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Routes in Blanca Peak

Gash Ridge T Easy 5th 1+ 3 I 5 M 1c
Little Bear-Blanca Traverse T 5.0 2- 4 I 6 MM 1c
Ormes Buttress T 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b
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Type: Trad, Alpine, 2000 ft, Grade III
FA: Robert Ormes et al 1927
Page Views: 7,107 total · 39/month
Shared By: Julian Smith on Aug 9, 2003
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

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The Ormes Buttress is a superb line up a huge north face in an awesome setting. Legend has it that Robert Ormes climbed the route in 1927 in response to Ellingwood climbing the Crestone Needle. The Ormes Buttress is much more sustained than the Ellingwood Ledges on the Crestone Needle. Basically, it starts as soon as you leave the ground and doesn't let up except for a brief period of scrambling on the upper third of the route. The rock is weathered granite, loose in some places, but tolerable overall.

Use the Lilly Lake trailhead as an approach. The best way to access the route is to follow the Lilly Lake Trail to 11,600 feet where a switchback starts to take you away from the face, back toward Lilly Lake. At this point, if you are observant, an old mining road takes off across the meadows and talus to some old boilers located beneath the lowest cliffs on the north face. Follow this road or work your way however out onto the talus beneath the north face. Your goal is to break through a low band of cliffs and gain the lowest point of the north face. A permanent snowfield will be on the left of the buttress.

If you choose to stay with the Huerfano River as an approach, be prepared for numerous, feet soaking, creek crossings. It looks like it would make sense to follow the river, but trust me, stay with the Lilly Lake Trail, and follow the signs. Dry feet are happy feet.

Once at or near the lowest point in the north face, scramble across a slab to a low angled arete. Climb the arete to a ledge. If you are on route, you should pass some old pitons that look like a belay anchor. These are perhaps original pitons left on the route. Above traverse back to the left and look for a way to break through to the next ledge. Follow this same theme, looking for weaknesses, dodging left or right when necessary, to gain ground in your battle up the face. A final headwall, about halfway up the buttress, will be bordered by a right facing dihedral. If the dihedral is running with water, face climb on solid holds to the right of the dihedral. Traverse back into the dihedral at its top and crank some layback moves to reach easier ground. Above, easier scrambling leads to the top of the face near where the ridge that connects Blanca Peak to Ellingwood Peak joins the summit of Blanca Peak. The climbing still has a move or two here and there. So, be prepared for a long day of climbing if you are going to pitch every bit of it. Simul climbing would be better for the upper part of this route. For a comparison, the upper part of this route is slightly harder and more sustained than the upper part of Kieners route on Long's Peak.Once on the ridge, turn left and a few steps will take you to the summit.

For a descent, follow the ridge to its right or northwest to the summit of Ellingwood Peak. It looks like it will be painful and tedious, as there is some elevation loss and gain to get to the top of Ellingwood Peak from Blanca Peak. With judicious route finding, it is possible to stay mostly with the ridgeline and avoid too much elevation loss. A rappel is possible from midway along the ridge that will allow access to the lower angled north face of Ellingwood Peak. This is a possibility, but will need to be negotiated carefully to avoid being cliffed out in a sea of loose rock.

The better alternative is to descend the north ridge of Ellingwood Peak. Use a compass to locate the north ridge from the summit of Ellingwood Peak. Follow the north ridge from the summit of Ellingwood Peak to a gap in the ridge at 13,200 feet. From the gap, descend down to the right or east. Look for the path of least resistance. Eventually, cliffs will force you to go even further to the right or east to find a low angled traverse that leads back to the talus slopes beneath the cliff band along the bottom of the north face of Ellingwood Peak. Follow grassy slopes down through another cliff band and finally across talus to the Lilly Lake Trail. Use the mining road as a reference to find the Lilly Lake Trail when descending to it.

