On Wednesday evening, we arrived at the all too familiar turnoff for the infamous Como Lake road. Prior to our arrival that evening, we had driven through heavy, heavy rain and wondered what the condition of the road would be. It was probably the worst I have ever seen ... and, this was down in the desert section. The rain runoff had carved huge gullies into the existing road (due to the sandy and degradable nature of the track) which made travel more interesting than usual. As we were eating dinner, we noticed sleet coating the ledges of Little Bear.
On Thursday morning, we woke up and lounged around a bit, then munched some breakfast and headed up the road. We met two older guys backpacking down telling tales of hail at the lake the night before and "snow" on Little Bear. The morning clouds provided some relief of the sun and sooner than we thought, we were up at Como Lake. There was some light rain when we first arrived so we took a break and wandered around to check out the campsites on this side of the lake. None looked really enticing so we continued on the road until it started to climb above the lake, branched off and found a nice camping spot in the trees for our two tents. The weather was looking questionable, so we quickly erected our tents and filtered water. Our timing was fortunate as the rain started and then continued for 12 hours straight.
On Friday morning, our thoughts immediately turned to the weather. We could tell it had been raining regularly not only by the condition of the road, but also by the condition of the puddles, bushes, flowers and bugs ... all were in a healthy and thriving state. It was cloudy early, but not raining. At about 8:30, we decided to go ahead and climb up the gully to the ridge of Little Bear to see if the weather would hold. We were not very optimistic, but heck, we're there ... might as well give it a shot (and it was the closest peak of the ones we wanted to climb on this trip). Once up the gully, we followed the top of the ridge over to a cut which is located just before you start heading across and up a slope to intersect the bottom of the hourglass. As we got closer to the hourglass, we could hear water running (lots of water) and didn't connect two and two until we were skirting a small snow patch below the hourglass ... the water was flowing (and very heavily) down the hourglass (and the rocks nearby). Hmmm. Obviously the combination of the melting sleet and incessant rain was causing the runoff. It wasn't like this before when we climbed it ... it was dry and we had a nice scramble up dry 4th class rock. Not this time. We took turns using the existing fixed rope (wet as it was on the bottom half) as a handrail of sorts and climbed up to the huge boulder covered with many many pieces of webbing. At this point, it was a fairly nice scramble to the summit where we were greeted with clouds. It had been rather surreal climbing all morning with clouds coming from the east and clouds rising from the basins surrounding us. We took a couple of photos, cognizant of the weather, and headed down. On our way down, and before the hourglass, we met two guys on their way up. That would be the only people we would see all day. We reversed our descent using the rope as a handrail down the very wet rock and took our time getting back to camp.
On Saturday, the day was BEAUTIFUL (translation ... the sky was clear blue and the weather the best we had seen on our trip). So, we all headed up the trail together, with Ron branching off at one point to do Ellingwood, and Michael and I continuing on up to Blanca (again). We hit the summit early with wonderful weather and made our way abruptly down the ridge of Blanca to start our traverse to Hamilton Peak. The ridge to Hamilton is a blast and we found solid rock on top ... I think the farthest we ever dropped was maybe 20 feet, if that (and that was only at the beginning). There were a few ridge points to climb and descend and the exposure in places was great (with large drop offs and mini moves to be made). Nothing exceeded 3rd class the entire way. We could hear two different groups of people on the Little Bear/Blanca traverse and caught sight of them a couple of times (though the clouds were dancing again this day and at times obscured our views). We did not hang around very long on Hamilton as we needed to go back across that which we had just traversed, re-climb Blanca and then descend down to camp. And, that we did. In fact, we made better time going back than we had on the initial traverse. Once atop Blanca (again) in the sun, we descended a ways and took our first real good rest break of the day. We made a slow descent to camp ... taking many breaks and savoring the views of Lindsey, Iron Nipple, Unnamed 13,828, Ellingwood, Twin Peaks, California Peak, et.al. It ended up being a 12-hour day with 9 miles roundtrip (and lots of up and down). We probably could have cut some time off of that, but we were enjoying our time in the high basin very much that afternoon and the great weather. This is probably our last trip to this area for quite awhile ... the only peak we have left in this quad is a 13'er that we'll climb from Lily Lake.
On Sunday, we took our time packing up and hiking out. I counted 33 vehicles starting at the lake (there were 6 at the lake) and ending at the turnoff down at the pavement. And, we were treated to three "matchbox" vehicles with huge tires negotiating Jaws 2 (if that's the one with the "bypass" option on the road). After a shaky start with the weather on this trip, the taste of success was even more sweet for all three of us! Happy Trails!
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