Blanca Peak - 14,350 feet
|Blanca NW face|
Blanca Peak has become quite possibly my favorite 14er climb out of the 13 that I've so far completed. But I also think that, while it is certainly not one of the toughest 14ers, it's a little more difficult than it's usually made out to be. Here's my trip report from climbing the peak on 8/1/22:
First things first, I had to get up the Lake Como road. I rented a 4WD vehicle and drove slowly up to about 9500 feet. I could have gone about a 1/2 mile farther, and I wish I had! Hiking up the road with an overnight pack on was the most difficult part of the whole climb. Hiking 3 miles up the road doesn't sound far, but it is nearly all uphill over rough terrain, and it's a slog. The road crosses Holbrook Creek roughly halfway up, and this crossing, while not wide, was running fast and deep the days I was up there. There's no way to get across without wading through knee-deep water, so I highly recommend bringing along some alternate shoes to keep your hiking boots / socks dry. I changed into shoes meant for water, hiked up my pants, and waded across, then put my hiking boots and socks back on once my feet had dried.
Upon at last reaching Lake Como, I found a nice campsite on the far side of the lake. (It was Sunday night: I'd imagine everything's more crowded on weekends.)
After a comfortable night under the brightest stars I've ever seen, I woke up once it got light and hit the trail at 6:00. The road continues beyond the lake, and is the first part of the trail.
Beyond that, the road eventually fades and become a trail. Now, some 14ers are more rugged than others, and Blanca is relatively rugged. The trail is mostly a cairned route over rough rocky ground, even here before you reach the headwall.
This basin is a remarkably beautiful place. You'll pass by lake after lake as you climb higher, each connected by streams and waterfalls.
The path, already steep, becomes steeper and more rugged as you reach the base of the headwall. Follow cairns up beyond the ledges to the saddle far above. Supposedly, the route to Ellingwood branches left from this area, but it was not cairned or marked in any way that I could see. The path led to the Blanca (right) side of the saddle.
Once you're up to the saddle, the tough part is done. Also the views in all directions are incredible. On this day, a number of people had hiked up here to the saddle with no intention of continuing to the summit.
Looking up Blanca's ridge from the saddle is imposing, to say the least. The ridge looks rugged and steep. Though the steepness is impossible to get across in photos, it's very noticeable when you're there in person.
Despite the appearance, though, Blanca's ridge from here is smooth, fluid scrambling all the way to the summit. I was surprised to find that this was the easiest part of the climb, easier than the long scamper up the headwall or the haul up the nasty mining road.
After the very beginning of the ridge, I found it easiest to stay directly on top of the ridge crest. No sketchy moves, no unpleasant towers or notches, just lovely smooth class 2+ or 3 scrambling all the way to the summit. And the views all around are absolutely incredible.
Somewhat near the summit, there was a cairn off to the right of the ridge, and another cairn or two beyond it, leading around the mountain beneath the summit. I followed them, figuring it was the easiest way and that it might lead to a gully or something. Nope, the cairns dead-ended in a spot with no simple way to continue upward. I made my way back to the ridge and scrambled straight up it, which was much easier and put me on the summit in no time. I'm not sure what those cairns were for, but when you climb Blanca, ignore them! Just continue on the ridge crest.
On the summit, there's so much to see. Blanca is the 4th highest mountain in Colorado, and the highest in its range, towering ~300 feet over its neighbors Ellingwood, Lindsey, and Little Bear. You can examine the route over to Ellingwood and the seriously nasty traverse to Little Bear.
Views from the summit:
I had intended to traverse over to Ellingwood this day. But between my long slog up the Lake Como road the night before and the long climb to Blanca's summit, I was really, really wiped out. I'd been having trouble catching my breath, even more than usual at high elevation. Maybe I hadn't acclimated enough? Either way, I felt lousy. Unfortunately, Ellingwood would have to wait.
The scramble back down the ridge was even more fun than the ascent because of the wide-open views directly in front of me! Then began the long trek back down the headwall, the rough trail, and the descent of the Lake Como Road after packing up my campsite.
Blanca is a wonderful climb - challenging without being prohibitive, and with a finish up a stunning ridge that make the long approach more than worthwhile! It has vaulted its way into my very favorite 14er climbs, up there with the stunning treks up Longs and Snowmass. However, I think it's important to note that this climb is more difficult than it's usually made out to be. The Roach book puts the distance from Lake Como to the summit and back at 4.6 miles. My map showed something slightly higher but close, more like 4.8 miles. But despite starting on the near (to Blanca) side of Lake Como, my GPS recorded the hike from tent to summit to tent at 7 miles. Yes, I mentioned getting mislead by some screwy cairns near the summit, but that put me off route by 100 yards at most. This route is LONGER than what you've read. And while 2+ extra miles doesn't sound like that much, it is when the entire hike is on boulders and very little of it is on what you would normally call a trail. Keep this in mind!
I would also question the rating of this route. The Roach book says class 2; 14ers.com says 2+. But I'd peg it as more like class 3, on the headwall and especially on the ridge. I climbed another 2+ route 2 days later (Castle/Conundrum) which I would agree with its rating. This one? I'm not sure. Something to think about if you're planning this route!
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