Equipped with a 4WD vehicle, we made it to approx. 8,900 ft. elevation on the Lake Como road (just before the sign which used to say "Mt. Blanca," but which now says nothing). That was about 800 feet better than where we started the year before to climb Blanca, so we felt pretty good as we set off just after dawn.
Three and a half hours were still required to get us to Lake Como. We had brought crampons and ice axes, not knowing just how much snow remained at higher elevations, but no helmets. We actually needed no gear at all.
The lack of snow made it easy to follow the well-worn trail all the way up into the upper part of the basin, just beneath the Blanca/Ellingwood ridge (again, a luxury we had not enjoyed 13 months earlier). Only after negotiating the cliff bands did searching for the next cairn to mark the way become anything of a task.
There are cairns, however, virtually all the way up. They lead on a climbing traverse to climber's left across the south face, up into a prominent notch in the ridge. Here, a dramatic view down into the Huerfano River drainage is afforded, showing why climbing Ellingwood from this side is a real technical challenge. Kudos to anyone who can do it!
After that, cairns trace a very doable route just below (climber's left) of the actual ridge crest, all the way to the false summit. In truth, it's operator's choice, and lots of ledges and wisps of trail present themselves. Even though the saddle between the false summit and the actual summit is incredibly small, and the drop-off on the right (north) side is incredibly steep, it is easily crossed by staying just to the left. From there, it's an increasingly easy climb/stroll to the summit, which we reached just after noon.
The view from the top is amazing, perhaps even better than that from Blanca, which is 300 feet higher. Going down, I stayed right on the ridge crest most of the way down to about 13,800 feet, where I found stable rock with sidehilling. There's exposure, but it's worth it! We caught a couple of short glissades in the little remaining snow on the way down, which shortened the hike just a bit.
So, overall, the summit is dynamite, but the long approach is awful!
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