Class 2+ sometimes scramble. Patches of ice in the shadows made sure we didn’t get too crazy. But the views started to become great.
And by the time I reached the summit, they had become spectacular. Clouds seethed like from a cauldron in the valley between Blanca and Little Bear Peak, but the skies remained clear. And the great San Luis Valley laid out like a table before the mountains.
We descended the Blanca ridge down to the saddle with Ellingwood. The weather was holding so we started across to Ellingwood Point. There was one pull-yourself-up place on the traverse, but it was rather minor. The accent was bouldery, but a pretty fun Class 2 up to the top. From the summit Blanca Peak and the route up stands right there in front of you — a beautiful and satisfying vista.
Descent was unremarkable. We poked around outside an old mine before we joined the trail we took going up. And now we got to see in the sunlight everything that remained in shadows in the morning.
Although we should have stayed a second night at Lake Como, we packed up camp and headed to the jeep and out. Lake Como did not disappoint.
So far in my experience with Colorado Fourteeners (19 at the time of writing) this Blanca / Ellingwood is my favorite. There’s not a crowd on the trail or summit (alone on both). The trail is challenging without being very dangerous. And you are surrounded by beauty: the lakes, the streams, the views. (Except for that 4wd road, that sucks.)
After we set up camp in Great Sand Dunes National Park we had a stunning sunset. Shortly thereafter the forecast thunderstorm finally found us, but we weathered it inside our tent: safe and off the mountain.
- When: Fri 19 – Sat 20 Aug 2016
- 19 Aug
- Distance: 3 mi
- Time: 1:50
- Elevation: 1,700′
- 20 Aug
- Distance: 13 mi
- Time: 11:30
- Elevation: 3,300′ total ascent, 5,000′ total descent
- Time to Summit Blanca: 3:40 hrs
- Time to Summit Ellingwood: 6:00 hrs
- Total Elevation: 5,000′
- Total Time: 13:20 hrs
- Colo 14er Rank: Blanca Peak #4, Ellingwood Point #42