Peak(s):  Ellingwood Point  -  14,057 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,350 feet
Tijeras Peak  -  13,604 feet
Date Posted:  06/21/2012
Modified:  10/07/2013
Date Climbed:   06/08/2012
Author:  geojed
 Alternate Route For Blanca/Elllingwood - Via South Zapata Lake   

Peak: Ellingwood Pt - 14,042', Blanca Peak - 14,345'
TH/Route: Zapata Falls TH - Via South Zapata Lake
Distance: 12.74mi
Elev Gain: 6650'
Time: 12:00 (7:00am - 7:00pm)
Technical Gear: Ice Axe, Microspikes
Travelers: Geojed (Jed)


The Route that I used for this climb now has its own Route Page with lots of helpful annotations here on Check it out at the link below.

Ellingwood Point - North Ridge via South Zapata Creek


From reading all the TR's for Blanca/Ellingwood/Little Bear I started to get a VERY subtle hint/feeling that hiking up and down the Lake Como Rd was less than enjoyable, so I began looking for alternate ways to approach these peaks that would avoid the dreadful road. From looking at topo maps of the area I saw a trail that started at the Zapata Falls TH and headed up to South Zapata Lake. This trail piqued my interest and got my hopes up about finding a nice route for Ellingwood and Blanca that would avoid the Lake Como Rd. I started searching for any TR's for this approach to these awesome peaks and through all my searching I found only two. One epic TR on SP and one here on . In the SP TR they climbed what they named the "Crossfire Couloir" and encountered Class 4/5 climbing above the snow in the couloir. In the TR here on they climbed what they called the "C2" couloir which is the next couloir to the right/west of the "Crossfire".

The Zapata Falls TH which is at 9100' elev is easily reached by any 2WD and is a great alternative to parking at 8800' on the Como Rd. Plus if you are planning on doing both Blanca and Ellingwood in a day, although this route this saves you only 100' elev gain (mainly due to the fact that you have to re-climb Ellingwood Pt) it saves you about 4 - 4.5mi (depending on whether you take the C2 Couloir or the couloir I took) compared to parking at 8800' on the Como Rd.

The Hike

I started at around 7AM on a beautiful morning with nary a shower/thunderstorm in the forecast.
View up South Zapata Creek. Pt13471 is on the left with Twin Peaks on the right. Zapata Falls is in the canyon down to the

Beautiful views of Great Sand Dunes and the Crestones to the North.

The trail starts out as a very wide and rocky track for the first mile or so until you reach the well signed right turn for the South Zapata Lake Trail. Straight takes you to Zapata Falls. The South Zapata Lake Trail splits right and switchbacks to the west as you begin your climb up the edge of the valley.

The trail levels off for awhile and from here I had great views up the valley at the pyramidal in shape PT13471.


Soon I crossed South Zapata Creek and then the trail steepened considerably as it switchbacked further up on the east side of the valley. As I gained elevation I got my first glimpse of Ellingwood Pt at the head of the valley.

First glimpse of Ellingwood Pt at head of valley

After climbing steeply for awhile the trail leveled off a bit and traversed along a really cool shelf below some cliffs. Soon I crossed a small creek coming down California Gulch.

California Gulch

Right after California Gulch the trail begins a disappointing 200ft descent down into the valley to avoid a large talus field along the canyon edge. Soon after I began climbing again I crossed the North Fork South Zapata Creek. I spent the next 1.5mi mainly in the trees with only views up towards the cliffs to my East. Then the trail crosses South Zapata Creek, I neared treeline, and my first up close and personal view of Ellingwood Pt.

Ellingwood Pt 14,042' C2 couloir in center just to the right of the lowest notch in the ridge.

I followed the trail to South Zapata Lake as Ellingwood Pt lorded over me at the head of the basin. The "Crossfire Couloir" is just left of center of the photo above (it's the lowest notch/couloir in the ridge). The "C2 Couloir" is the one that is just to the right of it with snow visible to the top of it. I suspected that due to the warm weather the snow hadn't frozen the night before and the prospect of climbing a couloir filled with mashed potatoes and postholing all along the way to the top would be less than fun. Here's what the C2 Couloir looks like when dry and snow free.

Snow free C2 Couloir/gully from painless4u2 TR

So I looked at my Topomap app on my IPhone and noticed that there was another couloir further up in the basin to my right that looked like it had a good chance of being dry and doable without too much extra effort. So from South Zapata Lake I headed West up grassy slopes towards a small basin and tarn below Twin Peaks. Once I crested the small ridge at ~12,640' I was very pleased to see that this couloir was nice and dry.

Couloir looking nice and dry.

