Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blanca Peak 8/1/11

Total Mileage: 16 miles
Total Elevation Gain: ~6000 feet
Starting Point: Lake Como Trailhead
Total time: about 11 hours
Party: solo

(click to enlarge photos)

The idea was to climb Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point on this trip. I was unable to climb both due to weather limitations. My vehicle can't make it too far up the Lake Como Road. I pulled over at around 8300 feet and started making my way up the long road to Lake Como. I had hiked this road once before back in March when I climbed Little Bear peak. The hike up stays pretty steep and consistent the entire way. Lake Como marks roughly where timberline is. It took about 2.5 hours to reach Lake Como and begin the rest of the hike up. I saw a group of campers but this area was not nearly as busy as I had thought it would be.

I'm staring at Lake Como in this photo though not visible.  Very beautiful area.
Just beyond the lake the trail dives into the forest for just a short distance. Maybe 1/4 mile or so. You pass an old abandoned log cabin and once out of the trees you'll stay out the remainder of the hike up. It was just past this cabin that I heard some noises coming from a ways ahead. It sounded like footsteps through the bushes. I assumed the noise to be from humans coming the opposite direction as me. I came around a corner where the source of the noise would be in full view. It was not a human. It was a bear. It was about 30-40 feet from me and when it realized I was there, it shimmied up a tree about 30 feet in 4 seconds flat. Before he went all Tarzan on me I was able to snap a few awful shots of him.

Dead center of the photo.

I apologize for the quality here. I guess I should have walked a bit closer to him. 
So the trail wrapped conveniently around the location of the bear. Meaning I never had to get close to it to continue forward on the trail upward. I chuckled later when I realized that one of my first inclinations was to grab for my camera. Talking to hikers later on that day I found out that that bear had been harassing campers in the area for the last few days.

After about five minutes I emerged from the trees and soaked in the gorgeous scenery around me. With a lot of climbing ahead of me I began to doubt the feasibility of getting two peaks bagged that day. I decided Blanca would be first and then I would make the call to climb Ellingwood once atop Blanca. The first goal was to hike above a waterfall that runs off from the higher-up lakes.

This is the official end of the Lake Como Road. The trail goes to the left of the waterfall. 
Above the waterfall here the climb is basically medium sized talus all the way up. The route becomes unclear and some route finding is necessary. The steepness doesn't let up until the top.

Some kind of old mine shaft it seems.

Little Bear peak can barely be made out shrouded in clouds
Ellingwood Point. A huge heap of rocks.
Climbing up the face to the saddle the views became better and better. I was tired and definitely not moving at the speed I thought I should. I took breaks as frequently as I needed. Usually short 30 second breathers and then pushing on. I made it to Blanca's summit and stayed there for about 20 minutes. Here's Ellingwood Point again from the summit perspective.

Doesn't look nearly as big.
 More summit shots:

Mount Lindsay. Climbed about 1 month previous.

Little Bear Peak behind me. The clouds parted for only a moment and then covered LB's summit for the remainder of the day.
The clouds coming in were questionable and I was very exhausted as well. I chose to not climb Ellingwood and it ended up being the right choice. This will mean another slog up the Lake Como road someday in the future to climb Ellingwood. About half-way down the clouds turned nasty and I heard thunder and felt some light rain. Right before the weather changed I got one last pic of one of the upper lakes on the way down.

Too bad I'll have to return here,  right?
Just short of an 11 hour day. Little Bear was a 13 hour day for me just 6 months previous. I had a fantastic time and I was glad to have chosen to go home when I did. I estimate Ellingwood would have tacked on 2 hours. I escaped only getting hit with light rain. This is what the mountain and clouds looked like 15 minutes after starting home.

Glad to be in a car.
The weather can turn fast and I was glad to have escaped the worst of it. It was a great day in the Sangre de Cristo range.

notes to self:
- Buy bear mace
- find a friend that has a car that drive further up the road for when I do Ellingwood