From Como Lake Road
Saturday August 22, 2009
I wanted to climb this peak three years earlier as a combo while climbing Blanca Peak but didn’t get it done as my time ran out during a very long day. This time I had climbed Little Bear Peak on Thursday Aug. 20th and took a day off in between to do some fly fishing on the Rio Grande near South Fork. The weather was absolutely gorgeous during this entire weekend and allowed for all my outdoor events to take shape. The Little Bear climb went well and the trout cooperated for me on Friday as I caught and released several on this my first time fishing this river.
I drove back east on Route 160 and turned left at Route 150 and was soon at the turn for Como Lake Rd. I again drove a full 3.5 miles up this notoriously bad road where I found my usual parking spot at a hairpin left turn where the road gets even worse. I had plenty of daylight remaining and prepared a nice dinner, took in the sights from this vantage high above the San Luis valley, conversed with several persons heading back down the road on foot and gave some food & water to some ill-prepared people as well. I turned-in at 9:00PM in the back of my S-10 pickup.
My watch alarm sounded at 4:00AM and I wasted no time getting up and preparing a quick hot breakfast of instant oatmeal, black coffee and a quart of Gatorade. The stars of autumn filled the skies with Orion and The Pleiades unmistakably present high above. I donned my headlamp and started up the road for Como Lake right at 5:00AM
The weather again was perfect and I hiked up this steep and rocky road to Como Lake and arrived at 6:50 where I paused for a breather and took in a little food & drink. Little Bear Peak totally dominates the view to the right and above this beautiful little lake and I saw a couple of tents pitched but nobody around. Como Lake Road continues to the left of the lake and up through a short shady section through the woods where I now saw many people camping and getting their day started. Some had ATV’s and appeared to be getting started back down where others were planning to climb.
I packed-away my headlamp and put on my gloves and continued up the road to Blue Lake and here I saw others advancing up the switchbacks ahead where the road stops and the trail begins. The trail gains elevation quickly as I followed behind two young guys who soon stopped for a break as I stopped and spoke with them and we discussed our planned hikes. They were trying to do both Blanca and Ellingwood and asked me which they should do first. I recommended Blanca first and then take the traverse over to Ellingwood. We then started up the trail again and I stopped to check my 14er.com print-out just after passing through on the left at a large notch near Crater Lake.
I made my way to the left of some wooden planks from an old, ruined building and trying to stay on the “trail” was the next challenge; moving along and finding cairnes and little red/plastic bushy darts in places was how I went and up some more switchbacks that took me high up over some cliffy/grassy sections leading up into a basin of sorts with Ellingwood high up on the left and Blanca up higher on the right as I continued to “cobble-along” heading up between the two peaks.
I was not able to find a defined spot where I figured the trail would turn to the left towards Ellingwood so I simply continued heading up towards the ridge/saddle between the two peaks. Here I now met three young CU students who were every bit as confused as I about precisely where to find a defined trail. We all hiked somewhat together until we reached the saddle where we stopped and observed the two guys I’d seen earlier working their way up to Blanca Peak. These two appeared to be a bit too far right and their heavy scrambling was creating a good amount of serious rock fall. We all looked at each other as a huge boulder cut loose and made a loud racket as it tumbled way down out of sight. Glad not to be behind or anywhere near these two we parted ways as the three students took the saddle ridge right and I went left.
I made good progress along the left side and slightly below the traversing ridge line and a few class 3 moves were required to continue the advance towards Ellingwood. I then met a guy coming towards me from Ellingwood and he assured me that cairns would lead the way across. He was right about the cairnes, but as to where they lead was up for interpretation as they seemed to be above and below but nothing truly online with where I wanted to go. I just kept pressing across the traverse and trying to gain elevation as I went and I looked above and guessed at which point above was the actual summit; the one had a distinct cluster of rocks right on top and I had guessed correctly as I reached an empty summit at 10:36AM.
The day was perfect and the views spectacular from this small summit; the rocks I’d seen from below were actually part of a tiny bunker wall right on the summit itself. I relaxed for a long rest, took in some food & drink, while marveling at how clear it was and how far I could see. Way below was Crater Lake with Mt Lindsey left and Blanca Peak directly across with lots of people on top and Little Bear to the right. The Crestones & Sand Dunes more distant to the North, Spanish Peaks and Culebra further South and the San Luis Valley spread in it’s entirety to the West. I took many photos during my 30 minute visit and signed the summit log before heading back down and listened as lots of rowdies shouted-out their echoed hoots and hollers.
The route finding wasn’t much better going back down as I viewed a long orange patch of stone and scree far below that appeared to be reachable and also offered good passage to reach the visible return trail. I proceeded in a long traverse descent and really didn’t pay any heed to the cairns I saw along the way as they certainly hadn’t helped on my ascent. I again saw the three CU students as they were now heading over to Ellingwood. I assured them of the correct highpoint to be the summit and then continued my somewhat “helter-skelter” descent. I knew I had to clear a rather large rock rib to prevent from ending up on some cliffs I’d seen on the way over and although my traverse was somewhat blind I soon found my way via some angled ledges directly to the orange rock I’d seen from above.
I now made my way across some rubble and saw a guy and gal sitting taking a rest and found them to be right on the trail itself. We conversed briefly and I told them of my “route” from the Ellingwood summit as that was their destination; we bid our a dues as I proceeded down and I’m not sure if they went up “my way” or not. I made fairly quick work of the trail down, took a quick picture of a crystal Crater Lake
and came upon a gaggle of off-road jeeps at Blue Lake with lots of people; kids, dogs, ma’s & pa’s, grandma’s & grandpa’s , picnicking and having mass fun on this beautiful day………..Nice.
My descent back down past Como Lake and down the road was pretty uneventful until I had to step aside and wait on three separate occasions to allow groups of 5-6 off-roaders to pass on the road; kind of a hassle but what the heck, these people were having a good time and the variety of vehicles seemed endless, no two alike. I just hoped that nobody would be coming up at the same moment I was going down in my truck as this road is strictly a single lane avenue up & down. I reached my truck at 3:23PM after one last vehicle went by on its way up and wasted no time proceeding down the road after looking far down and determining the “all clear” to be right now.
On the way down I noticed a few hikers that were making better time than me descending this crappy road, but I soon overtook them as this road is as hard to walk on as it is to drive. Way down near the bottom I had to back into a tight opening between the pines to allow an uphill vehicle to pass but otherwise I had lucked-out on this very busy Saturday afternoon.
It took me about 30 minutes to reach the very end of the road and I stopped to get out of my hiking boots and into my sandals for the long drive home. A guy approached and said he was stuck in the sand and needed a push. I had a better idea and pulled out my tow strap and we had him “extracted” in a jiffy, thus keeping my record in tact; every time I’ve driven this road I’ve made some degree of a rescue of sorts. It feels good to know I could make a difference for someone in trouble and I just happen to come along to help out. My 47th 14’er on this brilliant day………..sweet!