Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ellingwood Point 3/22/12

Total Mileage: 9.5 miles
Total Elevation Gained: ~4000 ft.
Starting Point: Lake Como Approach
Party: myself and Curt (mtnsurveyer on

Ellingwood Point 14,042 feet
The weather was forecasted to be working in our favor today as we set off for the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. The Lake Como approach grants access to three 14,000 ft. peaks. This would be my third venture to Lake Como to bag the third and final 14er that this approach allows access to. It was one year ago, nearly to the day, that I had first slogged my way up the lousy Lake Como road to tackle Little Bear Peak. When summer came around I headed back for a shorter day trip anticipating a summit of Blanca and Ellingwood. Once atop Blanca I could see foreboding clouds that warned against an Ellingwood summit. Today my eyes were set on Ellingwood and Ellingwood only. My climbing partner Curt wanted both peaks but that wasn't a priority for me. As it would turn out, he was very capable of finishing two peaks in the time it took me to do just one. 

We were able to drive to 10,300 feet up the Lake Como Road where I parked my Jeep. We readied our packs and set off around 6:30am. We were about 2.25 miles from Lake Como and arrived there quickly. Along the way we enjoyed the views of the valley below and the wildlife around us. 

Taken around 11,000 feet.

Always fun to see one of these guys.
 Upon arrival at Lake Como (~11,800) we donned snowshoes and they wouldn't come off until about 13,300 feet. We crossed right over the lake and into the trees beyond.

My first time walking over a frozen lake ever!

Curt making his way across with Little Bear Peak looming.

Beyond the lake the snow deepened for short while.
We were lucky to be able to follow some tracks of a lone hiker ahead of us. With our tracks added to his a nice trench was forming nicely. We would find out later that those tracks belonged to Ken Nolan, a local CO mountaineer with over 1800 summits under his belt and I believe over 500 14er summits. I understand he is trying to complete what is known as "the grid." For those unaware, the grid constitutes the completion of all 14ers during every month of the year. To complete "the grid" for one peak requires 12 individual summits of that peak during each calendar month. Completing this for all 14ers in CO (58) would require 696 unique summits. Not one of my personal goals but I can see how one might get wrapped up in this. 

So, on through the trees we continued and soon we caught our first glimpse Ellingwood Point.

Zoomed in version of the first picture. 
Before too long we emerged from the trees to beautiful blue skies. 

Curt leading the way
It became very clear at this point that Curt's speed was far greater than my own. The distance between us became greater and greater. We finally saw in view the lone hiker whose tracks we had been following. This seemed to motivate Curt to speed his pace to catch up which he promptly did. Before leaving me in the dust we discussed that he should go onto Blanca and that I would only be climbing Ellingwood and we would meet back at Lake Como. The way the two mountains are situated allows for one to constantly view the other. So we remained within eyesight almost the entire time. 

Curt leaving me in his dust. 
In the picture above are a series of ledges that need to be overcome. The top of which sits at about 13,300. Once I reached the top I ditched my snowshoes. I could see Curt had caught up with Ken ahead of us and they were both about 400-500 vertical feet above me. It was at this point that I made a miscalculation that cost me about an hour of wallowing in slush. The route forks at a certain point and I had waited too long to veer left for Ellingwood. At about 13,600 feet I realized this mistake and the result would require me to lose about 100 feet of elevation to get myself on the right path. I suppose the silver lining was that I was able to scout out a good route for the ascent up the south face of Ellingwood.

South face of Ellingwood and my general route up.

From further up the correct route one can see my course correction.

From almost near the summit and zoomed in you can see my tracks emerge from the rocks and then suddenly drop and intersect Ken's tracks from earlier in the day. 
From a lower elevation this shows the same thing. 

Upon making my course correction it didn't seem like it took me long at all. The temperature was getting much warmer and I got down to my base layer. I kept glove liners on and a beanie for sun protection. However, I left my eyes exposed and I would pay the cost later. I had sunglasses in my backpack but when I tried to retrieve them I found the frames bent and the lenses dislodged from the frames. I had left my ski goggles in the car due to the mild winds forecasted. I had no idea at the time what lied in store for me that night.

As I climbed up onto the ridge the views were astounding. I only had about 200 vertical feet to hit the summit and I felt great. I heard a voice from behind me and it was Curt. He hadn't descended Blanca like I thought he would but instead he traversed the jagged and very snow-covered saddle. A little spicy for my taste but everyone has their own comfort level. I took my time and reached the summit about 10 minutes before he did. We took some time to enjoy ourselves and got our summit pictures and headed back down after about 20 minutes. 

On the ridge but the true summit is not in view.

Curt making the final push with Mt. Lindsay behind him.

Curt on the summit with the Crestones in the background.
Here I am on the summit with Blanca Peak behind me.

Little Bear Peak on the left.

Heading down from the summit behind me.

Last look at Ellingwood as the day drew to a close.
We were back at the car at around 5pm. I'm a slow hiker anyway, but this was a slow day even by my standards. It took about 45 minutes to drive the 4 miles down Lake Como road and about 2.5 hours later I was home. 

Once home, my wife told me my eyes looked bloodshot and I knew I had got a lot of sun. I applied sunscreen liberally at three different times along the route and even remembered my SPF 30 lip balm. I went to bed at around 9:30 pm and realized that I was uncomfortable. My eyes were watering and it was hard to keep them shut. I just tried to doze off and forget about it. I awoke at 10:30pm in more pain then I can remember ever being in. Like there was sand in my eyes I couldn't flush out. In the back of my mind I knew snow blindness was probably what was happening. I had my wife do a quick google search and it matched my symptoms exactly. The corneas of my eyes had been sunburned. My wife ran to the store to buy eyedrops that did no good. Nothing relieved my pain. I decided to sleep in the front room as to not disturb my wife and just try and get through it. Snow blindness, in most cases, does no permanent damage and a complete recovery is expected within 48 hours. I spent the next day laid up in the darkest room in my house wearing sunglasses and trying to sleep away the day. Now, almost 72 hours later I feel virtually no symptoms and a valuable lesson has been learned. I'm grateful to a wife that knew how to pamper me through such a roller-coaster experience. She brought me food and water and would often just sit with me in the dark and occupy my mind with small talk. 

I suppose that it is experiences like these that fortify our resolve to be better prepared for future events.  I am confident that I will never experience this again and hope that hiking enthusiasts reading this may benefit from my mistakes.