After a great day in Salida, I made my way down to the San Isabel National Forest. Knowing that the days hike would be long and treacherous I started very early in the morning. After a short time on the trail I could start to see the early morning sun peaking over the ridge. Unfortunately, this is the most sun I will see all day. I had done the research to know that storms would roll in from the Southwest and I would have a good view of the plains all day. Weather underground also said the rain wouldn’t be a threat till 4-5pm. Hiking up the gulch with ridges on either side I was quickly engulfed in the early morning fog that was settled in the mountains.
This has occurred numerous times to me and after a couple hours, it burns off. Today was not one of those times. I continued the hike knowing that the sky above the fog was clear. I was able to see some deer along the trail as I crossed creek after creek along the way slowly gaining elevation towards the lake at the base of Ellingwood Peak. When I finally got above the tree line I was met with large clearings with mountains covered in more fog. At this point in the climb, I can generally point out the mountain I am about to climb. But in this case, I was completely lost and without even a remote guess. All I could do is follow the trail and eventually end at the lake where I was to start the final accent. For a short moment the fog started to lift and I got my hopes up that I would be able to see the sun. I had hiked 5.5miles to the lake and still had another 2 to the peak. The crystal clear lake sat at the base of Ellingwood Point (far mountain on the left). This lake was an usual sight to behold, with boulders and large rocks bordering its shore yet a pure white sand composing the floor.
I wrapped around the left side of the lake following the warn path and occasional cairns to the base of the climb. I started to make my way up as the fog settled in even thicker. About half way up the boulder field which gave rest to thousands of boulders, many of which were 12-18 feet in length, I realized I would likely be spending the rest of the hike in the fog. I took one last panoramic picture before I continued climbing. As I finished the climb to the ridge and turned left to ascend the peak, my visibility was only about 200 feet. Unfortunately my view from the top of this mountain was muted by blanket of fog. After ascending Ellingwood Point, I made my way along the ridge line to Blanca Peak. This difficult, class 3 traverse was made all the more difficult by my inability to see my path ahead. I moved forward on the trail I had to imagine based on what I researched before I started the climb. As the fog grew more dense, I could barely see 10 feet below where I was climbing. Finally, I made it to Blanca Peak. I needed to make a decision on whether or not to attempt to traverse another ridge line to Little Bear Peak or hike down to the gulch and climb back up the more commonly taken class 4 climb to reach my destination.
I chose to stay in the fog and start the traverse, which turned out to be a great decision. Even though it was a difficult traverse and would probably be a difficult class 4 or easy class 5, it saved over an hour of descent and additional climbing each direction. The only downside to my climbing was the lack of basic views of the surrounding mountains, much less any spectacular views of the area. I had to double check my GPS that I was at the correct peaks and going the correct directions constantly. Since I was now familiar with the path, it was much easier to backtrack to Ellingwood Peak for my descent to the lake. As I got back to the lake, I was met with the first glimmer of hope. For the first time since it peaked its head over the ridge and straight in to the clouds, I was able to see some sunlight breaking through. After spending all day with aching joints, tired muscles, and burning lungs, the only thing keeping me going was my drive never to quit. Regardless of the amount of pain or suffering that the mountains have thrown at me, I kept pushing on (and will continue to push on) putting one foot in front of the other. Once I finished the descent back to the lake I discovered an additional issue of weather. I was about to be chased by rainclouds the entire 5.5 miles back to my car. Within minutes of running, snow was nipping at my heels. I spent 3 of the next 5.5 miles in a heavy snowfall. All I could do was to try to enjoy the snow while ignoring the extreme muscle fatigue I was dealing with. I made it through the snow, back out to the lower gulch, and out of the bad weather. As I finished the hike, I took a couple minutes to hike up the creek at the trailhead to see the falls. After my second day in a row of peaks, the name of the game was recovery and preparing my body for the next day. Thus far, I climbed almost 40 miles of trail, with 1 more day and 4 more peaks ahead to finish out the holiday weekend.