I would just like to start this by saying do not follow my route! Unless you are looking for 2 14ers and an ultra marathon in the same day.
Ellingwood and Blanca were on my radar for the week for the sole purpose of getting 2 summits in a day, I could have bagged 3 but the class 4 traverse over to Little Bear looked a little sketchtastic.
This 14er adventure started out on Friday night with a lengthy drive down to the Sangre de Cristo range. I left Denver around 6:30 in the afternoon, the trip to the Zapata Falls trail head was a little over 4 hours with Culvers and gas stop. After reading all of the horror stories about Lake Como approach I made the no brainer choice and went with the less traveled Zapata Creek approach. I was pleased with the choice in trail head as soon as I pulled into the empty parking lot.
My day started out just a little before 4 in the morning. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park as hiked along single track through very lush green almost jungle like forest. A good chuck of my hike below tree line was spent removing spider webs from my face! The trail was typical below tree line Colorado hiking, switchbacks engulfed in wild flowers that followed a mountain stream. As you round one of the last switchbacks Ellingwood Point comes into view and I will admit I was a little intimidated.
Once you break tree line the trail turns into a trail that is obviously not used much through a mountain meadow. This meadow continues until about mile 6 when you run into South Zapata Lake. If you plan to camp on this trip you will have a lot of options near the lake. The trail becomes a little bit hard to follow in places, but if you stick to the East side of the Lake you will join back up with it and really have no other choice than to hike to the base of Ellingwood Point. You will be tempted with a variety of couloirs to scramble up, I took the advise of the wise folks over at 14ers.com and took the C2 Couloir. I met 2 other guys at the bottom of the couloir contemplating the best route up. They kindly let me go ahead and gave me a head start to avoid me showering rock down on them. If you take it slow and pick your footing wisely C2 is really not too hard to climb up.
As soon as you step out of the couloir you are presented with incredibly amazing views. The 1st thing that came to my mind was holy crap that is a hell of a hike over to Blanca. Honestly that view messed with my mental game, I spend the rest of the hike up Ellingwood feeling frustrated and pressed for time to get both summits in. As I got closer to the summit of Ellingwood the rest of the mountain range came into view and I realized I had been looking at Little Bear across the way and not Blanca. Seeing Blanca was still a little intimidating, but I was done being frustrated at that point because I knew I would get both 14ers in as long as storms did not roll in.
I took advantage of the beautiful weather and took a 30 minute PBNJ break on the Summit of Ellingwood. One of the 2 guys I met at the bottom of the C2 couloir met me on the caught up to me at the summit, apparently his buddy called it quits back on the ridge before the final push to the summit. We got to chatting and decided to tackle the ridge over to Blanca together because it looked a little sketchy. Looking back I feel a little silly, I spend good chunk of time chatting it up with this guy but never got his name so I will call him random Randy. Me and Randy started down the ridge across Blanca, route finding was a little difficult and its very easy to get yourself into some very exposed areas if you do not stick to the trail. After about 30 minutes of scrambling between carins I started toying with the idea of not re summiting Ellingwood and just following the Lake Como route back out to the highway. Randy decided to turn around about half way in between Blanca and Ellingwood, and I really did not want to tackle that ridge alone so I made the decision to take the Lake Como route back out.
Eventually I met up with the standard route up Blanca which was a relief. The standard route is pretty easy to follow with a couple of different options as you get closer to the summit, but its very similar to the final push of the other 14ers I have been on. The summit of Blanca was full of loud obnoxious high school kids taking pictures in their underwear so I took my summit selfie, told myself the ridge over to Little Bear was way above my skill level, and made my way back down the standard route.
When the standard Blanca route met back up with the trail back up Ellingwood I solidified my decision to go down the Como Lake route, I mean it can not be that much farther right? Believe the hype about the Como Lake road, this was the worst decision I made all day! It was a 7.5 mile hike on babies head boulders, this turned my 15 mile day into a 22 mile day. The total round trip mileage would have been about 30 if the random guy(not Randy) I talked with earlier in the day recognized me on the road gave me a ride the last 8 miles! So if you are crazy and want to get 2 14ers and a ultra marathon in follow my route! This route would work out nicely if you wanted to knock out Ellingwood, Blanca, and Little bear in the same day and you were able to coordinate a ride between the trail heads.
The day was full of spectacular views, a lot of hiking, and some genuinely nice people! I had Mt Lindsey on the schedule for Sunday but my IT band and knee were pissed after a 22 mile day so I decided to drive back to Denver and tend to my wounds!
The route I took. Follow at your own risk!