Summit Blanca and Ellingwood Peaks

Rate this Adventure 7 miles 6800 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Brandon Silver

Blanca is the fourth tallest peak in Colorado and the 8th tallest in the Continental U.S. Enjoy the view of the Earth's highest alpine desert from 14,000+ feet. No technical gear required!

Blanca Peak is nestled at the heart (and the top) of a four peak ceiling located at the southern-most tip of Colorado's intimidating Sangre de Christo range. The peak is known for its impeccable 360 degree views, as you can see well over 100 miles in every direction thanks to Colorado's clean, crisp, thin air. The entire hike is roughly 17 miles round trip and should be done in two days. Ambitious hikers can do it in a day hike, but should consider afternoon thunderstorms and the danger that accompanies them.

The trailhead is NOT marked, but extremely easy to find. To get there, simply take HWY 150 north from US 160 as though you were going to Great Sand Dunes National Park. As soon as you turn, you'll notice a small turnout with some reading material about Blanca and it's surrounding peaks. You can't miss the peak itself. It'll be looming above you to the Northeast. Drive past the turnout and search for a small dirt road ascending the mountain. The road is an unmarked left turn across a shotty cattle-guard that follows this road. During late June - late July you'll see several vehicles parked just inside the cattle guard. This is where I would recommend anybody in a sedan (unless you have a Subaru) to park. The road is not maintained and is an extremely popular destination for modified 4x4 vehicles to climb. It's one of the most difficult I hear. I can't really attest to it's difficulty aside from mentioning the numerous plaques in memory of people who've died ascending the road.

If you have a higher clearance vehicle, I would recommend going up this road as high as you feel comfortable. It's by far the most grueling part of the hike if you're on foot. We saw multiple unmodified pickups and jeeps nearly three miles up the road. Just use caution and good judgement.

From highway 150, it is 7.5 miles to Lake Como, a highly recommended camping spot for those wishing to summit in two days. Begin hiking up the infamous Lake Como road as it winds it's way up to 11,750 feet, nearly 4,500 feet above the trailhead. Along the way you'll take in some spectacular views of the desert valley, as well as some pretty daunting sights of Little Bear Peak, one of the most deadly non-technical climbs in Colorado.

Once at the lake, feel free to take a dip in the frigid water and cool off. You may notice a lot of people celebrating their arrival in their modified 4x4 if you decide to come here on the weekend. A recommended spot to escape the rowdy atmosphere would be on the south banks. Few people camp there and it offers a little more silence. Regardless, most people are respectful and tend to quiet down as the sun sets.

To avoid crowds, afternoon storms, and severe UV exposure, wake up early to begin your summit hike, especially if you're also planning to knock out Blanca's sidekick, Ellingwood Point in one day. We woke up around 3:30am and summited Blanca around 8:00, and Ellingwood at about 11:00.

Begin your ascent from the East side of Lake Como, following an extremely well marked trail up into the alpine valley. As the sun rises, you'll see both Ellingwood and Blanca towering on either side of you. You'll venture past several alpine lakes, all equally beautiful in my own opinion. Once you arrive at the ridge, you'll be at around 13,750 feet, and in the "saddle" directly between Blanca and Ellingwood. You'll know when you're there because you'll no longer be able to hike Eastward. The cliff drops nearly 3,000 feet into the adjacent valley, boasting a view that will literally take your breath away. From here, some moderate route-finding is necessary. Spot the cairned trail to the right (South) and follow it up the steep boulder field to the top. Don't venture left of the ridge-crest or you'll find yourself climbing large boulders on a steep face. Stay right, and the climb is much more simple.

Reach the top and drink in the views. You'll notice Little Bear to the west, as well as the infamous class 5 traverse between the two peaks. Behind it, the expansive San Luis Valley, a vast desert that swallows the landscape far to the North and South. To the North, Ellingwood Point stands waiting. Beyond it you can spot the Great Sand Dunes, containing the highest dunes in the Western Hemisphere, as well as a number of reputable peaks over 14,000 feet including Shavano, Tabeguache, Challenger, Kit Carson, and even the infamous Crestone Needle. To the South you'll find the silent sisters; the Spanish Peaks. And to the East, alone and majestic, Mt. Lindsey.

Once you're satisfied with your Rocky Mountain Sunrise, begin descending back the way you came into the saddle. The trail leading to the summit of Ellingwood Point is both more difficult to find, as well as more difficult to climb. Once you leave the saddle headed North, the route is considered class 3. Hunt cairns below the ridge for a time until the route turns right and climbs back onto the ridge, following it the remainder of the way to the summit.

From Ellingwood, you'll have front row seats to Blanca's majesty, along with a serious sense of accomplishment after seeing just how steep the summit climb was. The views are incredible. But don't take my word for it. Go see for yourself. You won't regret it.

NOTE:

Do not stray from the trails. Aside from the high possibility of fatal falls, the rock and skree fields on these steep mountain faces are extremely unstable. It only takes one false step to cause a massive rockslide, potentially killing any number of fellow climbers below.

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