Blanca and Ellingwood Summit Ski Descents

Date: May 1, 2010
Partners: Carl Dowdy, Marc Barella, Mike Bean
Routes: Ascent of Ellingwood Pt. via South Face, ski descent of South Face to 13,100′, ascent of Blanca via North Face, ski descent of North Face and out
Numbers: 5,100′ climbed, 4,500′ skied, 12 hours

One of the more solidified goals Carl and I had for this spring was to wrap up the Blanca Group on skis. The first weekend in May had been the plan for awhile, and as a bonus the days leading up to the trip saw some new snow in the Southern Sangres. Mike, Marc, Carl, and I motored to Alamosa Friday evening after work and pulled onto the Lake Como road around 9pm. We had our sights set on getting the Land Cruiser to 10,400′ or close to it, I think we ended up parking it a bit lower but who’s counting. I enjoyed a decent night of sleep in my bivy bag on the ground next to the truck, the other three guys managed to squeeze inside the truck, I think Mike slept sitting upright in the passenger seat.

An early start had us skinning across Lake Como at 4:30am.

The one thing I remember about this morning is that it was COLD, really cold. With a stiff breeze added in I’m betting it was single digits until we were finally high enough to be in the sun.

After a good amount of skinning and cursing our cold hands, we got above the sun line on Ellingwood’s South Face and things immediately felt better. After a long break in the sun, we geared up and began climbing the face in earnest.

Our South Face ascent route. Photo by Carl.

Some excellent snow climbing this face delivers.

There’s a cool little slot that cuts up through the cliff bands guarding the middle of the face.

Looking down the slot from above. Photo by Carl.

Above the slot we had a decision to make; either traverse over to a snow couloir and use it to climb the final 400′ to the summit, or else gain the South Ridge. From our position the couloir looked fairly wind loaded up top, so the ridge was an easy decision.

A look at the remaining terrain to the summit.

30 minutes later and we were on top.

After a short break, it was time to ski the South Face. Right off the bat we had to make our way through a band of rocks covered by only a thin layer of snow.

Little Bear looking on while I try to find a way around the sharks. Photo by Carl.

Down lower the snow got better.

We skied to around 13,100′ where the skis went on the packs for the climb up Blanca. Looking across at the peak earlier in the day had me skeptical, it just didn’t look like there was enough snow for a summit descent. After a short team huddle we figured we might as well give it a shot, so up we went.

Photo by Mike.

The climbing on the North Face was tedious; lots of dust on talus, verglass covered rocks, etc. It made for some slow going.

A cool shot of the four of us ascending the North Face taken by another party on Ellingwood.

Nearing the top of Blanca.

Upon finally cresting the summit ridge some clouds had built to the north and were heading our way. From the summit, Carl and I could see a ski descent line heading northwest the but it looked sparse. We committed to it, making several steep jump turns in between rocks to get off the summit. From there we traversed to the west and made a few turns down the southwest side of the peak before regrouping with Mike and Marc at the saddle. From there we took turns skiing the obvious couloir on the North Face. Now for the pictures:

Working our way off the top of Blanca was interesting to say the least.

Turns down the harrowing southwest side.

Marc rides the North Face. Photo by Carl.

On the long ski out. Photo by Carl.

We were able to ski to around 11,500′ before removing skis and boots for the hike back down the road. We capped off the day with some calzones at a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint in Ft. Garland. All in all a fun day, though the skiing could have been better.

The San Luis Valley. Photo by Carl.

Cheers!

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