“…perhaps two miles of interminable pinnacles, sheer on both sides. It was worse than it had looked. Many could be circled on the east side, but many must be taken straight on. Up and down, up and down, over rock that was very slow and called for much care. I got liberal samples of about all the varieties of rock-climbing known– smooth faces, cracks, chimneys, ledges, noses, razor edges and what not. Two or three real nasty stretches held me up for from 5 to 10 minutes each. I pushed steadily and as fast as I could, but slowed up from the weariness as I neared the ridge at the head of the Basin.”
-Albert Ellingwood, as recounted in his notes and published in Jeff Arnold’s book, Albert Ellingwood – Scholar of Summits.
Ellingwood’s solo effort on that late August day in 1921, the first reported ascent of the ridge that now bears his name, was way ahead of its time. Last weekend, Christy, Dirk and I followed in his footsteps, and despite the passing of ninety years, it seemed as though not much has changed.
Sure, the approach route through the forest to the base of the ridge is easier to follow, and compared to 1921, the descent down the standard Northwest Ridge feels more like a paved sidewalk than a wilderness trail, thanks in part to the efforts of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. But the Ellingwood Ridge proper, the granite arm that descends from La Plata’s 14,336 foot summit for nearly two miles and entirely above 13,000 feet, shows very little in the way of a well-worn route. When compared to other popular Colorado peaks, there is hardly any evidence of people having been there at all.
It’s an awesome alpine outing, and in my opinion, one of the best 14er ridges in our neck of the woods. If airy positions on good rock with options for moderately technical climbing and rappels sound like fun, then, and I know I say this a lot, this should be on your to-do list. It deserves the classic status bestowed upon it.