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Blanca Peak Climb Log

9/9/2002

Blanca Peak, Colorado, the White Mountain of the Navajo. 14,345 feet (4,372 meters) high, it sits at latitude 37.5772 and longitude -105.485. Not a technical climb, but one with great views of South-Central Colorado. Information about the ascent here.

Blanca trail

Photos available from a Blanca adventure Summit 2001

Notes

  • ascending and descending: stay on the Ellingwood Ridge, unless you really know what you are doing.
  • we were blessed with light traffic. For the peak ascent and climb down, we were the only ones on the mountain. Weekends get crowded with 14er seekers. The road to lake Como also used to tempt 4WD vehicle stunt drivers to push their luck, but with the recent 4WD deaths and erosion of the road, that crowd has moved on elsewhere.

Miscellaneous ascent logs

The task of climbing Blanca Peak began Saturday the 25th. After several weeks of hot, dry weather, Southern Colorado was almost completely covered in rain. We left relatively late, anticipating a short journey to camp. Three miles north of U.S. 160 on CO 150, we turned onto Forest Service Road 795 and drove to a point approximately 4 miles and 2000 feet below Lake Como, our destination for the night.

The previous Thursday after work, I drove down to Walsenburg alone in about 4-1/2 hours. I found a camp site in Lathrop State Park off US 160 just west of town, fairly late. Early the next morning I continued west and then north to meet Pauland Carolyn Beiser at 0900. We joined up on the rocky road to Lake Como, at the point where it turns 4WD. This is 3.3 miles north of the 160/150 junction and 2.1 miles east of the pavement, across a cattle guard on a now-unmarked road.

As beautiful as they are, none of them are walk ups. The primary climbing trail goes up the southwest side of the mountain to Lake Como and beyond on a 4x4 road rated one of the worst in America. That usually takes a good day. The next day can get you to the top of Blanca and Ellingwood and back down the mountain. Or you can climb Little Bear and maybe do the traverse over to Blanca, but this requires significant technical expertise. Whatever you choose to do, this is a place where Mother Earth is very exposed and very beautiful.

The jeep road tapers into a very good trail that continues quite a long way, though you can't see it from below. We didn't leave it, to scramble directly for Blanca Peak, until well above Crater Lake -- still frozen over, in icy blue stillness, a huge boulder parked in it.
Fun crossing a few snowfields and then a fun rock/ridge scramble to the broad summit. To the saddle with Ellingwood and up.

The trail is pretty well cairned until you come to the rock face atthe very foot of the Blanca-Ellingwood ridge. The walk is beautiful withrock walls rising up everywhere you look. I found myself trying to figurehow this fault-block mountain rose like this when I suddenly realized we were actually in a glacier-carved canyon. Then the sculpting of the rock fell into place. During the Ice Ages, this area was heavily glaciated. It'svery similar to Yosemite Valley but at higher elevation, meaning the starkness hasn't been mitigated by living things contributing to and covering the evidence.
Going up the trail we passed the Blue Lakes and climbed the hill beside the waterfall to reach the bowl of Crater Lake. Just above Crater Lakethe rock face rises abruptly to the ridge connecting Blanca and Ellingwood.Also just above the lake are the remains of the gold mine buildings and acouple of worked prospects.

[The hourglass was a class 4 climb and the danger from falling rockswas extreem. Rocks knocked down from parties above are cruising down thechute at about 50 mph. Watch out! I freed the class 4 pitch. A bit dangerous,but there was no area where I felt as if I might fall. We attached a ropeto two solid existing pitons and the rest of our party came up using prussicks as a safety. The rest of the way was steep class 3. Not dangerous, but wewere super careful not to knock loose any rocks down onto the party below.]

From here it was 1500 feet of pure ascent on a talus-covered slope. Talus consists of shattered rock, with pieces ranging in size from a couple inches up to a few feet. [It was showering gently the entire way up, but theclimb went well until we were about 500 feet from the summit. At this pointI began to feel the effects of altitude sickness. I was slightly dizzyand my footwork became sloppy. Normally this would not have been a big problem,but the rain began in earnest. We soon reached the summit.]

The trail switchbacks up the rock, threading its' way through layersof broken cliffs until it comes to the boulderfield. We followed the cairns across the boulderfield. On the ridge there is a huge rock cairn and we headed directly for it. Once there we sat for a few and then walked directly up the ridge, skirting a couple of large boulders and scaling the granite where necessary. The other side of the ridge is directly above the north face, a 1000 to 1500 foot cliff. The exposure spooked me a bit but climbing the ridge wasn't bad. We arrived at the top cairn at 9:58 (Bill was keeping track). The summit has enough space for a pretty large party but it drops off in nearly every direction. There is a trail leading south along the ridge that drops down toward Hamilton Peak. The ridge that traversesfrom Little Bear looked exactly as it was described: the hardest of the four great mountain traverses in Colorado. We sat for a few, took lots of pictures and headed back down the ridge to make the traverse to Ellingwood about 10:20 am.

Here I'm going to say I'm a total amateur at this. I have a height problem complicated by memories of a childhood fall off a shale cliff into heavy rocks. I get vertigo very easily. The wind is nearly always blowing across this ridge that radically separates the lowlands to the west from the lowlands to the east. Going up the ridge wasn't bad because I was lookingup at where I was going. Going down was a slightly different story. I hadto stop and face my problem a couple of times. Furi read me really accurately and let me do what I needed to. We also passed a couple of climbers ontheir way up towards the bottom of the ridge. In the end, we were back to the large cairn pretty quickly. Then we started picking out the trail we wanted to follow to make the traverse to Ellingwood Point.

Combined with the effects of the altitude, the rain made 
for a very dangerous situation as the descent followed a 
ridgeline down. On eitherside of the ten-foot wide ridge 
were sheer 200 foot rock drops. Any slip could
lead to a very quick death.

The scrambling straight N to the summit from above the lakeis pretty decent, as I remembered. We made the summit at 0935; 2:45 to climb 2400'. The peak is small and steep on all sides, with a very nice view. Mount Hamilton, a foothill to the S, blocks some of that direction. Awesome Little Bear Peak stands before the distant San Juans and the San Luis Valley 6000' below to the SW. With binoculars, I made out Uncompahgre Peak, 113 miles away! The Sand Dunes are hidden by Ellingwood Point, but the Crestones and Pikes Peak are quite visible to the N andNE. Huerfano Valley and Mount Lindsey complete the panorama tothe E. On the summit remains a lot of graffiti scratched intothe rocks, some from 1909.

The muddy marshes around the willows will test the quality of any boots. Buy some long, waterproof socks before the trip and some packable pants for the summit. Tie your shoes tight for the descent on the scree slope or you'll spendhalf the time dumping rocks out of your shoes! BRING LOTS OF WATER, AND SUNSCREEN





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