I was out the door around 6:30 this morning and heading south for Walsenburg on I-25. From there I went west on US160 just past Blanca, then north on CO150--the road that goes to the Sand Dunes National Monument (or is National Park?. Not sure if that was ever finalized. Rest assured nothing will happen now with our current prez.) turning right on the Lake Como Road after 3.2 miles. From here most people stop at the 1.8 mile point. I bought a 4-wheel drive truck for just this sort of road and on this morning I was going to use it. Man! This has got to be THE worst road I've ever driven. Can't someone get all those stones off the road?? After three miles that took about an hour (I only kept going because it seemed like I was driving faster than I could have walked) deep snow on the road finally halted forward progress.
Another Jeep Cherokee type vehicle had stopped about 300 yards before I called it quits. We followed their tracks up towards Lake Como. By now it was around 1100 A.M. At Lake Como I continued to follow the mystery duo's tracks as they climbed steeply to the right of the lake. When they continued up to the ridge I consulted the guide book. Oh! They were going up Little Bear! Wow. This was a brilliantly sunny day in April, but the wind was wicked. I had admiration for their attempt.
My focus was on Ellingwood. A constant heavy updraft from the south sent snow plumes spiraling 400 hundred feet above its summit. Not an encouraging sight. And it was continuous. It wasn't going away.
The higher we went the worse the wind became, until on the final push up to the ridge it was blasting me from the rear at 60-70 MPH. Sam the Wolfdog led the way, ascending to the ridge. I had to warn him to stay away from cornices on the ridge. There was no relief once up on the ridge. The north side of the ridge dropped off to oblivion--no chance for dropping over the side out of the wind.
The apparent top beckoned us on. Fighting our way upward we set out sights on this false summit. Once up top it was obvious that a higher point mocked us from the distance. Fortunately it was not a great distance, so we mustered up some fortitude to continue on up to the real summit. Once atop Ellingwood proper the wind was not too bad. So long as I lay in a recumbent pose, that is. Requisite photos taken, we began the quick descent. I had taken off my snowshoes for the descent since they tend to behave like skates and send me "out of control" on the descent. Better to plunge step down the steep stuff in my boots. The wind now blasted directly on my front. When my lips went numb and the nose lost feeling I shielded my face as best I could with a glove. The main idea was to lose elevation quickly to get out of this extreme wind. Indeed once into the basin area the wind was nearly calm!
Upon reaching Lake Como I noticed the tracks of the other climbers, now heading down to their vehicle. Could I catch them? Their tracks looked older--some coagulation/refreezing. Still, I pushed on. When I got back to my truck I saw them below approaching their vehicle. Throwing my gear in the back of my truck I drove quickly down to them to ask how they had done.
Yes, they made it up Little Bear. And yes it was difficult in the wind and the deep snow on the ridge. Coincidentally they were also from Colorado Springs and we had mutual friends. Paul Smith and Andrew Hadley work at LSI Logic. Paul Smith told me he has done 43 fourteeners. Little Bear on this day was the hardest one he has done thus far.
For Sam the Wolfdog, Ellingwood was his 50th 14er completed under his own power. This was my 52nd and number 62 of the top 100 in Colorado.
Steve Bonowski adds:
An interesting account. Re your note about Sand Dunes, it is still a Monument pending purchase of the Baca Ranch to its northwest. Congress appropriated money for purchase down payment and The Nature Conservancy was supposed to start a negotiation process with the owners, an investment partnership from San Francisco. TNC already owns the nearby Medano-Zapata Ranch. Given the strong support for enlargement & redesignation from Senators Allard & Campbell, and Rep. McInniss, this is likely one lands project that shouldn't get derailed by the new administration. When the ranch purchase goes through, Kit Carson Peak and its satellite, Challenger Pt., will pass into public ownership.