September 04, 2007

Blood of Christ

Over Labor Day Weekend, Ashley, Melanie, Keith, Ryan, and I backpacked into the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ for those non-Spanish speakers) mountains. The purpose of the trip was dual, and somewhat contradictory - relax, and climb three 14ers. The Sangres are known for having substantially better, more solid, rock than other mountain ranges in Colorado. Hence, the mountains are steeper and more jagged than the rock piles found elsewhere in the state.

Before I continue, let me rant about Labor Day. As labor is synonymous with work, I do not understand why a day when nobody works is called Labor Day. Actually, some people do work, and they are typically the ones making minimum wage. I propose changing the title of "Labor Day" to "White-Collar Non-Labor Day". Who's with me? I know it's a bit of a mouthful, but it's much more descriptive and less misleading.

Resume story: On Saturday we drove south to the trailhead that provides access to Lake Como. The 5-mile trail up to the lake is actually a 4-wheel drive road, nationally known as Colorado's toughest Jeep trail. It rises 3700 feet over that 5 mile stretch. To limit the physical exertion required to backpack up to the lake, I drove the 4-Runner as far as I felt comfortable, which ended up getting us about 1.5 miles and 1000 vertical feet closer. After waiting out a thunder/lightening/rain/hail storm, we made the trek up to Lake Como.

The next morning, Keith and I took off on a semi-technical excursion that nobody else wanted in on. We first hiked up a Class 4 route on Little Bear (a peak just barely over 14,000 feet tall). This was good preparation for the next phase of the tour, which involved a lot of Class 4 with a touch of easy 5th Class climbing, nearly all of it with great exposure. The one-mile ridge that links Little Bear with Blanca Peak is one of Colorado's most classic ridge traverses. The ridge is knife-edged in many parts and the faces on both sides of the ridge were often too steep for travel, severely limiting our route options.

Blanca Peak and White Bear Ridge from the summit of Little Bear

Kieth downclimbing part of White Bear ridge

Little Bear and White Bear Ridge

Little Bear from the summit of Blanca

Me near the saddle of White Bear Ridge

The crux of the traverse came shortly after leaving the summit of Little Bear. This involved an easy 5th class downclimbing move along the ridge crest in an exceptionally exposed position. After that it was mostly Class 4 until we arrived on the summit of Blanca Peak to meet Ashley and Ryan, who had hiked up the standard route on Blanca (Melanie stayed back in camp nursing an injured knee and communing with the hick Jeeping enthusiasts).

On Blanca's summit, we debated whether or not to traverse yet another ridge leading the summit of another 14er, Ellingwood Point. Keith and I decided to go for it and Ryan opted to come with us. After a fun scramble up the Class 3 ridge leading to the summit of Ellingwood Point, we promptly initiated our descent as the thunder clouds had begun to build. Our descent route picked it's way down the Class 3 west ridge of Ellingwood Point, effectively linking a U-shaped series of ridges for the day's tour. This ridge came complete with plenty of exposure, which Ryan had not previously had the pleasure of dealing with. We all made it back down the ridge safely and back to the tents in the middle of a hail storm to find one of the two wine bottles that Keith packed in empty. Apparently Melanie had spent the couple of hours before we arrived self-medicating, with the assistance of Ashley, who made if back to camp about 2 hours before Keith, Ryan, and I did.

Soon enough, Keith's other bottle was gone, as well as the bottle of wine and four beers that Ashley and I brought up.

The next morning we hiked out and drove to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The wind apparently deposits a fine-grained sand in a very localized area, forming a vast expanse of sand dunes up against the western side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I was never able to find the ocean.

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