Sunday, August 9, 2015

Little Bear - Blanca - Ellingwood Point Ridge Traverse

Little Bear (14,035 ft.) via West Ridge Direct (5.4)
Blanca (14,344 ft.) via Little Bear to Blanca Traverse (low 5th class)
Ellingwood Point (14,042 ft.) via Ellingwood - Blanca connecting ridge (class 3)

Saturday August 8, 2015

Michael D. knew that I was coming to Colorado for a month for work and he planned to tackle some of the more technically challenging 14er's on the weekends while I was in town. Our goal for the weekend was the Blanca Group in the Sangre de Cristo Range of southern Colorado.

From Denver, it's a 4 hour drive, plus an hour or so up the 4wd+ road. We took my FJ and made it up to ~10,000 ft., at least 1,000 ft. higher than all the other SUV's. We set up our tent next to the car and got 4 hours of sleep before our 4 am departure.

We followed the "road" up 2 miles and 1,800 ft. to Lake Como. Several people were camping near Lake Como as we walked by with our headlamps. We walked around Lake Como and climbed up the prominent gully full of scree and talus to gain the west ridge of Little Bear Peak. We stuck to the West Ridge Direct route all the way to the summit of Little Bear Peak - 2,000 vertical feet of class 4 and 5 of solid climbing sans rope. The ridge took about 2 hours.

From the summit of Little Bear, we committed to the long traverse over to Blanca Peak. This ridge link-up was amazing. Gerry Roach, author of Colorado's 14er's, said, "Simply put, this is Colorado's most astonishing connecting ridge." We did the ridge in 2 hours.

From Blanca summit, we scrambled down and followed the trail up to Ellingwood Point summit in less than an hour. We chatted with some hikers who had seen us on the ridge and received praise for our ridge run. "Killers," "celebrities," and "You're the man!" are some examples. We made our way down and followed the trail/road back to our car.

This link up of three 14,000 ft. peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Range is now one of my favorite lines and outings.

11 hours round trip.

Sun up, headlamps off, gully suck
I literally ran up the final portion of the gully to get a view of the sunlit clouds, out of breath thinking about it
A giant boulder rolled onto my heel. Pretty fortunate all considering.  
Too epic. Had to take it
Getting onto the more challenging portion of the West Ridge Direct route up Little Bear Peak

MD scrambling
Crazy exposure on either side. Good thing we have a helmet, because it would definitely save us if we fell
The "slab" section on the West Ridge Direct route up Little Bear Peak
Just walking on the bumpy sidewalk
MD scramblin
Descending off the summit of Little Bear
Looking down wasn't always comforting but it kept things exciting on the Little Bear - Blanca Traverse 
MD working his way around obstacles with Little Bear in the background
Lots of exposure on the traverse
Walking the tightrope
Good views in all directions 
That's me on a particularly exposed section of the ridge traverse
Crater Lake nestled in the cirque below Ellingwood Point 
Getting closer to Blanca
Michael working his way up a bump on the ridge - note the knife-edge ridge we followed from Little Bear Peak in the background
Me on the narrowest part of the ridge - the right side of the ridge was actually slightly overhung
A nice view of Little Bear and most of the ridge
MD working his way up the final slopes leading to Blanca summit. Trailhead is down past the treeline on the right near the mouth of the valley
View to the south from Blanca Peak
Little Bear and the ridge we just traversed - taken from Blanca Summit
Mt. Lindsey (the other 14er in the area)
On our way to Ellingwood Point. Blanca summit hidden in the clouds.  
Walking down the trail
Bighorn Sheep
Take that, Blanca Group