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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sneaking up on Blanca Peak

Date:   June 28, 2014
MissionBlanca Peak (elevation 14,345') via the NW Ridge.
Who:  Solo
Total Length:  10.5 miles
Elevation gain: 4300 ft.


A humdrum history

This would be my 5th attempt at climbing Blanca Peak.  Go ahead, laugh it up.  

Attempt # 1:  12/29/2012 - It was -14 degrees when I woke up at 8000'.   We started from 9400'  after a hair-raising drive up Lake Como Road in the snow.  It was bitterly cold.  Easily the coldest day I've ever had in the mountains.  I was feeling like total crap, which I think was actually altitude sickness.  I turned around before Lake Como.

Attempt # 2:  2/22/2014 - Attempted with my friend Mark from about 9600 ft. when my ankle injury of 2013 had not fully healed yet.  It was another intense drive up Lake Como Rd after pulling an all-nighter driving from Denver.  There were dry spots mixed with packed snow/ice on the road.  We snowshoed almost the whole way from the Jeep.  We turned around that day near Blue Lakes at about 12,100' due to my ankle giving me lots of pain. 

2.22.2014 - Mark hanging out in the snow on attempt # 2 waiting for me and my slow crippled ankle.

Attempt # 3:  3/14/2014 - Solo attempt with intent of camping at Hotel Como.  I parked at about 9800' and hiked the dreaded Lake Como Rd. in snowshoes again.  I got to Hotel Como and started to cook dinner.  I accidently spilled my only freeze-dried bag of food in the snow, which left me with nearly no food.  I cleaned it up as well as I could.  I then tried to sleep.  I was hungry.  Trying to sleep, the mind racing thoughts of animals swinging by Hotel Como in the middle of the night thanks to the food I spilled, kept me wide awake.  I finally just packed up camp and hiked out at 1:30am. 

3.14.2014 - My bed in the Hotel Como

Attempt # 4:  5/23/2014 - After summiting Little Bear Peak a couple of weeks prior, I decided that Blanca would be a piece of cake this time.  I went solo as a day hike.  After my last Blanca attempt's fiasco, I decided on the "light and fast" attempt this time.  I started very early and made it to Lake Como before the sun even came up.  Getting around the snow melt near the lake was a bit crazy and landed me in knee deep water from snow melt.  Above the waterfall, the trail was rocks covered in ice with a half inch of fresh snow on top.  Even with microspikes, it was slow going.  

I got to nearly Crater Lake when an unusual 8:30am bit of weather started to move in.  I was worried about getting stuck above the tree line in a thunder/snow storm, so I bailed on attempt # 4 at about 12,700'.  By the time I was back to Lake Como, the sky was clear and it was a beautiful day.  It's like the mountain did not want me on it.   I remember having that same feeling after attempt # 3 too. 

This is why I decided to sneak up on Blanca on my next attempt. 

5.23.2014 - Attempt # 4 sunrise
5.23.2014 - Ice covered rocks hidden by a thin layer of snow.

5.23.2014 - Snow melt area where I ended up in knee high water.  Pic taken on descent

5.23.2014 - Dark clouds that ended up doing nothing.

Mind-numbing personal things

"Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hope; but no plans." ~~ Peter F. Drucker

I had originally planned to climb Ellingwood Point via the SW Ridge on 6.28.2014.  However, to learn from the quote above, I learned I did not really have "plans" of climbing Ellingwood Point, just hopes. 

My hopes involved having a climbing partner since the SW Ridge of Ellingwood Point can be a bit challenging.  Anyway, my hopes of doing this route were shattered when none of my climbing partners and I were able to connect.  I was to be solo again this weekend. 

Part of this disconnect was probably my fault since honestly, sometimes I am hard to get along with.  I could possibly blame my bipolar disorder for this, but it's probably just an excuse.  Sometimes I just push everyone away and I don't even know why.  Anyways, enough psychological bull shit.  The point is, at these times, I wouldn't even want to hang out with me, so I get it.

I decided that since I was solo, I would still try Ellingwood Point's SW Ridge, with the option of changing plans when I got to the turn off.  I think in the back of my mind, I wanted to try Blanca instead of the SW ridge on Ellingwood Point, but admitting that right then would be alerting the mountain to my intentions.  And I'd already decided to sneak up on Blanca next time, so, for now, my intentions were still focused on Ellingwood Point.  Shhhh! 

Jeep woes

After an adrenaline filled drive in the dark up Lake Como road to 10,100'.  I got to a spot where I did not want to risk going further, so I backed down the road about 100 yards, in the dark, to the nearest pull-off.  I finally settled into a bad parking spot on an embankment at about 11pm.  

My Jeep was sitting at an annoying crooked angle that made it difficult to sleep in the passenger seat since my entire body was mashed into the passenger door.  Thanks a lot gravity.  I awoke many times in those three hours just to re-arrange myself as to not have internal organs go numb.

On the trail

I woke at 3:30am and was on the trail within 15 minutes.  I had one mission, and it was Blanca.  I didn't even bring the route description for Ellingwood's SW Ridge with me.  Starting at 10,000 or so, I made quick work of the rest of the road and was at Lake Como at 5am.  I swear I've memorized this road by now.

I was nearing Blue Lakes when I was met with this amazing sunrise.

6.28.2014 - Sunrise above Blanca and Ellingwood


Good morning from the Blanca trail around Blue Lakes.
 
I was hiking with a purpose, averaging about 900ft. in elevation per hour.  I reached the NW ridge in no time having to cross only one small snow field.  It wasn't even 7:30am yet, but the views were amazing already.
 
Looking over the northeast side of the ridge. 


There are The Spanish Peaks
 
The climb up the NW ridge was mostly class 2 with the occasional class 3 move if you chose to do so.  It was fun, with only minimal exposure.  Staying on the ridge proper, or to the climbers right is the safest route. 
 

The view of the Ellingwood Point from the saddle between Blanca and Ellingwood.

Some mild exposure along the route.
 
I enjoyed the class 2+ / 3 scramble up the ridge even though the wind was blowing and it was still quite cold since it was so early in the morning.  Before I knew it, I was alone on the summit and grateful to be.  Although I was wondering how this mountain took me five attempts. 
 
 
Looking back at Ellingwood Point and the ridge traverse.


This summit has the most awesome wind block built out of rocks, makes for a good nap.

I spent 40 minutes or so on the summit just taking in the sights, and enjoying the solitude.  It was time to go warm up since one of my hands was actually starting to lose feeling and go numb.

Since the weather was nice, I took my time on the way down, taking pictures, talking to other hikers on their way up, checking out lakes, and just enjoying the scenery. 

The view all the way back past the series of lakes to Lake Como.

These lakes are so much prettier this time of year vs. in the winter.


Stunning alpine lake that is not named.
These guys will grow out of rock, no dirt required.

Back at Lake Como looking at Blanca Peak.

On the hike down the Lake Como Rd., I thought I would attempt to capture the pure craziness that is this Jeep road.  I picked my best handful of photos, but I can tell you that photos do not do this road any justice.  Believe the hype!

Yes, that is a cliff on the back side this pic.
How can they even call this a "road"?
Seriously?  A "road"?
"Road".  Funny for whomever named it I'm sure.











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