| Little Bear is a Gamechanger
Leading up to this TR, the MIF (John, Mark and Len), Robert and I had summited Ellingwood and Blanca on the day before without our fearless leader, Britt, who was finishing up some business before joining us that evening on the 3rd. Britt arrived in late afternoon and once settled in, we did a lot of reflecting on previous climbs together and shared life experiences as brothers over the previous 12 months since we were last together on the Crestones. It was a reunion of souls.
Britt resting on his back with Mark, Robert (reading), Chris and John reflecting on the message. Photo by Len.
On the 4th, we took a rest day. We talked about Little Bear and Kevin, but mainly spent the day relaxing, exploring the area and preparing for the next day. Being the only one with a Little Bear summit under his belt and most experienced, Britt was our leader and had done a lot of planning for this climb. With 6 of us, it made for an demanding challenge to make sure we all made it and especially…safely. “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory,” as Ed Viesturs once wisely stated.
We climbed up the mountain side and sat on a grassy spot reflecting on many things. Photo by Robert.
Our view of Lake Como and beyond. Photo by Britt.
Gorgeous view of Little Bear near our campsite. Photo by Britt.
Before dark on the 4th, Britt coordinated our climb with all the other folks in the lake area making sure we all knew which groups were going where and their departure timing. Timing becomes critical at the hourglass so as to make sure the fewest number of flying rocks don’t ruin someone’s day. We were going to be the early group. I believe we set 4:30am as our departure time, but we didn’t make tracks until 4:56am. Still somewhat dark with sunrise just around the corner.
We hiked the road and then crossed the little creek to climb up the hill of rocks created when the side of the mountain caved in thus creating a nice ramp. Although the ramp was easier than the original side of the mountain, it was a gravity defying effort to scramble up the loose rock and debris.
A predawn profile of John going up the ramp. Photo by Chris.
John and Mark making their way up the ramp. Chris and Len way below. Photo by Robert the rabbit.
Reaching the top of the ramp with a well earned rest by Mark, John Robert, Len and Chris. Photo by Britt.
Once at the top of the ramp, we made a left turn and made our way to a fairly well defined trail that followed along the ridge line for what seemed like a really long time.
With Britt as the route finder, he takes this photo looking back after finishing the ramp.
I kept hearing someone say, “It isn’t much further,” that is, the base of the hourglass. That would be our next geological goal.
Britt, John, Mark, and Robert make it to the base of the hourglass first. Photo by Robert.
The rope looks ok, but there is water. Photo by John
Our friend for the day, Robert and John make their way up the hourglass. Photo by Mark.
Britt had already sent John, Mark and Robert up using a prusik rope as a back up on the rope that stretched down from it’s anchor near the choke point of the hourglass. The first ascenders patiently waited by the anchor for the last half of our group.
Chris and Len with harnesses on and ready to ascend the hourglass. Photo by Britt.
Len tied himself in first, then me and then Britt. Up we went. We would climb as far as the prusik would allow, then slide the knot upward as far as we could. We did not rely on the rope since we didn’t know the status of the rope nor the condition of the anchor or how it was anchored.
Chris sliding the prusik up the rope nearing the anchor. Len just reached the anchor in yellow webbing. Photo by Britt.
Len reaching the anchor and Chris coming up. Photo and legs by Mark.
One by one, we joined the first three at the anchor and proceeded on our journey will all of us in sight of each other.
Britt checks the anchor and webbing for security. The rope looked good, but you never know. Photo by Mark.
We’re off and running! Need to quickly get out of the upper hourglass. Photo by Britt.
We basically went up the left side of the upper hourglass, gained the ridge and scrambled to the summit.
A good view of what’s beyond the anchor point. Loose, rocky and steep terrain. Photo by Britt.
John, Robert and Mark coming up the last chute. Notice how narrow it is. Photo by Britt.
There were several steep climbing challenges that we ascended, with one being a narrow chute just before the ridge. I was last up and Len was ahead of me. John was ahead of us. Britt and Robert were tying us in one by one so we could get over a rather large difficult rock. As we were going up, a basketball size boulder came loose and began to roll down the chute that Len and I were in. Everyone who could see it was yelling ROCK. Len absorbed the brunt of the force with his right thigh. He raised his knee as if he was going to try and stop it! That, of course, didn’t stop gravity and it then came for me. I waited until the last second, braced my arms against the narrow walls and brought my legs up as far as I could. With Len slowing the rock down, it didn’t bounce so much, and I was able to escape contact as it tumbled down the chute beneath me and probably all the way down the mountain. Thank you Len!
But, Len was hurt and we needed to evaluate what to do next. Len said he was okay, but we looked over his leg anyway and confirmed that nothing was broken and his thigh muscles were not incapacitated. We were prepared to call SAR, if needed, and we were not continuing if Len could not summit and get down safely. The “get down” part having priority! We were all a little shaken by this event, but quickly ran through the decision tree and agreed that we could continue.
