A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Little Bear,Blanca, and Ellingwood

  • Distance: ~13.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: ~7,300
  • Start time: 3:20 AM
  • Finish Time: 5:00 PM
  • Climbers: Alan and Sandy
With highs creeping into the triple digits and Front Range ensconced in the smoke of wildfires Alan and I headed south, seeking refuge amidst the high peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
This year has lacked big mountain days. Those days with pre-dawn starts, blisters, a huge caloric deficit, and a lot of time above treeline. After bouncing a few miles up one of Colorado’s worst roads, a brief sleep, and an alarm that went off at 2:55 AM, that dearth halted.

We got 4 miles up this road. It took an hour.

An orange sun peering through the haze, including wildfire smoke, in the San Luis Valley
Little Bear Peak is much maligned, all because of the “Hourglass”, a narrow 45 degree climb that funnels rockfall. It can be a shooting gallery if careless climbers are above you. Alan and I avoided the situation with the early start, putting us on top before any other party.
Alan at the base of the Hourglass.
Me, following up.
Skylined, with the San Luis Valley in the background.
There is a traverse along a narrow ridge between Little Bear and Blanca. We had thought about doing it. Alan was up for it. Me? I took one look and said “no”. With narrow catwalks perched 1,000 feet above the valley

The traverse between Little Bear and Blanca
Summit shot
Since we did not do the traverse we had to backtrack and drop ~2,500 vertical feet to the valley floor to pickup the standard route for Blanca and Ellingwood
Headed upvalley, we climbed the headwall left of the waterfall
Alan atop Blanca with Little Bear in the background
Me with Little Bear in the background
It was a brief descent and ascent to pick up Ellingwood, which is connected via a sinuous ridge. From Blanca, Ellingwood appeared a loose pile of choss. Nothing more than granite tiles stacked upon one another, waiting to slide to the valley floor with a hapless hiker facing a quick ride and a quicker stop. Upon closer inspection the trail was obvious and lacking in the perceived danger from afar. We descended different routes, with Alan staying on the ridge proper and me dropping into a couloir, but both eventually meeting on the valley floor.
Alpine tarn with tumbling snowfield
All told, the day totaled over 7,000 feet in elevation, a personal best. It was felt on the hike out, in which every step forward fired nerves letting you know that feet hurt and quadriceps were overtaxed. The ride home featured pizza and fatigue, not necessarily in that order.

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