A Colorado Mountain Classic
Why it's called Lake Como Road is beyond me." "A few years ago, I backpacked the road from the flats with my wife and kids. We started at the bottom at the same time as a group of extreme four-wheelers, and wound up arriving at the lake at the same time they did." "I think going up that road is pretty stupid." "After seeing what it was, I believe my Jeep would have been injured or killed by the attempt (maybe me too)." "There are few things in life that I hate as much as I hate the Lake Como Road." "I've hiked this road and have seen some guys from New Mexico who come up every year to drive it with modified vehicles." "My God, that road is horrendous."
All hese quotes are taken from recent forum postings on a website (www.14ers.com) dedicated to climbing Colorado's collection of 14,000-foot peaks. It is always interesting to hear another recreational group's view of our own very special places; especially since the climbers, just like us four-wheelers, engage in an activity that is probably considered extreme by the general public. We certainly had to chuckle as we read the posts. Our amusement was twofold: First, our local four-wheel-drive club is the "guys from New Mexico," and second, we love our annual trip up that "horrendous" road.
The Lake Como Road is the official route name for the road up Blanca Peak in southern Colorado, and it is a true Colorado classic. Blanca Peak is in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range and is situated just southwest of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument.
Is Lake Como Road the hardest road in Colorado? Maybe... depending on the definition of "road" one chooses to use. The route scaling the slopes of Blanca Peak is officially an Alamosa County road (County Road 975). The County Commission asserted its RS 2477 right to the road back in the mid '90s when the Forest Service was rattling its road-closing sabers. Is the road up Blanca the hardest 4WD route in Colorado? Not by a long shot, but it is still a very interesting and challenging route. It is also as beautiful a drive as Colorado has to offer, although one may be a bit too preoccupied by the road to admire the scenery!
The New Mexico 4-Wheelers have made a 4WD pilgrimage up the mountain and out to the end of Lake Como Road most years since the early 1990s. The trip is usually the second weekend of September and often includes an overnight campout on the edge of beautiful Lake Como. The lake, on the upper flanks of Blanca Peak, is one of the more spectacular settings available for an overnight 4WD outing. The campsites are nestled amongst the pines just below the tree line with the towering, jagged summits of Ellingwood Point, Blanca Peak, and Little Bear Peak surrounding the lake on three sides.
These three nearby "fourteeners" attract a high degree of foot traffic to Lake Como Road. It is by far the most popular route taken by those seeking to scale the summits. The road was the scene of many contentious confrontations between pedestrians and those who chose to recreate with motors during the mid '90s while the Forest Service was seeking to close access. Once the road issue was resolved between Alamosa County and the Forest Service (with local 4WD clubs adopting the road and maintaining some sedimentation mitigation), the conflicts quickly dropped off. Present encounters between hikers and wheelers are generally very genial, illustrating how much "user conflict" can be decreased by educating users and correctly calibrating their expectations.