I’d planned on taking an off day today instead of hiking. I’ve hiked 5 fourteeners in the past 6 days, and I’d thought I’d accomplished a lot this week. I wanted to take my kids to see the fall colors, but when I asked them all about their schedules two of my kids had to work and one was going to a slumber party.
So suddenly, at 7pm, I had the opportunity to hike the next day. This was wonderful! This was terrible!
I have the goal of hiking all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers, and when I set a goal I tend to aggressively meet that goal. It’s an added bonus I love hiking so it’s not
much of a challenge to get me to hike a peak. But today I was supposed to rest!
I knew from my hike yesterday and listening to the forecast on the way
home most of the high country was getting snow this weekend. I’d already done a snow hike this week and that didn’t sound like a fun repeat. But
I had an idea: I looked at the weather for Blanca and Ellingwood, and it was predicted to be 44 degrees, sunny, with 20mph winds all day! Great weather! I don’t think I’ve had a forecast yet this summer that was “sunny” all day.
I quickly put together a pro-con list for hiking (or not) in the morning:
·I’ve only had 15 hours of sleep total this week
(due to working nights and hiking days)
·I hate hiking on Saturdays. There are just too many people!
·I still haven’t found a “hiking buddy”
·Gas is expensive
·I’ve hiked 5 peaks in the past 6 days and should
let my body rest
·I get to hike
·The weather was predicted to be great (for fall)
·I’m running out of good weather hiking days for the year (winter is coming)
·Hiking these two peaks would put me at 29 total 14ers (halfway to 58!)
·I just got new off road tires on my truck, and I’d get to try them out on Lake Como Road
·Although I’ve done a lot of hiking lately, I’m not physically sore
Darn it, I’m going hiking!
I woke up at 2am and made it to the trailhead by 5am. (That’s making really great time driving). No problems this time with directions/etc. I only took my truck about 3 miles up the road because that was what was suggested, but after hiking in a ways it was obvious my truck could have made it at least 4 miles, if not 5 up the road. The only problem I’d have would be finding a parking spot big enough for my Tundra that far up. There are a few parking spots at some of the switchbacks, but they were all full, and there wasn’t a place to turn around if needed.
Here’s what the road looked like driving in
When you see this sign, it’s a good place to park. Most good clearance 4WD’s can make it further, but there’s no space to turn around once your vehicle can’t make it anymore.
If you’re wondering if your vehicle can make it up this road, then it can’t. Here are some pictures of the Lake Como road. Yes, it’s insane.
This road continued until past Lake Como, and just gets worse as it goes on. The road itself is intense for vehicles, but not so bad for hikers. Not fun, but not bad/tough. Yes, it’s a long hike in, but I’d compare it to the Pikes Peak trail to Barr Camp. It wasn’t as bad as I’d been told it would be.
I made it to Lake Como at 7:20am (about 2 hours of hiking), and was surprised to find most people still sleeping and a few people fishing around the lake. I didn’t know Lake Como had fish?
This is the type of vehicle that can make it up Lake Como Road.
There were a bunch of signs indicating bear activity, but bear activity wasn’t obvious (no prints or damage). I did like seeing all the bear bags hanging
from trees though!
The trail continued around the lake and around many more small lakes before coming to a small basin.
The trail was well maintained with plenty of cairns.
Here you can see Ellingwood (left) and Blanca (right).
The rest of the trail was easy to follow, but not very pretty. It was gray and rocky. Very, very rocky. But at least there were a lot of cairns marking the way.
I talked to several hikers along the way, asking if they knew where the cutoff to Ellingwood was exactly? Most of the directions I found indicated a general area, but said it was difficult to find. No one seemed to know for sure, but they were
all interested in completing both Blanca and Ellingwood today as well. Everyone had an opinion on the cutoff though: Some thought the trail was above the snow left on the mountain, some thought under, some thought further up the ridge.
The weather was just as predicted. Kind of. It was beautiful. Everywhere
except for Blanca Peak. I felt as if she was staring at me as I was hiking the basin.
Blanca Peak was covered in a thin layer of snow, ice, and a very small cloud. As I approached it got colder and the wind got stronger. Once I reached the ridge the weather turned nasty. The cloud that was covering Blanca’s peak was full of ice. As I climbed the ridge I was slipping all over the place and had to use both hands to steady myself. Obviously I put my camera away and trudged on.
I couldn’t see where I was going because the cloud covering Blanca was so thick. The exposure was such one false slip and I’d slide off the peak, so it was slow going as I made sure I was steady before making my next move.
The last push seemed to go on forever, until I was finally at the summit! I was frozen and couldn’t talk, but I’d made it!
What’s “funny” is the weather was perfect in every direction, except for directly over the peak. Heavy clouds were forming about 20 yards from Blanca’s peak, and the 20mph wind was rushing it over the peak. Then the cloud disappeared once it had gone over Blanca. It was maddening! The only bad weather in sight was directly above me!
I had to get back down from the peak quickly, as I was becoming a popsicle. Even the cairns were full of ice!
As I descended I kept telling myself Ellingwood was in the sun, so that hike would be warm. But as I descended Blanca the clouds descended as well, and started to envelop Ellingwood too. Ugh!
Descending Blanca was beautiful (and clear)
I really wanted to hike Ellingwood, but I was very, very cold, and it didn’t look warm on Ellingwood. I was seriously worried I’d need to come back at a later date to climb Ellingwood. This was NOT something I’d wanted to do, but was prepared to do if necessary. I just hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.
Added to that was the fact I didn’t really know where the cutoff was for Ellingwood. I knew where the trail was on the ridge, but with all the ice it didn’t look safe to take that route. I’d thought the cutoff for Ellingwood was at a cairn I’d seen earlier with a pink ribbon around it. Call me crazy, but this seemed like a sign. When I made it back to this cairn after hiking Blanca I brought out my GPS, and guess what? The cutoff was right where I was, at the pink cairn.
Once I found the trail it was really easy to follow. There were tons of cairns leading up the side of the mountain and to the left. The rock was loose but I never felt like I was going to slip or fall. And the sun came out! Woohoo!
I felt like the hike up Blanca was more difficult than the hike up Ellingwood (due to the wind and ice, I’m sure it would have been cheery on a warmer day).
The only down side was the false summit, but it was really close to the actual summit, so it was ok.
There were 3 or 4 people on the summit already, and one offered to take my picture. I pointed out Mt. Lindsey in the background. It was 11:15am.
And then I was off on my way back down. I knew I had a long hike
ahead of me, and I wanted to get started.
The hike down was long but uneventful. I wasn’t very tired, which surprised me, especially after my other hikes this week. The trail was well maintained,
which made it easy to follow
I’m pretty sure this is the cutoff for Little Bear
I saw several modified jeeps (etc.) headed up Lake Como Road. I saw them in groups of 3-4, and passed no less than 4 groups. That’s a lot of vehicles headed to the lake! I just hoped no one was trying to drive back down…
I made it to my truck at 3pm, making this a 15 mile hike with 5800’ of elevation gain in 10 hours.
Oh, and you know what ROCKS about this hike? I’ve now summited 29 unique 14ers: I’m halfway to 58!