Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,041 feet
"South Little Bear" - 14,028 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,350 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,057 feet
Date Posted:  09/28/2014
Date Climbed:   09/27/2014
Author:  mojah
 Blanca Group Ridge Run   

Must. Climb. The Ridge.

Ok, maybe not that many, but I thought it was funny during my exhausted, altitude-affected descent. I pretty much stayed on the ridge the whole time

This report is mostly for beta on Little Bear's west ridge direct and for anyone wanting to make a day trip for all three peaks. I ascended a bastard variation of the standard route to gain LB's west ridge and climbed it directly to the summit. Made the traverse to Blanca on the ridge proper; same with Ellingwood. I descended via Ellingwood's SW ridge. Times are included at the bottom.

I drove down to the Lake Como TH right after work on Friday. Parked my car about half a mile past the big 2WD lot (8,300ish'). I had initially intended to try to get up to the parking spots at 8,800', but was not comfortable driving the Subi over the baby skulls in the dark. My balding tires did nothing to boost my confidence either. Oh well. I settled down for about five and a half hours of sleep in preparation for a big day.

I was up and moving at about 2:30 the next morning. About two and half hours hours in, I figured that I had to be close to Lake Como. Despite the dark, I figured I couldn't miss it, that it was idiot proof. Turns out I'm an idiot. I was sure I missed it about half an hour later and I confirmed my suspicions. By now, I could see Little Bear's silhouette in the morning twilight (or maybe I would have been able to see it earlier if I simply looked), and found that I was directly below the NW face. I backtracked a bit and looked for the distinct notch at the top of the standard route gully. Here, I'm still not sure how I got off-route. I crossed the creek and started talus hopping up to the gully. It was still dark, and I think the features got less distinct as I ascended, but what's clear is that I fixated on the wrong gully. By the time I realized it, I was committed. No big deal, it was still well within my comfort level, but nevertheless I was a bit irritated. There was ridge climbing to be had!

Where I gained LB's west ridge

I continued on the ridge past the cairn marking the route to the Hourglass. Shortly after, I reached the first of five cruxes I found on the route. While I avoided dropping from the ridge most of the way, these are sections where I did not immediately see an easier route. They are as follows in the pictures.

Crux 1. Low fifth class. Steps to either side, but eventually will be forced onto the ridge

Crux 2. Low/mid fifth class. Stem up the chimney
Crux 3. Low/mid fifth class. Slab with good holds the whole way

Ratty sling at the top of third crux

A look at the final pitches. Crux 4 can be clearly seen here.

Crux 4. Fourth/Low fifth class, but longer than the first three.

Crux 5. Low/mid fifth class. Slightly overhanging. Optional. Stay right for easier terrain (3rd or 4th class) to the summit

A bit more about each crux. Crux 1 is where the exposure really starts building. Crux 2 was probably my favorite sequence, stemming up the solid dihedral/chimney felt really secure. Crux 3 looks scary at first, but it had plenty of features and I never got worried. Found an old, torn up sling at the top though, so maybe someone thought otherwise. Difficulty relents a bit here, but crux 4 is the longest of the crux sequences. After crux 4, you can find easier terrain to the top, but in the interest of a ridge proper climb, I continued up. Crux 5 features the most difficult single move on the route; an overhanging block. The move directly over the block is mid fifth class, but immediately to either side lowers the difficulty to low fifth. From here on, it's easy scrambling to the summit. Probably one of the most fun ridge climbs I've done; solid rock and a healthy dose of exposure, rivaling that of Capitol even.

The main attraction.

I hadn't originally planned to make the trip over to South Little Bear, but I dropped my pack on LB and started to make the trip over on a whim. About halfway to Baby Bear (I like this name better than Mama Bear), I suddenly feared for my pack. Marmots! I hadn't seen any of the buggers on the way up, but I would not have been stoked to find my pack and food chewed up upon my return. I hurried my pace, took a few pictures, and hurried back. As a result, I don't really have any good pictures for beta. Sorry . I blame the marmots. The crux is the downclimb to the notch between the two summits and the reclimb up it. I'd say it was mostly third class with the notch being fourth class.

Looking up to Baby Bear

Little Bear and Ellingwood from Baby Bear. Crestones in the distance

Ellingwood and Blanca from Baby Bear

Back on Little Bear, I found my pack unmolested and relaxed for a bit. And then came the traverse. I won't go into any detail here as there are already plenty of trip reports on it. Again, I aimed to stay on the ridge proper, only dropping down during some key downclimbs to notches where I felt it was safer. I'll just leave a couple of my favorite shots here.



Winchell Lakes from Blanca

I reached the summit of Blanca a hair over two hours after leaving LB. I took some extra time to relax here. Met a fellow Crested Buttian on the summit as well. I eventually made my way to Ellingwood with the intent of - you guessed it - staying on the ridge. It looked steeper than it really was from Blanca. You can keep it at third class without dropping down. Overall, another enjoyable climb.

Crater Lake from the Blanca-Ellingwood Saddle

Summit beer!

Little Bear hiding in the clouds from Ellingwood

I summitted Ellingwood a bit under a hour after leaving Blanca. I cracked open my summit beer in celebration of my 20th 14er of 2014 and the last of the great traverses. Looking back, I probably stayed a bit longer than I should have on Ellingwood. Little Bear had been hiding in the clouds since before I summitted Blanca, and now Blanca itself was starting to be enveloped. I wasn't terribly worried over it at the time, but it's a good thing nothing came of it in the end. I first heard thunder on the way down just past Lake Como and it was hailing by the time I reached my car. I started to make the descent via the SW ridge shortly after the other fellows with whom I shared the summit. The descent was fun scrambling down on solid rock characteristic of the other traverses earlier in the day. I imagine it would have been fun climbing it too.

Ellingwood's SW ridge

My descent couloir. Not the one on the description for the route. I believe it's to the left somewhere

Where I crossed the creek in the dark seen during the day. Standard route gully is to the right, I ascended the left gully

The Times
2WD lot (roughly) to Little Bear: ~5.75 hr
Little Bear to Baby bear RT: ~0.75 hr
Little Bear to Blanca: ~2 hr
Blanca to Ellingwood: ~1 hr
Ellingwood to 2WD TH: ~3.5 hr

Spent about 15 minutes on LB, 30 minutes each on Blanca and Ellingwood. ~14.25 hrs RT

Bonus! Sheep on the drive home somewhere around Cochetopa Creek

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

Comments or Questions
Images 13 and 14
09/28/2014 21:41
are stellar, good work.

Reverend Run
Nice job, great photos
09/29/2014 16:05
All I can say is, dude, that was epic!

09/30/2014 02:44
I took a lot of pictures on the ridge. Glad you liked the ones I picked out

09/30/2014 14:15
That is quite the feat! West Ridge Direct has enough spice for one day but you really added to the whole deal! Amazing.

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