Mark, Chris and Len making the last push to the summit. Photo by John.
We arrived at the summit a few minutes later at 9:50am. There were no insects, flying, stinging, bloodletting, or otherwise, on the summit. We rested comfortably and very proud of our achievement.
The Band of Brothers summit pose for Little Bear. Photo by our climbing friend with Robert’s camera.
As the weary rested, Britt, Robert and the climber who shadowed us decided to traverse over to Mama Bear. The rest of us watched in awe as the three made their way across a very challenging ridge. We needed the rest, and Len was able to gather enough strength for the climb down.
Not sure of the order, but Robert, Britt and our new friend are the Mama Bear summiteers. Photo by John.
Len, Chris, Mark and John celebrating on the summit of Little Bear taken by Robert on Mama Bear.
After the guys got back, we relaxed for a few more minutes and headed down about 11:05am, after an hour and 15 minutes on the summit of one of the most demanding Colorado mountains over 14k. The weather had been great all day so far and looked good for the rest of the day.
We found a path that took us down to the crux of the hourglass which was much easier than the climb up, naturally. Looking down always produces a view of a trail, if one exists.
In descending order, Britt, Chris, Len, John and Mark. Photo by Robert.
We are still headed down the upper hourglass on fairly stable rock. Photo by Robert.
The path down was not without challenges. I have short legs and unable to make some of the moves that my longer legged friends have. At one point, I reached a spot where I could not comfortably make the move. It required my turning on my left foot to face the mountain while spreading my right leg over a rather large gap. The spot where my right foot would land looked unsecure. I did not want to send rocks down on my brothers nor did I want to lose my footing. With a good grip on solid rock, I tried twice to swing my leg far enough without success. There was a lot of air! Britt called out to Robert who was behind me to anchor me during this move. Robert secured my lifeline and provided ample encouragement for me to successfully get through this tough area. Had the rope and Robert option not been available, I would have ascended and found a short legged way down to the anchor!
Four of us are wedged in this little area waiting for our turns to descend. Mark is really close to the anchor. Seemed like hours. Photo by Robert.
This puts our waiting spot in perspective. The red webbing is the anchor. Photo by Robert.
We made it to the anchor at the hourglass crux and the 6 of us waited for our shadow climber to get all the way down, before we headed down.
Robert accompanied by Len and Mark next and once they were down, John, myself followed by Britt. Photo by Britt.
Since the anchor of the rope was sound and the rope had no visible damage, we tied into the rope and used it for security purposes. By no means did we intend to rappel or put the full weight of our bodies on it. It enabled us to descend quicker than if going down without assist. There was a small amount of water dribbling down the hourglass which we avoided going both up and down; however, in my hast to get out of the hourglass, I stepped on a little trickle of water. The next thing I knew, I was airborne with my legs spread apart and my feet above my head, then the prusik caught me as designed and I landed flat on my bottom on the spot I last touched with my foot. It all happened in a microsecond. There was about 15 feet of rope left which means I was about 30 feet from safe footing. If I was free climbing, I would not have stepped on the wet spot, but I was over confident. I put this embarrassing episode in the report to warn others about being too confident which could lead to being too lax. Mountaineering is no place for either.
Once I regained my composure, the three of us began the quieter downhill adventure catching up to the other half of our team near the ramp. The ramp downclimb was just as much fun as going up only it seemed longer. Lake Como came into view quickly. When we got down to almost level ground, we found Kevin’s plaque.
Kevin’s memorial plaque with inspiring words from such a young person. Photo by Britt.
Britt shared with us about Kevin and his positive attitude. I felt comforted by the quote in the Bible, but at the same time shaken for just how fragile life is, especially thinking about my own mortality. At that time, I thanked God…. I also thanked Britt and my other climbing brothers that evening for all their support.
We made it back to camp around 3:40pm and relaxed with the blood sucking mosquitoes, but we were too tired to care. The rest of the evening was spent eating, resting and talking. We hiked to some high ground on the other side of the lake and marveled at the view of the valley below. We shared the highs and lows of our lives over the last year and gave thanks to God for His grace and forgiveness. The next morning, we packed up and hiked down to our 3 vehicles scattered between 10k and the TH at 8k.
On our way down we posed with backpacks. Photo by Chris.
Britt is assisting Len on a slight uphill section on the way down. Our leader is always watching out for us. Photo by Chris.
After locating the truck, we rode down to my vehicle, then found Britt’s vehicle which was at the bottom of mountain in the TH parking lot. We headed for a place to have lunch before driving back to Colorado Springs. One thing I learned on this trip is that confidence comes in three levels: over, under and just right. Can’t afford to be over!
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