Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ellingwood Point Southwest Ridge

We met Brian at the trailhead for the road to Lake Como deep in the Sangre De Cristo mountains.  Due to a flat tire, we started up the road very late in the day.  Add to this that I didn't feel comfortable taking my stock 4x4 as far up the road as I did in my Little Bear ascent.  We ended up hiking most of the way to Como in the dark.  We got to Lake Como at midnight and pitched our tents.
I originally had planned to do the Little Bear to Blanca traverse, but Shelz was not comfortable with such a committing route so early in her scrambling life.  Instead we decided to try the Southwest ridge on Ellingwood Point.  Roach describes it as a fun and continuous tune up for Little Bear to Blanca, and so it is.

We hiked passed the recommended start, and so I decided to take off from the next lake up.  This approach to the ridge proved to be a bit harder scramble.  At one point we spent the better part of an hour trying to get around a particular vertical rock section.

Finally once on the ridge, the scrambling is solid class 3.  Often times the ridge looks like it is too hard, but you can always find a reasonable weakness in the slope.  If the rock gets too vertical, you can always drop to the left side of the ridge.

Once you can see all of the final approach, things get a bit airy.  The ridge narrows and you must keep your balance.  A couple of knife like edges exist here.  Just before the final pitch, we found it necessary to downclimb and then scurry up a loose rock and dirt section to the last notch on the ridge.

The scrambling up to the summit was easier both in climbing and in route finding than the final pitch on Sneffels.  We had the summit to ourselves and hadn't seen a soul on our route all day.  Even the descent was us alone.  The 14er initiative volunteers had even quit for the day.

The descent down the standard route was an exercise in talus hopping.  Once we made it to the cave, the descent was easier.  The long slog back to camp was highlighted by the sighting of four nice mule deer bucks.  Two of the fellas had quite large racks, while the other two were younger.  All still in the velvet.

This route took us from dawn to dusk.  It took us over eleven hours, granted we were moving slow.  This was one of the most fun scrambling routes I've done.  It wasn't the hardest, but the continuous fun is hard to beat!

Initial Ramp

Our harder scramble

Balancing on the ridge

At times on the east side

A long way down on either side

Finally, the rest of the ridge to the summit
Little Bear in the background

Final pitch

39th 14er

A look at our first pitch

A look at the recommended start

Sneffles Southwest Ridge

Shelz and I decided to brave the Class 3 Southwest Ridge of Sneffles on a fine July weekend.  We arrived Friday night amid a hail and sleet storm.  It was so wet that we decided to sleep in the pickup cab rather than try and set up a tent.

We woke after an uncomfortable sleep and took the truck up the 4WD road to a point just below the lower trailhead.  The hike to Blue Lakes pass was very picturesque and enjoyable.  Once up the switchbacks you get a glimpse of the ferocious gendarmes that guard the start of the ridge.  Luckily these are avoided on the west side.

Once past the gendarmes the ridge progresses steadily from hard class 2 to easy class 3 to harder moves.  This was Shelz first big class 3 outing so it was a descent choice for a noob.  She tackled the climb with aplomb.  Route finding was even a test as you pass to the east side and do a bit of descent via a notch in the ridge.

The climbing continues in a fun fashion until you see the final pitch.  The climbing became a bit harder here due to the line we took.  A couple of times we had to retreat and find another way up.  Shelz even slipped once providing a tense moment.

The views on top are amazing.

Our descent followed the standard Sneffels route.  At top it is still some class 2+ ridges but then descends into a nasty scree and dirt slope.  Shelz decided a dirt and mud glissade was best for her.

The shelf road on the way out is crazy for sure.  Once down into Ridgway we stopped at Colorado Boy for a brew and a souvenir T-shirt.  A great adventure in the San Juans!