|Peak:||Little Bear Peak (14er)|
|Route:||West Ridge and Southwest Face|
|Range:||Sangre de Cristo|
|Date of Information:||10/23/2013|
I have just returned from climbing Little Bear's SW Face via the "Hourglass" Couloir. As of Wednesday October 23rd there was what I would call "Lean" winter conditions along the West Ridge (approach gully) as well as the SW Face. The snow was comprised of a thin crust under which lay heaps of cold unconsolidated "sugar" lower on the West Ridge (approach) and along the base of the SW Face. The "Hourglass" was in better shape and had varying qualities of frozen snow and ice; there were two segments along the ascent of the "Hourglass" which were very thinly covered- near the bottleneck (narrowest portion of the couloir there was a 10 foot section of ice and rock (nothing unmanageable) as well as another section higher up near the end of the "Hourglass" at the so-called "fork in the road".
As I began the ascent of the "Hourglass" I saw the existing fixed line underneath the frozen snow; since I was guiding two friends (Both competent intermediate mountaineers) I decided to attempt to uncover the line as I climbed in the event one of my companions felt uncomfortable with the descent. Our original plan was to ascend Little Bear and then complete the traverse to Blanca. After attaining the summit of Little Bear and pausing for the requisite photo(s) I began the down climb to assess the plausibility of our next goal- the ridge traverse to Blanca. Needless to say I encountered atrocious snow conditions approximately 150 meters from the summit. The "crux" of the down climb was under heaps of "sugary snow" which obscured the ridge and gave way as I "wallowed" & swam down the ridge. I decided the conditions were simply too dangerous to continue with my party and made the call to re-ascend to Little Bear's summit and descend the "Hourglass" and SW Face. Incidentally the fixed line is in relatively "good" condition (recently replaced prior to the snowfall). There were several segments which had been damaged but "butterflied" off by another climber. There was also a much older rope located higher in the "Hourglass" which, though weathered, appeared in decent enough shape to use as a hand line.
I would say the route was in "relatively" good shape for this time of year and was not surprised to find the "early winter" unconsolidated snow. We began our climb at 4am and would recommend an early start for anyone thinking about climbing this particular route in the next 2-4 days; the goal should be sunrise on the summit so the snowfields remain relatively consolidated and frozen for the descent.
Photos (click for slideshow):