Day 1- TuesdayAfter having gotten off work Tuesday morning, I drove over to Silverthorne to have some breakfast; no particular reason, just something different.
I drove south to Leadville taking my time. I stopped at the Safeway in town for some last-minute provisions and continued south towards the Sand Dunes and the Blanca Mastiff some 175+ miles away.
On a quick side-note, it's great to see the changes that Leadville is currently undertaking. The roads, sidewalks and drainage improvements are long due in coming.
I arrived at the Lake Como trailhead at 15:30 & very slowly drove up the road for maybe a mile and a half. I pulled over to a familiar spot and after assessing that my pack was too heavy & cumbersome, I spent the next 60 minutes subtracting from it and rearanging items. Finally happy with the weight I headed up the Lake Como road for the first time. I actually parked in the same spot that I camped in two years ago when I tried these three mountains. THAT trip was ended quickly though because dumbass (yours truly) burnt holes in his socks while drying them over the fire.
The road/Jeep trail up to the lake is long but a pretty & scenic hike. The road deserves every bit of its reputation as Colorado's most difficult 4x4 road. Don't think of taking ANY stock vehicle up there. During a shadier portion of the hike in, I stopped to have some water. There was a small cluster of blue butterflies on the ground in front of me but nothing too notable. After a few minutes of adjusting my pack straps and drinking more water, the cluster had blossomed into a veritable cloud purple-blue butterflies surrounding my feet! It was amazing and magical as anything I'd seen. It would prove to be a precursor of how the next two days would unfold.
I arrived at Lake Como at 19:30 and broke out the tent. I started a small fire and had a small dinner of water, fruit and half a powerbar. I noticed some deer had wandered down & were grazing in the willows just across the trail from me. Due to the fire, I couldn't initially see them so I put it out and watched the deer for a little while. I headed to bed at 21:30, very content and happy and looking forward to a long day up on Little Bear.
Day 2- WednesdayBeep-Beep-Beep-Beep! Good God! Six o'clock! I swear, that is an EVIL time when it's warm in the sleeping bag and cold outside. I had frost everywhere in the tent. I unzipped it to get up & feeling the cold outside air I zipped it right back up. "Screw that!" I then proceeded to sleep for another hour.
I woke up (again), forced myself out of the tent at 7:00 and started a small fire so I could at least have a hot cup of tea. I wasn't worried about getting a late start because I'd passed quite a number of people the previous afternoon coming down & the weather was forecasted for 84 degrees, sunny and 0% chance for precipitation. AND, it was a Wednesday, early in the season and before a holiday weekend (Memorial day). Could you possibly ask for better conditions for Little Bear?
I quickly packed my daypack and oh no! Treachery is afoot! Where the hell are my sunglasses?! Crap. I had absolutely no idea where they were. I had to have dropped them somewhere on the trail coming up. And speaking of which, where was the candy that I bought at the gas station in Hooper?! Both were M.I.A. Weird thing was, I was more 'put off' by loosing my 'Tangy-Taffy' than my sunglasses. Go figure.
I found the small climbers trail & headed up over the rockfall and up the couloir.
There was still some snow/ice in the couloir. I had to chop some footholds in the ice with my pick because I didn't bring cramptons (didn't need them anyway). The ridge traverse stayed below the ridge for most of the way. It was cairned a bit which was nice but I didn't exclusively follow them. This mountain is all about route-finding! The traverse takes a little while but it is devoid of snow.
At the bottom of the Hourglass, there is a good pile of detritus, snow and ice. In the morning, the center of the Hourglass was covered with ice. I free-climbed the left side to where two ropes were anchored at the top, figuring I'd try the ropes later, on the way down. The climb wasn't as bad as I thought. I was expecting much worse. I actually rather enjoyed it! Steep, to be sure, but there are enough holds and small ledges to make it without concern.
At the top, I planned my route carefully.
I moved very meticulously, methodically and slow until I reached the summit. The sheer amount of loose rock, talus, dirt and scree from the top of the hourglass to the summit is 100x worse then what I've read. I can see what some people mean by a 'shooting gallery', referring to the Hourglass. I met two lads on the way up. We stopped and talked for a short spell about Gash ridge and the Hourglass and parted.
I made it to the summit of the one 14er that I've been dreading most! I finished that powerbar from the previous evening, downed a Red Bull and enjoyed the view.
I have to say, the class 4 rock that I've been on thus far, I've been rather comfortable with. I made it back down without incident trying the ropes & repelling short stretches at a time. I donned my Winter Marmot gloves (which never leave my daypack) and tested the ropes, they seemed fine.I have never used ropes or repelled. I didn't want to downclimb what I went up. I imitated as best as I could what I've seen in magazines and on TV. WOW! I couldn't believe how fast and easy it was!! I was so impressed and amazed. Ofcourse by then, most of the ice was gone from the Hourglass and it had turned into a veritable small stream running down the center. I made it back down to the traverse totally pumped-up! I would have ran across if I could have. I reached the ascending couloir (as I call it) and did small glissades down the snow. The ice/snow from the morning was now basically slurpee consistancy. I was SO ESTATIC when I got back to camp. I was pumped-up for the rest of the day and Thursday. It took me 8 hours. I cooked a hot dinner, more tea and after reading for an hour or so, sat in front of the fire until it made me sleepy and went to bed at 22:00.
Day 3- ThursdayI was STILL pumped-up from completeing Little Bear the previous day. I woke up well before my alarm clock (5:30) and having prepped my daypack the night before, I got up, dressed and hit the trail for Blanca peak and Ellingwood Point almost immediatley. Funny, the cold air didn't phase me!
As it turned out, I was the ONLY person left in the whole basin. I had both peaks completely to myself! Normally, I think the scramble up to Blanca's ridge is pretty straight forward. But with the remaining snowfields and at 7:00, ice covering the shallow ledges, it made it a bit more interesting and complicated. The first view of Mt. Lindsey and the Spanish Peaks from the ridge was awesome. I must say, from the ridge to the summit of Blanca took me no time at all. I was amazed how quickly it actually went because pictures of Blanca Peak taken from Ellingwood Point make it look impossibly steep and unrelenting.
I didn't stay too long on Blanca. It was 9:00 and time to move on to Ellingwood Point. I was NOT looking forward to it because from Blanca, Ellingwood Point looked like a huge nightmare, pain-in-the-ass talus scramble all the way to the top. None the less, I headed back down and slowly traversed across the ridge and gradually over to the lower flanks of Ellingwood. That, was actually challenging, much more so then going up Blanca Peak. Happy to say, there was a small climbers trail that started on the lower flanks, just materialized really. For anyone reading this, I did alot of improvements to the existing cairns and built quite a number of additional ones. It wasn't as bad as I thought.
You know, as I think what happens frequently with us, I worked myself up so much before-hand, I was expecting the absolute worst. In de facto, it was anything but. I did however, confirm to myself of my confidence in my route-finding skills and my comfort level on class 4 rock soared. And I know now that I really want to learn to repell. Like I said, an absolutely perfect trip. I just wish I had someone there to share it all with.
Thanks for staying to the end of this novella and reading it. Much appreciated.