Ascent of Blanca Peak on 2012-08-24

Climber: BMS 914

Others in Party:Eric Kassan -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Tim Newman
Hannah Wilner -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Tim V
Date:Friday, August 24, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Blanca Peak
    Elevation:14345 ft / 4372 m

Ascent Trip Report

This was to be the featured outing of Eric's 2012 Colorado trip. Eric, Tim N, and I met up with Tim V and Hannah in the small town of Fort Garland, CO. Eric and the two Tims all knew each other from having worked together years before. Eric was friends with Hannah from when she was a member of LVMC and lived in Las Vegas, prior to her moving to the Denver area.

From town we drove to the infamous Como Lake Road, known as being the toughest OHV road in all of Colorado. Eric had his 2012 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X, and was hopeful that we could make it as far as the 4WD parking area. Driving above this area requires specialized vehicles or ATVs/cycles. The road lived up to it's reputation, and after a lot of shaking and bouncing around, in addition to moving very slowly, Eric decided he would rather get out and walk up the trail that continue any further up.

We pulled off (lots of places between the 2WD and 4WD parking areas), geared up, and set off up the road toward Como Lake. The road soon becomes a good path to walk on, and we made good time. Beyond the 4WD parking was a rocky outcrop, essentially a light scramble, Called Jaws 1. I can't imagine getting a vehicle up something like that!

I was feeling good and separated from the rest of the group, getting about 30 minutes ahead of Tim V and probably an hour in front of the others when I reached the lake. This gave me lots of time to scout out a good campsite for the group. The site I selected was fairly flat, amid trees, and not too far (or too close) to the lake. For my small backpacking tent, I selected a narrow area between two trees in a small, slightly hollow depression covered in pine duff. I got set up, the others arrived and did likewise, and we began making dinner. A few flurries of rain came and went during this time, but not enough to make us wet beneath the tree cover.

I was waiting to use the shared stove, and had just started boiling water when the rain and hail really hit. Everyone else fled to the tents, but I got caught waiting for the water to finish and got a bit wet, finally getting the water in the bag for my dehydrated meal and getting into my tent. By this time it was getting dark anyway and everyone was going to bed, as we were going to be starting at around 3:00 AM with headlamps in order to get to the summit and avoid afternoon thunderstorm activity that is common in the Sangre de Cristo mountains during the summer.

I slept well, and awoke in the darkness, my air mattress doubling as a raft amid the 2.0" of standing water at the bottom of my tent! What was I thinking setting up in a hollow? Well, I won't soon make that mistake again. It actually turned out better than expected as somehow my sleeping bag was spared getting wet - nothing had slid off the mattress and stayed dry, as had my backpack, which was inside the tent in the lone high spot.

We began in the darkness, with the rain having mercifully stopped, and I hadn't made it far when I took off my hat to adjust it, forgetting my headlamp, which fell off striking a rocky outcrop and bursting open. All this a mere 200 meters from camp. With some help from others, I was able to locate the missing batteries and reassemble the headlamp, but it wouldn't come back on afterward. Fortunately, Eric had brought his spare headlamp and loaned it to me, or my ascent of Blanca Peak would have ended right there. I resolved to always bring a spare headlamp anytime I knew I would be relying on it - spare batteries aren't good enough. (After the trip ended, I was able to get my headlamp working again, it turned out to be a battery issue somehow.)

The Como Lake Road skirts the north side of Como Lake, heads for the Blue Lakes, and eventually peters out into a trail. This becomes indistinct nearing Crater Lake (the highest one). By this time I had gotten ahead of most of the group, with only Tim V withing 20 minutes of me. I followed the twisting trail, got off trail by accident and did a little light climbing, regained the trail, then made it to the saddle with Ellingwood Point just as dawn came.

From here the route heads to my right (southeast) along the ridgeline and up to the summit of Blanca Peak. The terrain is a mix of trail and light scrambling here, but the rock was cold and slimy and I was having trouble getting a grip on it. The exposure here wasn't massive, but enough that a fall would result in some sort of injury. I took off my gloves to get a better grip and realized the rocks were covered in a thin layer of ice, hence the slimy feeling I was getting. To avoid this I ended up crossing over to the northeast side of the ridge, where the sun had already warmed and dried whatever ice had been there. The downside was heavy exposure in places, and some Class 3 areas; at one point I had to climb a 15' wall that was a little tricky to get back to the ridge, all with what looked like thousands of feet of air beneath me if I messed up.

The ridge soon became a walk up, and at some point I went right over Blanca Peak-Northeast Slope, which happens to be the high point of Huerfano County - I didn't even notice anything there. I was on the summit about a minute later.

After a while, Tim V joined me on the summit. A thick sea of fog/low clouds was rolling in from the southwest, filling the valley we came in through with a sea of white. The others had not yet arrived, but it was getting colder, and visibility was going to be a concern because we both wanted to head over to Ellingwood Point before returning to camp. So we took some photos, signed the register, and headed back down the slope, heading for the saddle. The icy rocks we had encountered during the ascent had warmed enough in the sun that the ice had melted, and they were now merely damp, sparing the rest of our party the trouble of the exposed northern side, and allowing us to easily descend the Class 2 standard route. We met Eric, Tim N, and Hannah not far above the saddle, and told them what we were up to, and cached our packs where the path lead off to Ellingwood.

See the Ellingwood Point trip report for the rest of the journey.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5919 ft / 1804 m
    Total Elevation Loss:853 ft / 259 m
    Round-Trip Distance:8 mi / 12.9 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Stream Ford, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
    Weather:Cool, Calm, Low Clouds
Low clouds moved in
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5919 ft / 1804 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 5700 ft / 1738 m; Extra: 219 ft / 66m
    Loss on way in:219 ft / 66 m
    Distance:7.6 mi / 12.2 km
    Route:Jeep road to Como Lake, North Ridge
    Start Trailhead:Como Lake Rd as far as we could make it  8645 ft / 2634 m
    Time:5 Hours 23 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:634 ft / 193 m
    Distance:0.4 mi / 0.6 km
    Route:North Ridge
    End Trailhead:Saddle w/Ellinwood Pt  13711 ft / 4179 m
    Time:53 Minutes
Ascent Part of Trip: Blanca Peak (1 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Blanca Peak2012-08-24 b5919 ft / 1804 m
2Ellingwood Point2012-08-24 c691 ft / 211 m
Total Trip Gain: 6610 ft / 2015 m    Total Trip Loss: 6610 ft / 2015 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by BMS 914
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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