This is a big route, covering lots of terrain and involves lots of elevation gain and loss in a remote setting. Be prepared and take the weather into account. There is no easy exit to the Huerfano River drainage from Blanca Peak. That is why you get the bonus of scoring 2 peaks in 1 day! Enjoy.


A standard alpine rack should suffice. Nothing very big is necessary.


Julian Smith
Colorado Springs, CO
Julian Smith   Colorado Springs, CO
This side view photo of the north face of Blanca Peak was taken while descending the north ridge of Ellingwood Peak. Notice how difficult it would be to descend Blanca Peak or the connecting ridge. Aug 18, 2003
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Three stars, eh? I've always assumed this face was kinda junky, but it sounds worth checking out. Thanks for the info! Aug 27, 2003
Julian Smith
Colorado Springs, CO
Julian Smith   Colorado Springs, CO
Yes, three stars. Just remember who the quality rating is coming from, though. Everything is subjective, but I don't think you will be dissapointed. Aug 27, 2003
Could you describe where this route lies in the beta photo? I'm not familiar with the mountain and couldn't pick it out from the route description. Sep 9, 2003
Julian Smith
Colorado Springs, CO
Julian Smith   Colorado Springs, CO
The route goes pretty much up the buttress that diagonals from the left at the bottom to the right at the top. It is in the center of the picture and starts beside a small patch of snow. Sep 22, 2003
So what's the scoop on getting down from here? Good trails lead off the other side of the Mtn, but what about getting back to my car? Any good raps, do I need to hike all the way around, or do I have to leave gear behind?

Thanks! Sep 28, 2004
I once climbed Ellingwood and Blanca from the Huerfano valley. Ended up descending down the east side, towards Mount Lindsey, into another drainage, then over a saddle back into the Huerfano. Though it goes, can't say I'd recommend it. East side of Blanca is real loose. We did it unroped mainly because we thought the rope would drag off too much junk. Sep 28, 2004
Julian Smith
Colorado Springs, CO
Julian Smith   Colorado Springs, CO
To get down, trot over to the summit of Ellingwood, tag it, and then down the North Ridge back to the trailhead in Huerfano Valley. Mar 4, 2005
The rock in this route is pretty Janky. My partner and I went up two pitches and bailed due to the crappy rock. Just at the start of the second pitch he pulled down a 30 lb boulder that appeared to be solid. Furthermore, after looking at the pro that we had, the rock was loose around our pro!!! While walking off the route, we also inspected the route off of Ellingwood, and it didn't look good. After reading Roaches book for ascending that ridge on Ellingwood (the recommended descent route) it is rated 5.0-5.2; You might be better off descending the buttress (OK, maybe not). The best option I saw for descending was to descend off the Ellingwood's ridge north, and climb over to UN 13,577, and then descend to Lilly Lake and down. That would make a long day, and wouldn't be fun if the weather rolled in. Jul 14, 2006
Joe Brannan
Lyons, CO
Joe Brannan   Lyons, CO
Climbed this 8/23/2008. The route is really loose and junky but easy. Solid pro is difficult to find, think I averaged a piece every 50 feet or so. Nothing bigger than #2 Camalot needed. Don't follow another party, you stand a good chance of getting hosed by falling carpet bombs of rock.

We used the N ridge descent option over Ellingwood. Getting down to the first notch in the saddle requires some 5th class downclimbing. The description above:

"From the gap, descend down to the right or east. Look for the path of least resistance. Eventually, cliffs will force you to go even further to the right or east to find a low angled traverse that leads back to the talus slopes beneath the cliff band along the bottom of the north face of Ellingwood Peak."

...put us above a 230 foot cliff and involved lots of loose 4th class downclimbing. Eventually, three back-to-back raps were required to get down. I suggest going over 13,577 and finding an easier route down if using this descent. Better yet, go to the Hamilton Blanca Saddle and then find your way over to the Huerfano Valley.

My TR:… Aug 25, 2008

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