Ascent of Blanca Peak on 2018-07-31

Climber: Dennis Stewart

Others in Party:Marshall Stewart
Date:Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Blanca Peak
    Elevation:14345 ft / 4372 m

Ascent Trip Report

It is hard to believe, but my son, Marshall, and I saw some climbers doing Blanca Peak as a day hike. Maybe, and it is a very iffy maybe, I could have tried such a feat when I was in my 20's, but at nearly 70 years old I knew the only way to bag this peak was as an overnighter. The access road to Blanca Peak is labeled "the worse road in Colorado" and it does deserve this title. I was absolutely amazed at the obstacles vehicles were able to get up and around on this horrible road. Some car manufacturing company would be wise to setup a filming station here and record the successful ascents of their customers' vehicles for advertising. For myself, in my 1991 Ford Festiva, I wisely chose to park at a lowly 8038 feet, but even so, I was higher than some high clearance vehicles. In their defense, however, if I was driving a $40,000+ vehicle, I probably would have parked lower myself, but my Festiva only cost me $1900! There is no getting lost on this climb. You simply follow the rugged jeep road all the way to Como Lake. This is where my son and I camped for the night. It took me a little less than 6 hours to reach Como Lake, but this time includes some long rest stops. It was only mid-afternoon after we had camp setup, so we had the rest of the afternoon and evening to recover and prepare for our summit attempt tomorrow. A word of warning here, there are some rather epic trip reports of encounters with bears at Como Lake, so make sure you are educated in bear etiquette and proper stowing of your food and gear while away from camp or at night. We didn't see any signs of bears, but we came prepared and followed all the standard precautions. We woke at 4:30 AM unfortunately to heavy overcast low clouds and this discouraged a fast pack up. We did not get started on the trail until 5:30 AM. The jeep trail continued, but eventually ends at a high lake where the route is reduced to a foot trail. We did not completely lose all the clouds until we were at the saddle between Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point at 13,800 feet. We got here at 8:48 AM, so it took us about 3.25 hours to reach this point. From here you are only .2 air miles from the summit of Blanca Peak, but you have nearly 550 vertical feet to climb in this short distance. Two-tenths of a mile is 1056 feet, so you will be ascending more than half the distance you will be covering horizontally. Some guide books classify this part of the climb as Class 2, but I would give it no less than a Class 2+ with a full Class 3 near the summit. It took me almost a full hour to cover this short distance and I was extremely happy to finally stand on the small surface area of Blanca Peak's apex where there is, of course, a great panorama in all directions. With the weather having cleared for my son and I, we took advantage of our extra time and made the short traverse to the Huerfano County highpoint. This spot is only 150 feet northeast from the summit of Blanca Peak, but it is across a rather airy ridgeline, at least for me, so it took me several minutes to get there and back. Some argue that the three counties of Alamosa, Costilla and Huerfano all intersect on the summit of Blanca Peak, but if you are a purist you better make the short climb to the northeast in order to make sure you bagged the true highpoint of Huerfano County. Our plan from here was to descend and climb adjacent Ellingwood Point, but to be honest, it looked quite intimidating to us. There appeared to be many spots where a person could cliff out and have to re-climb sections in order to find another safe descent route. With the lateness of the day, we elected to descend back to camp, but we did see climbers on the south slopes of Ellingwood Point that were hiking as if they were on a path. This encouraged us for a return trip someday and an earlier summit day start. We arrived back at our camp at 2:18 PM for a total roundtrip summit day time of 8.75 hours. Some animal had completely chewed my pack towel in half that I had drying on my tent. I felt very lucky the creature left my tent alone! Despite being tired, we decided to pack up camp and return to the car for a shower and a soft bed in a motel. It took me 4.5 hours to reach the car where my son had been waiting for over 2 hours. A word to the younger climbers reading this: Climb all you can now. Father Time is not kind. It doesn't matter how much you train when you are my age. You will still find your days of fast adventure travel are over!
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Stream Ford, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Tent Camp

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