Blanca Peak - 14,345 feet above sea level; the 4th highest peak in Colorado
Blanca Peak is only part of the beauty that makes up the Sierra Blanca Massif. Blanca is the highest of the massif which includes Little Bear (14,037), California Peak (13,849), Mt. Lindsey (14,042) Iron Nipple (13,480), Hamilton Peak (13,658) Peak 13,828, and of course Ellingwood Point (14,042) as well as all the ridges connecting them.
The first recorded ascent of Blanca by the Wheeler Survey was recorded on August 14, 1874, but to their suprise they found evidence of a stone structure possibly built by Ute indians or wandering Spaniards.
Blanca Peak is known to the Navajo peoples as 'Tsisnassjini', White Shell Mountain, and is their Sacred Mountain of the East as they have 4 sacred mountains of which two are in CO, one in AZ and one in NM.
Blanca lies at the southern tip of Colorado's Sangre de Cristo range near the town of Alamosa and it borders another CO attraction, Great Sand Dunes National Monument.
Blanca's west face rises up gradually from the Lake Como basin and is comprised of large boulder fields, rocky cliff bands and various sized snow fields of differing steepness.
Blanca's sheer east face rises up steeply from the Huerfano Valley and is comprised of steep, loose rock and snow gulleys of various soundness.
To the north Blanca extends a gentle ridge towards Ellingwood Point and to the southwest Blanca's long, exposed and jagged ridge comes together with the summit of Little Bear.
There are 3 access points from which to ascend Blanca.
1) Lake Como - Hwy 150 access, this is the standard route and should be used. This is a two tiered outing; first the road - either a grueling hike to Lake Como and a pleasant hike up the peaks or a grueling drive as close as you dare to Lake Como and then a pleasant hike up the peaks.
2) Huerfano River Valley Access - offers the technically skilled mountaineer a wealth of exciting and challenging climbing and route finding problems.
3) Blanca US 160 access - this is the traditional route which ascends Blanca from the south via Smith and Cedar roads which lead to a 4x4 road. The hike then gains the Hamilton-Blanca ridge. This access is currently closed by the ranch managers and is deemed as trespassing if found in the vicinity.
From Colorado U. S. 160, turn North onto U.S. 150. This is 26 miles from Alamosa and is the turn off for the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. Travel North along 150 approximately 3.2 miles. Look for a small street sign marked Como Lake which is FR975 or TR886. Turn east onto this sandy road and follow it to the forest service information sign just a short distance in. This sandy road turns to a rocky road which continues east towards the mountains and follows a fence line. Most vehicles can continue for 1.5 to 2.5 miles or so; after that, concern for your vehicle is the only thing stopping you.
If you choose to drive the road, drive it only if your vehicle is up to the task; it is loose, steep, unforgiving and consists entirely of large rocks and boulders. Unworthy vehicles only increase erosion by spinning their wheels and this road will destroy your truck/car/jeep if you don't have the gears, tires and clearance demanded by this terrain. There is limited camping or room for turn arounds once you begin up the switchbacks. There is parking and camping along the 4x4 road at anywhere between 7,800ft and 8,400ft. You could say the road begins at 7,654ft at the Hwy 150 & FR975 junction and ends at Lake Como at 11,729ft. The distance between these two is 7.32 miles.
From Denver take I-25 south to the Walsengurg Exit #50.
Take Hwy 160 West through the town of Blanca to Hwy 150. Follow 150 as described above.
Details of the approach to Lake Como -
TRAILHEAD - Junction Hwy 150 & FRS975
N 37º 31' 19'' W 105º 36' 5'' 7,654 ft Mile - 0
N 37º 32' 11'' W 105º 34' 47'' 7,870 ft Mile - 1.65
N 37º 33' 22'' W 105º 33' 23'' 9,402 ft Mile - 4.18
N 37º 33' 43'' W 105º 32' 59'' 10,253 ft Mile - 5.08
N 37º 34' 7'' W 105º 32' 24'' 10,452 ft Mile - 5.74
N 37º 34' 7'' W 105º 32' 20'' 10,531 ft Mile 5.79
N 37º 34' 9'' W 105º 32' 4'' 10,726 ft Mile - 6.07
N 37º 34' 12'' W 105º 31' 53'' 10,967 ft Mile - 6.31
N 37º 34' 12'' W 105º 31' 37'' 11,311 ft Mile - 6.5
N 37º 34' 11'' W 105º 31' 32'' 11,365 ft Mile - 6.64
N 37º 34' 10'' W 105º 30' 54'' 11,729 ft Mile 7.32
Blanca Peak lies sandwiched between the San Isabel National Forest to the east (Huerfano side) and the Rio Grande National Forest to the west (Lake Como side). The area is managed by the San Carlos Ranger District.
No fees or permits are required for this area and as always Tread Lightly and Leave No Trace code should rule.
Winter travel is for expert back country travelers and survivalists only.
Contact info is as follows:
Rocky Mountain Regional Office
740 Simms St -P.O. Box 25127 Lakewood, CO 80225-0127
San Carlos Ranger District
BLM Front Range Center &
Royal Gorge Resource Office
3170 East Main Street - Canon City, CO 81212
Hours 7:30 to 4:30 Monday-Friday
Pike/San Isabel National Forests and Comanche/Cimarron National Grasslands
1920 Valley Drive
Pueblo, CO 81008
Rio Grande National Forest
Forest Supervisor's and District offices
1803 W. Hwy 160
Monte Vista, CO 81144
When To Climb
Late June to early September is best for climbing. Winter climbs can take days and are for expert backcountry travelers!
There is good camping along the Lake Como jeep road up to about 8,900ft. These camp sites are rocky and in the Junipers, but diligence can provide you with an excellent site.
Going higher there is ONE large camping area at the pine forest zone at about 10,200ft. This site is above the initial switchbacks at about mile 5. There isn't water in this site's immediate vicinity. The stream access is further up the road about a mile or so.
Above 10,200ft car camping along the road is non-existent due to steep ravines and dense forest until you reach the old cabin ruins at 10,500ft, mile 5.8.
A high camp above Lake Como is best. The Como lakes area is private land and camping is prohibited in it's immediate area.
Just above Lake Como are Blue Lakes at about 12,000ft. Between Lake Como and Blue lakes there is good camping.
Above Blue Lakes lies Crater Lake. It is rocky and exposed around Crater Lake making It better to camp lower.
Go to www.coloradoclimbers.com and leave a message for conditions.
The mosquitoes are fierce at Como Lakes as well as along the 4x4 road leading to Como Lakes. They will piss you off to the point of uncharacteristic fits of rage. This is always the case in early July; and I would prepare for them by carying a head/neck net as part of your battle chest.
A bit about the road.
The local 4x4 clubs perform trail maintenance and have been instrumental in keeping access to this Colorado treasure open for all. I have great respect for our wild lands as I do for the freedom to access them. This being said, I do try very hard to be courteous to all I meet in the wild regardless of their method to enjoy these spaces. As part of this general courtesy I am a strong believer in the codes of ethics that have been developed by various groups, thus please join me when you are in the woods in an attempt to hold both groups to their respective code. Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly ethics must be followed by all - no exceptions. Thanks!