At 4374m, Blanca Peak is Colorado’s fourth highest peak. Its 1623m of prominence, class 3 scrambles, and unpredictable weather can make reaching the summit interesting, but the view is well worth the effort.
We decided to split the 29km trip into 2 days, camping at Lake Como on the first day. That would leave us with a little over 5km (1km elevation) to the summit. We got a late start departing Los Alamos, but made good time, stopping in Alamosa for a bite to eat, and hit Lake Como Road by 6:30. Matt & crew arrived just behind us, and camped out at the bottom of the road. We made it 2.5 miles up where we found a big pullout with an incredible view.
At 7:30, we were on the trail, 2.5 miles to go to the lake and 1 hour until sunset. Lake Como Road is relatively easy to hike, but near impossible to drive. I’m not really sure why they haven’t graded it, but I’m guessing the local 4×4 club enjoys the challenge.
In addition to mud pits, a creek crossing, a various smaller obstacles, there’s major features named Jaws 1-4. These are rock formations that have the appearance of jaws, ready to chomp down on any unworthy vehicles. Jaws 2 has a plaque memorializing a driver who perished when his vehicle rolled over and down the adjacent cliff. Hard. Flipping. Core.
There’s also some cabins that’ve long since collapsed, but evidence shows people have been using the ruins as campsites. While I enjoyed the easy hike up, the mosquitoes were bloody awful. I swear these high altitude mosquitoes bite harder and suck more.
The intensely red sunset, possibly caused by smoke from the ongoing fires in New Mexico, provided us the last natural light before we broke out the headlamps. After about 30 minutes of hiking in the dark, we reached our destination for the night: Lake Como.
Making camp at night sucks. It’s impossible find a good campsite when you can only see 20 feet around you. You wake up in the morning after sleeping on a hard, uneven spot and see the perfect spot was just over the way. Ugh.
In any case, we set up camp then went out to do some astrophotography by the lake. The darkness here allows viewing plenty of stars and the Milky Way while the lake surrounded by rocky peaks adds a nice frame to the scene.
I slept peacefully through the 40-degree night, and could’ve slept longer, but woke up at 5am to catch the sunrise. Gato & I headed to the creek draining from the lake to get water while waited for the sunrise. The sun started to crest over Little Bear’s ridge as we were returning to camp.
Chelsea appeared from her tent looking a little haggard. The cold was too much and she didn’t get any sleep. We built a fire, and after collecting some wood, I went back to sleep for a bit.
We finally left camp at 9am, expecting to summit around noon.
The first 2/3 of the hike is pretty easy, mostly following the remainder of Lake Como Road up to Blue Lake and then taking the foot trail up around the waterfall and to the higher lakes. There was still plenty of snow at 12’000 feet, making trail difficult. We detoured often, but the snow makes for some spectacular views.
I imagine the last 1/3 of the hike is where most people quit. The snow made the switchbacks difficult, and the easiest route was a scramble straight up. Our pace was excruciatingly slow, less than 1km per hour. We had plenty of time to enjoy the views, though.
By 2:30, we decided to call it, less than 1km from the top, fearing going down might be slower than going up. Daniel had the idea to try glissading down, but I was worried we’d be hitting our butts on lots of rocks. After watching him execute without incident, we followed his track. What took us 2 hours to climb, took 5 minutes to descend.
In addition to the snow, the unusually warm, sunny weather was melting it quickly, creating raging waterfalls down the rocky face. Sometimes, the water flowed underneath sheets of ice and snow that would break off if disturbed. It was a little slow getting down these sections, but eventually we made it back to the flatter bottom of the peak.
We were tired and sunbeaten. Our feet were soggy. But at least in that condition, you have no reservations about taking shortcuts through snowy areas. You no longer care about staying dry. You just want off the bloody mountain.
We reached the Lake Como camp at 6p, packing up quickly to try to make it to the Trailblazer and get off the mountain before dark. When we crossed the creek the night before, we hacked our way through the trees to find a suitable crossing to keep our feet dry. On the return, we just slogged through it. The mosquitoes were in full effect: my arms were starting to look like they had chicken pox.
We made it to the Trailblazer with daylight to spare. Even though I drove slower on the way down, I seemed to bang the frame more. (If anybody finds an oil pan cover up there, lemme know.) We made it down past the Jeepers Creepers sign and were almost home free when we rolled up on a big, stranded truck. They were on their second flat of the day. Bad luck, I guess. They didn’t consider pulling off the trail so with no room to get around them, we were stuck for 2 hours waiting for their tire to be delivered. At least it wasn’t us, I guess. We finally made it to asphalt a little before midnight with a 3 hour drive home. And that’s a wrap.