Climbing Blanca and Ellingwood from the Lake Como Approach can be done by either traversing the Class 3 ridge between the two peaks or by descending back to the "standard" trail and then up to the next peak. The later option requires several hundred feet more of elevation re-gain, but it keeps the difficulty at "Difficult Class 2." This route description will briefly describe the Class 2 option but focus mainly on the Class 3 traverse.
The Easiest Option (Difficult Class 2):
This method keeps the difficulty at "Difficult" Class 2 and follows the main (standard) trails up each peak. Most people start with Blanca because it's the prominent peak, but on a busy weekend it may be best to start with Ellingwood, which may provide some early solitude. So, climb your first peak: Blanca Peak - NW Ridge Route
or Ellingwood Point - South Face Route
. Described in the Ellingwood route, you will find a location where the standard trail to Ellingwood starts off of the main Blanca trail, near 13,300'. After climbing your first peak, descend back to this location and begin up the second peak. This method will keep you on the trails used by most climbers. The most confusing part is usually trying to locate the Ellingwood trail when it leaves the main Blanca trail. This is partly because many climbers have created some small, alternate trails toward Ellingwood. It may be helpful to study photos #11 and #12 on the Ellingwood Route to locate some landmarks that assist with the turn-off to Ellingwood. After your second peak, return down the standard trail into the basin.
Traversing near the Ridge (Class 3):
If you are comfortable with Class 3 scrambling and don't mind a bit of loose rock, this is a fun alternative that will keep you from losing (and re-gaining) approximately 300' when compared to the easier option, described above. The traverse can be made in either direction, but I have chosen to describe it from Ellingwood-to-Blanca. 1
is a broad view of the ridge connecting the two peaks. Climb to the Ellingwood summit where you have a good look at the remaining challenge to reach Blanca's summit - 2
. Start back down Ellingwood's East Ridge ( 3
) toward the rugged ridge connecting the two peaks. Near 13,800', and before the difficulties of the ridge, descend to the right ( 4
) to reach a vague "trail" about 150' below the ridge crest and turn left onto the steep rock below the ridge. Look for cairns and begin your traverse below the ridge crest. 5
shows some of the scrambling below the ridge. Nearly half way across the ridge, carefully cross a gully ( 6
) which contains some loose, white rock. 7
are good reference photos which show the location of the gully. Continue ( 9
) southeast on the tiny, cairned trail and after traversing for a while near 13,600', the route becomes easier. 10
looks back on the traverse and 11
is a closer look at the final difficulties. After passing beneath a notch in the lowest part of the ridge, follow easier terrain to reach the main Blanca trail. Turn left ( 12
) and continue up Blanca's Northwest Ridge route. From Blanca, 13
looks back on the entire traverse.
Traverse Variation (More Difficult Class 3):
After leaving Ellingwood and descending to 13,800' continue along the ridge crest a bit longer. Shown with a dotted line in 13
, stay on the ridge and enjoy some exposed (still Class 3) scrambling - 14
. Continue to a large notch ( 16
) where the ridge becomes much more difficult. Downclimb to your right, into a gully ( 17
) and reach the main, Class 3 traverse route, described above.