It was a pleasant ascent of the couloir with only a little bit of looseness encountered. I was able to occasionally follow a use trail.
Looking East towards Ellingwood Pt

Looking back down the couloir into the South Zapata Basin

From the top of the couloir I got my first view of the Pioneer Basin and Blanca Peak
View of Pioneer Basin, Ellingwood Pt and Blanca Peak

I decided to traverse the slopes below the many bumps along the ridge to Ellingwood Pt, it probably would've been better to just stay on the ridge as the rock would have been more solid. It took me about an hour to make it to Ellingwood's north ridge. Here I got my first view of the Huerfano Basin and of centennial California Peak (13,849')

Huerfano Basin with Mt Lindsey - 14,042' looking nice.

Centennial California Peak - 13,849' is in the background center.

Ellingwood's North Ridge

Little Bear Peak is looking mighty fine

The first 2/3 of Ellingwood Pt's North Ridge is fairly easy at Class 2 with stable talus. When I got closer to the top it increased to very fun Class 3 scrambling.

Final Class 3 portion of Ellingwood's North Ridge

View back across the Crossfire Ridge. Pioneer Lake (L) Twin Peaks (C) South Zapata Lake (R)

Once I reached Ellingwood's summit I got the classic view of Blanca Peak and a great view of Little Bear towering above Crater Lake

Blanca Peak's incredible North Face

Little Bear and Crater Lake

10min after I reached the summit who other than Glenn Randall (gprandall) came hiking up Ellingwood's normal route. We talked for about 45min or so and two other hikers reached the summit in the meantime. Glenn was continuing his 14er "sunrise/sunset from the summit" project and was planning on spending the next 8hrs on Ellingwood's summit waiting for sunset. Anyways, I wanted to do the high traverse to Blanca but hadn't researched the route recently. So, since I had pretty good cell reception on the summit of Ellingwood, I looked up the route description on my IPhone and got the beta/pics I needed to find the high traverse route to Blanca.

47min after beginning the traverse to Blanca I reached its airy summit
Looking North from Blanca's summit

With astounding views in all directions.
Little Bear

Huerfano Peak and Mt. Lindsey

Winchell Lakes still icy

I chilled on the summit for 30min or so while two other hikers summited. They had started from the 8800' TH and were just going to summit Blanca Peak. Chatted with them for awhile and even took a couple of pictures for them with my IPhone and immediately emailed the photos to them from my phone since cell coverage was so good.

Then I began the traverse back to Ellingwood Pt and 40min later I re-summited Ellingwood Pt. Talked with Glenn for a couple minutes again and left him on Ellingwood's summit as he waited to take sunset photos. I then headed back down Ellingwood's North Ridge back to the C2 Couloir. Here I descended down the couloir, staying on easy rock on the East side of the snow for as long as possible till I couldn't avoid the snow any longer. Put on my micro spikes and pulled out my ice axe and glissaded down to the basin. This saved me a lot of time not having to do the traverse back to the dry gully/couloir I had ascended in the morning.

Looking back up the C2 Couloir

Here I crossed the tundra to a use trail and began my descent to South Zapata Lake. The sky at this time was a beautiful/rich blue and I wish I could've paused and enjoyed the moment forever. I hung out at the lake soaking in the incredible views for 30min or so.

Gorgeous view above South Zapata Lake

Can I just pause this moment please?

Last view of Ellingwood Pt

The descent down the South Zapata Creek Trail was pleasant (except for the annoying 200' I had to regain) and I ran into two really cool guys from New Jersey who were camping at the Zapata CG. They very kindly offered me a delicious steak wrap they had made earlier. Chatted with them for 15min or so and then continued down the trail.

Sunset view of South Zapata Creek valley

Sunset view of Great Sand Dunes and Crestones/Kit Carson

What a wonderful day and a enjoyable "less traveled by" way to do Blanca/Ellingwood w/o having to suffer on the Lake Como Rd. I highly recommend it to any and all.

That night I ate dinner in Ft Garland and then drove to the Music Pass TH for a climb of Tijeras Peak I did the following day. Conditions on "the ramp" for Tijeras are it still has snow and if it didn't freeze the night before you'll posthole in "mashed potatoes" all the way up it. After attempting the snow I ended up bypassing the snow by climbing up the super-fun Class 4 rib along the left side of the ramp. In two spots I had to climb along the rock/snow/ice interface because of a lack of good footholds on the rock rib. I'll post a photo of the conditions on the ramp tonight.
Tijeras Peak the next day, as seen from Music Pass

My love of the Sangres deepens more and more each time I climb in them.


My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Comments or Questions
Wish I lived in CO
06/21/2012 14:43
Blanca and Ell. Point have been pretty low on the list for a while, but this route and TR are inspiring. Great route, pics, and beta. Below treeline is there bushwacking, downed trees, etc? or a trail? Thanks for posting.

interesting alternative
06/21/2012 14:56
but this comment might be the first time I've read such a thing!
”I was very pleased to see that this couloir was nice and dry”
That's like blasphemy!

