I have always admired Mount Blanca and how majestic it is rising above the San Luis valley. It was still on my list of 14ers to visit and climb, and with a weekend available to go try it I made the plan to try it. None of the usual suspects I climb with were available so it was going to be a solo trip. Climbing 14ers solo is definately its own unique experience, you don’t have anyone else to gauge your perceptions, judgements, and actions against so the journey is as intense in the inward direction as it is on the outside.
The big question was how far could I drive up to Lake Como. The road was notorious for being super rough and 4×4 only, so it would be a real challenge for my Mini Countryman. The reputation was well founded for the road became rough pretty quick. From where I needed to park I knew I added about another 5 or 6 miles to the hike in and out, so this was going to be a long haul for sure.
The road to lake Como gets rough. Really rough.
On the hike in it was interesting to see how far up the road other cars were able to make it. Just a mile or so past where I had to stop were most of the stock 4×4 jeeps and trucks. The road gets crazy rough further up and beyond the capability of anything stock, unless you don’t mind lots of damage. I did see a few relatively stock Rubicon Jeeps on that last really rough stretch but when I finally made it to lake Como it was modified rock crawlers and atvs only. I didnt want to camp at the lake with the folks who had driven up with their radios and noise so I went another half mile or so and found an awesome spot to spend the night. It was near the base of Little Bear, of which I only got a glimpse or two of during the entire journey, as the cloud cover persisted through the whole trip.
Alpenglow at camp above Lake Como. See the yellow tent?
The alpenglow was awesome in the early morning, but the cloud cover and fog bank sitting over the peaks was a bit concerning. The hike/climb I intended to take might not go, but the conditions were iffy, a definite maybe. Conditions like this really keep you on your toes and super aware of the current conditions, for a turn for the worse could be real trouble. Then again they can improve and turn for the better just as easily. The cloud cieling was pretty low, I could not see the route up the ridge or any part of the upper peaks. I intended to climb Blanca first by hiking the trail to the saddle between Blanca and Ellingwood point, then climbing the path up the ridge to Blnca’s summit. The cloud cover was thicker and thicker all the way up, but I could still find my way and felt I could still find my way back even if things got worse.
Route finding in the clouds, cairn to cairn!
There was nobody else on the summit and the views were about 40 yards at best. Super fun to navigate through the fog and still find the summit, it was also easier to retrace my steps on the way back down to the saddle. At the saddle I knew I needed to start to hike down before traversing across, I had studied the maps and knew that you had to traverse lower to avoid having to scale numerous towers on the ridge, the visibility bein as bad as it was also made the ridge traverse a no-go.
The windy, cloudy, wet summit of Mount Blanca.
Still, it was impossible to tell which couloir was the right one to go up, I could not see anyone else on the route, nor the ridge line on the top and just had to take my best guess.
As my luck would have it I climbed up what I had to admit to myself was not the route.
The traverse. Which chute is the one to climb up? I guessed wrong, going up the middle of this view. It was further to the climbers left than I went.
There were no cairns, it ended at a vertical tower that I could not see over or around and so I had to be wise and hike down. I was pretty sure that was it for my attempt at Ellingwood point, but on the way down I saw a cairn that marked an exit out of this couloir to the next one further over. I had missed that in the fog.
The right couloir, you will see cairns along the way, otherwise your heading toward a dead end.
Excited to be, as I thought, back on route I started to traverse more, and was pleased every time I saw a cairn appear out of the mist. Up and up and finally on the ridge, I was confident that I was on my way and in short order was on the top of Ellingwood, again totally in the clouds. I did’nt linger and pretty quickly was back on my way down with that smile and new engery of accomplishment carrying me down.
Clouds lifting on the way back down.
Back at the bottom of the traverse I met some other climbers whom I was able to help point out the route too for they were as puzzled as I had been, and the view looking back down the valley toward camp with the cloud cieling was pretty awesome. Right when I got back to my tent it started to pour down the rain, so I jumped in, took a rest and waited for it to pass, which it did in less than an hour. I was determined to get on with the long hike out and visions of a nice pint and a big meal in Walsenberg spurred me on.
A long journey to the clouds and back.
Back at the car I could see it was an epic hike to bag these two peaks from there, 17.5 miles and about 6k in elevation gain, longer harder trek than Longs was even. Looking back on the peaks I just bagged I could see the clouds still socked in up high, and the scale of the hike/climb was easier to see. It had been an awesome trip. One final note of caution, visions of food and pints can lead to a speeding ticket, even with a radar detector.
The tan line of the road to lake Como is where I had to park. Mount Blanca still hidden in the clouds but Majestic as ever.