On September 19, 2017 Dan and I hiked Ellingwood Point and Blanca Peak. They are 14er #40 and #41 out of 58 for us and, unknowingly at the time, our last 14ers for the year (16 this summer). The mountains are now blanketed in snow – goodbye summer conditions!
Blanca and Ellingwood 14ers
Trailhead: Lake Como
Total Mileage: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft
I woke up at 6:45 AM and made one mostly hot cup of green tea before the stove fuel ran out. And what would a 14er morning be without choking down a cold, hard breakfast bar? It’s such a hardship to have easy convenience foods at my disposal. We started hiking at 7:30 AM and it was already windy, yikes.
The hike up to the bowl was beautiful, winding through small alpine lakes with the trio of 14ers looming ahead. There wasn’t too much incline at the start, what a treat. It’s nice to get a warmup before frantically sucking wind, as opposed to most 14ers that start UP. So up that you forget your reason for spending money and time to do this “hobby”. Just kidding I desperately love 14ers… please don’t leave me, unfeeling mountains.
The light winds kissing my face on the way up to the bowl turned into 30 mph frigid blasts. I thought about how all the outdoor conditions – sun, cold, dry alpine air – over the last five years are accelerating the whole face-aging thing for me. I guess I’m willing to make that sacrifice now, and can cry about it later? That’s for future Ashley to mourn.
We summited Ellingwood at 9:30 AM and spent a short 10 minutes huddled behind a small wind break. My mouth was going numb and I had some serious tear tracks sprayed all over my cheeks. Damn that wind is unforgiving. I tried to eat a Clif Bar but between my numb, drooling mouth and the fact that the bar was a unyielding frozen brick, I gnawed on a corner and hoped the 30 calories of dissolved sugar would give me the physical and emotional strength to persevere. Hah.
We then decided to do the third class traverse to Blanca, which basically felt the same as the approach up Ellingwood [a hard second class scramble]. It’s all in the [approach] shoes..
The wind along the Blanca ridge line got stronger, achieving the gusting intensity that makes it hard to breathe. I regretted not bringing a balaclava. We summited Blanca around 11 AM. Wee, #41! We hung out behind a large wind break for 45 minutes talking with our friend from the day before. He was doing the traverse in the opposite direction, and would be heading to Ellingwood next.
Eventually it was time to go. Goodbye top of the world.
The views were incredible but the wind was ridiculous. We descended the ridge quickly and reached the notch. A solo hiker in shorts + no gloves was standing there looking cold and miserable. He said he was going to turn back, so close to the summit. He had hiked in that morning from the BOTTOM OF LAKE COMO ROAD and stopped short like 0.25 miles from the top. For reference, his round trip hike for the day was 17 miles and 6,500 ft of gain. Oh God. I felt physical pain for him. But at the same time, it’s good to know when to turn back and not unsafely push just because you are so close? I probably would have died a frozen death for that summit, in that particular circumstance though…Easy to say as I’m luxuriating under a blanket on the couch!!
We got back down to our tent around 1:30 PM and packed up our camp, departing for the car at 2 PM. An hour later we got to the car, ravenous. We made chicken wraps and ate them in <2 minutes. Then we drove down the crazy Como road in about 30 minutes. Two hours later we drove by the only fast food option along the four hour drive home, Dominos. Four slices later and I put a dent in my hunger.
We were both pretty tired after this trip. I laid around on the couch for the rest of the night, and basked some more in the glow of Little Bear. Which really just means I watched Friends on Netflix with a glass of wine.