We left Albuquerque at 5:20 pm, which we regretted upon entering the interstate during rush hour. With some clever maneuvers, we made it out of the city in quicker than we though we would. We stopped by my grandma’s house in Santo Domingo Pueblo for some chile en route to Alamosa. Traffic slowed us down further so we didn’t make it to Espanola until 7:40 pm. The delays prevented us from getting to the town of Alamosa until 10 pm where we managed to get the last hotel room in town at the Lamplighter Motel for $72 (2 queen beds). After calling a few important people, we managed to get to sleep by 11:15 pm.
Day 2 (June 8)
We awoke at 6:50 am, quickly showered and dressed prior to exiting the room to see a clear, sunny day. We ate our free breakfast at the restaurant neighboring the hotel and left town at 8:45 am. At 9:10, a red-tailed hawk greeted us at 7,900 feet where we chose to ditch the car. We started on the road by foot around 9:25 am.
The peaks would not reveal themselves until much later.
We took our first break around 9,000 feet at 10:10 am. Aspen saplings and junipers provided shade while the stream nearby caressed our ears. We met two other climbers at this point who were returning from a trip. They carried snowshoes, ice axes, and trekking poles, which worried us since we only had one pair of trekking poles. We had no choice but to continue onward at 10:40 am and try our luck on the mountain. We took our second break around 10,000 feet beneath a grove of ponderosa pines. We got going again at 11:48 am and managed to arrive at the stream crossing at 12:30. The stream segment where the footpath comes to its banks range between 3-5 deep along the tops of the large clusters of rocks submerged in the water. After playing in the stream for 20 minutes, we continued on fro another 40 minutes. At 11,300 feet, we took another break to dry off our shirts that had become soaked in sweat. An older man and his two sons around 19 and 26 years old passed us by and reported passable snow drifts above Como Lake. The wind began to pick up as we came upon Como Lake at 2:00 pm. We skipped stones and put on our gaiters on the shores of the lake before embarking on what we thought would be our last leg to our camp. We lost track of the trail in the snow and decided to go north and explore more of the territory above Como Lake. We ended up climbing a 20 foot granite rockface and raised our bags to get on to the shelf. We got even more lost and had to circumnavigate a number of ponds to get on to a ridge in the valley below the Blue Lakes.
Scouting out the territory ahead.
We dropped our bags and hiked around to gain better knowledge of the terrain. Upon our return we noticed marmots around our packs. We ran from 300 yards away and chased them. They retreated but remained within our vicinity. Rocks whizzing less than two feet above their heads finally convinced them to leave. We set up camp around 12,000 feet, close to the trail and stream at the foot of Little Bear Peak. The sky remained clear into the night, magnifying the brilliance of the stars and planets, most notably, Venus. We had a good time playing the harmonica and collected wood for the morning fire. We entered the tent for sleep at 9:45 pm.
Day 3 (June 9)
We crawled out of the tent at 4:30 to find a heavy layer of mountain fog draped over us. As we ate oatmeal and prepared ourselves for the summit attempt, we watched the fog lift to reveal a small cloud illuminated by the early rays of the sun dancing above the ridge that linked Blanca Peak to Ellingwood Point.
Similar to a whirling ball of flame, this cloud danced jubilantly in the sunlight.
We took our time and ended up leaving at 6:30 am. We got to the northern shore of the upper blue lake where a white-tailed ptarmigan surprised us when it popped out of the boulders seven feet in front of us. When we reached the ridge from which the waterfall that pours into the blue lake originates, we decided to leave one of my shirts and a 1L water bottle. The snowfields had become pretty icy from the low temperatures the previous night. We had no ice axes or crampons but chose to push forward by using one trekking pole each for balance and just kick stepping our way up the slopes. We arrived at the main snowfield bellow the ridge at 8:15 when the wind picked up and stayed around 10-15 mph. I had no gloves so I had to resort to using my friend’s spare socks to keep my hands warm while my sleeve sheltered them from the wind. Tired of nearly slipping on the icy snow, we elected to climb to a point high up the ridge via a scree field composed of rocks a couple feet across. Just prior to gaining the ridge, we ditched the pack and trekking poles. We noticed clouds building on the western horizon, but still far too small to cause any concern.
Thrilling ridge to the summit.
The soles of our boots topped the summit at 9:15 am. We took our time checking out the view and taking pictures before heading back down to pick up the pack and poles. We glissaded down as much as we could to save our knees. The importance of possessing gloves while glissading became apparent as the icy snow ripped into my fingers, which bled all over the trekking pole, jacket, and backpack. We found the water bottle we left chewed up by the teeth of a marmot, exhibiting how mischievous those little guys can be.
Glissading with a trekking pole as a brake.
We arrived at the camp around 11:10 am as the clouds across the San Luis Valley began to expand into thunderheads and travel eastward, towards our camp. After eating and resting for an hour, we walked over to the boulders nearby and climbed for an hour while the skies darkened above our heads. We returned to camp and cleaned up some in preparation for the anticipated rain and sleet. We slept from 3:30-6 pm, awaking to hardly any moisture on the ground. However, lightning and thunder in the valley to the north kept us on edge, but overall the storm had blown over us.
Around 8:15 pm, I climbed a large talus field and watched a gorgeous sunset. Upon my return, we ate dinner and played some more harmonica before we hit the sack.
Blew me away.
Day 4 (June 10)
Starting at 6:30 am, we got up, ate breakfast, and packed up, but we didn’t get on the trail until 9:20 thanks to some problems with my friend’s boots. I took the opportunity to get in some more bouldering. The trip down went by fast. We reached the stream crossing at 10:20 am and after an agonizing long last leg down the rocky road, we made it to the car by 12:20 pm. En route, we encountered a guy and his wife on their way up to Jaws 1 on an ATV. They planned to hike the rest on the way up to Como Lake for the day, which seemed like a normal weekend activity for them. After a quick rest, we drove north to Great Sand Dunes National Park to play in the river next to the dunes. We left Alamosa at 3:30 pm and arrived back in Albuquerque at 6:30 pm.
Only misery suffered during the trip occurred after this point when the car, though in sight, seemed never to get closer.