Does this mark the Return of the Jedi? ;)
Nice report, Jed.

Doctor No
06/21/2012 15:06
Looks like a lot of fun - I may have to put this on the short list. Thanks!

Trail and Blasphemy
06/21/2012 15:12
The trail is nice and easy to follow, crowd free compared to the Lake Como Rd, and is in great condition the whole way up to the lake. No bushwacking necessary. I think there were maybe 3 or 4 downed trees the whole way to the lake and use trails were already in place to easily get over/around them without breaking your stride.

Darin: There is good snow, and then there is thigh deep mashed potatoes. I prefer the former and try to avoid the latter. We'll see how the Jedi does on a ”baker's dozen” o' 13ers around North Fork Lake Creek this Saturday. I did Massive and Oklahoma the week prior to this trip and still had energy to go do Princeton afterwards. 8)

Any riff-raff at that TH?
06/21/2012 15:33
We woke up last Saturday to a couple of dirt asses throwing rocks at the bathroom at 6 AM and giggling. On the hike out, I watched a guy Hannibal Lecter a trail sign with a screwdriver. He had a wild look in his eyes so I decided against asking him how his day was going.

That is a sweet basin. Nice effort and TR. Good luck this weekend.

Vermont Mike
That's a great route
06/21/2012 17:03
I was up Twin Peaks a month ago and started out on that ridge over to Ellingwood. The ridge crest got technical on the Twin Peaks side so you could have been better off staying low. May have to return for this one later this summer if the Lake Como road is really as awful as everyone says. That trail to South Zapata Lake is great! Nice work and good luck on Saturday

*Edit: Sorry for my huge avatar photo?!? Never was that big before

06/21/2012 20:07
That I didn't think of doing something like this. Isn't Glenn a Pikes peak ascent winner?

Solid work man!

Thanks for the Memories...
06/21/2012 20:30
Such a sweet place and such fun. This is one I'd definately do over again. Enjoyed reliving it through your TR.

great beta
06/22/2012 04:30
Thanks for posting. I have a third visit to Blanca-Elllingwod in my itinerary, as I need the LB-Blanca traverse to complete the ”Great 4” and I'm not looking forward to Como Rd part three, so perhaps this will work.

Looks like a great alternate route
06/27/2012 01:36
Thanks for sharing. We are planning on hiking Mt. Blanca in July for the first time after growing up in the San Luis Valley. This will be my first 14er. I am afraid this route is too difficult for me, however. What class is this? How far is it to the summit from Zapata Lake if one were to camp?

You are either very fast..
07/16/2012 05:37
..or I am very slow... Most likely that both are true...

Did Zapata to Ellingwood today (15Jul2012). Started @7AM like you did. Not enough gas in the tank to do Blanca. Ended up back at the vehicle at 6:30 for an 11.5 hour climb. And I only did Ellinwood! The C2 couloir was pretty nasty going up and down (no snow left at all).

Quick tip for groups considering this route
07/24/2012 20:52
First off, definitely beautiful trail! Thx very much for your report. You must have had perfect weather!

Quick tip: recommend groups starting/returning at Zapata Falls TH leave a car at Lake Como TH in case of rain/hail storm in between Blanca & Ellingwood. This way, you can descend safely via Lake Como rather than ascend Ellingwood the second time on exposed north ridge and slippery-when-wet rocks.

If not, recommend hiking in and starting from Zapata Lake.

Curious as to the time difference between ascending a dry, loose C2 gully and the route you ascended. Do you remember how much time it took you from the Lake to Ellingwood summit, Jed? Thx!

And then...
09/18/2012 22:02
... I went back and did them both and took almost 16 hours... I must be a glutton for punishment!

LOL Jay!
09/19/2012 20:34
Way to stick with it Jay. Ya it took me 12 hrs total, and that is with an 1hr+ spent on each summit and about 1/2 hr spent trying to pull myself away from the Zapata Basin on my way down.

I can't remember how long it took from Zapata lake to Ellingwood's summit. I'd have to check the time stamps on my pictures. I would venture to guess that it is still faster to go up the loose C2 gully than to circle around to the gully I took.

07/09/2013 02:25
Do you know how many miles this route is to Blanca?

08/21/2014 22:31
Looking at gpx file on google earth from Zapata Falls to Ellingwood is about 6.1. Add another ~0.6 miles to get to Blanca, taking the class 3 variation. So about 6.7 one way, or 13.4 total. (at least that's via the file on google earth..) Sometimes the distance estimates on are a little low.

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