Ascent of Ellingwood Point on 2014-07-27

Climber: Kevin Diviness

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, July 27, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Ellingwood Point
    Elevation:14042 ft / 4280 m

Ascent Trip Report

I don't normally write trip reports on this website, but given the circumstances, I am writing this one. I drove out on a Saturday afternoon in my Jeep Grand Cherokee, and parked about 4 mi from Lake Como. Even with 4WD, that was as far as I could go on that road. I hiked to Lake Como, set up my tent, and camped for the night. By 5:10AM Sunday, I was on the trail. Noone else was on Ellingwood Point that day, and as usual, I was solo. The ascent went fine, although I had difficulty seeing the trail. I made the summit by 10:30, ate some orange slices, and began my descent 10:50AM. Aside from a few white clouds, the weather looked fine when I was on the summit, but that quickly changed. I have never seen such a drastic change in condition. Within 20 minutes, I was hearing thunder; and within 30 minutes I was seeing lightening. The trail that I followed on the ascent paralleled the ridgeline for quite a ways. When the lightning started flashing around me, that little voice in the back of my head said "get off the ridge!" I headed straight down as guickly as I could. Eventually, I came upon a steep dropoff, which I could not safely descend without a rope. Looking back up the mountain, I could see water cascading down the entire slope as the rain poured down on me. It had also started sleeting so hard, the ground looked like a snow field. I traversed the mountain toward the trail, but found no safe route to cross. I was cliffed out - I could not safely descend anymore, nor could I safely ascend with the amount of water flowing down that slope. The lighting was still flashing all about the valley, and to complicate things, my "water-resistant" clothing was soaked through leaving me shivering from the cold. I analyzed my predicament, considered the odds against me, and did something that I never thought I would have to do. I pulled out my cell phone and called 911. If nothing else, I wanted someone to know where to find the body if I: 1) got struck by lightning, 2) slid off the mountain and fell, or 3) developed hypothermia. By then, it was shortly after noon. Alamosa County Volunteer Search and Rescue deployed, and around 6:30PM Andrew McClure came walking up the mountain. I had spent most of that time shivering from the cold and my inadequate clothing. During a short lull in the weather, I removed my wet clothing, and put some dry clothes from my backpack on. I also started to climb back up to the peak in order to relocate the trail. The lull lasted only a few minutes, and the thunderstorm resumed drenching my clothes once again, pelting me with sleet, and threatening me with lightning. Unfortunately, by then I was a couple hundred feet higher, more exposed to the lightning, and colder. I also discovered a new problem. Not only were the rocks slick, but the ground was saturated, causing them to break from the ground and slide out from under me. I became concerned about starting a rock slide. When Andrew showed up, I shared this concern with him, but he confidently helped me find my way along the slippery slope. He also gave me some dry clothes, which made me feel 100% better after shivering for hours. We eventually made our way down the mountain, back to my campsite, and back to my Jeep. The other members of the AVSAR team that assisted were Donna Mabry, Nicole Singer, Gary Walker, and Bruce Morrison. I am deeply grateful to them for their assistance.

I am a huge believer in risk management and lessons learned. Prior to this incident, on 22 previous 14er summits, I thought I was being careful by following a strict set of guidelines: 1) don't go if the forecast is over 30% chance of rain; 2) be off the summit by noon; 3) carry a backpack with extra clothes and water; etc. But since the incident, I have taken specific actions to remedy of the shortcomings in my previous planning. 1) I have invested in a good set of water-PROOF clothing - both bottoms and top to keep me dry. 2) I purchased a mid-weight merino wool pullover, do to its water-repelling and insulating properties. 3) I purchased a COSAR card. 4) I purchased a water purification bottle (after all the time I spent on the mountain, I ran low on water) 5) I will be making a donation to AVSAR to support their work. I doubt that his trip report will ever get read, but if nothing else, it has helped me to sort through my thoughts and enforce what I've learned. I've taken a hiatus from 14ers, but intend to summit a couple 13ers this summer. I hope to return next summer to a select set of 14ers, better prepared than ever before.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:5242 ft / 1598 m
    Distance:11 mi / 17.7 km
    Route:South Face
    Trailhead:4WD Lake Como Rd  8800 ft / 2682 m
    Weather:Thunderstorm, Cold, Windy
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:8 Hours 20 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:18 Hours 40 Minutes

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