"One Little Victory" -RUSH
A certain measure of innocence
Willing to appear naive
A certain degree of imagination
A measure of make-believe
A certain degree of surrender
To the forces of light and heat
A shot of satisfaction
In a willingness to risk defeat
Celebrate the moment
As it turns into one more
Another chance at victory
Another chance to score
The measure of the moment
In a difference of degree
Just one little victory
A spirit breaking free
One little victory
The greatest act can be
One little victory
A certain measure of righteousness
A certain amount of force
A certain degree of determination
Daring on a different course
A certain amount of resistance
To the forces of the light and love
A certain measure of tolerance
A willingness to rise above
Interpretation: This is about how it's the little accomplishments in life that can be the most rewarding and satisfying, that giving it your best shot is the innermost fulfilling achievement in life. It's all about challenging yourself within rather than measuring yourself against others. Be yourself and be real.
NOTE: This is not an exhaustive route description but rather a brief and informal report. Also, the pictures just don’t capture this ridge adequately as to its nature or exposure. Tom and Alan.... if you remember anything that is different that I need to change in this be sure to send a pm to me so I can fix it.
I attempted Little Bear via the standard route in April of 2010 but didn't summit for various reasons. I don't like unfinished business.
I am not sure when I first had the idea to climb Little Bear via the West Ridge “Direct” but it was about the same time I came to love this song by Rush… a little over two years ago. A week before I saw them in concert in June of 2011 I had climbed Ellingwood via the west ridge and spent no little time gawking at Little Bear’s long west ridge. At the time I thought it looked semi-daunting and steep but not “too bad”. Ok, it looked steep.
Me with west ridge direct in the background.
I asked several climbers with technical rock experience if they would be up for trying this route as I assumed it would have a couple sections of class 5. Of particular concern was what I thought was a headwall high on the ridge just before the final summit pyramid. While I had several expressions of interest, nothing seemed to come of the plan. In the meantime, I obsessed about just getting Little Bear off my list by the most expedient manner possible. But every time I heard “One Little Victory” I was back to the “WRD” as it has come to be known through various emails and texts.
This spring someone on 14ers asked about the WRD and Tom Pierce jumped in to say that he was interested. Considering he is one of the first people I had posed the plan to two years ago I didn’t hesitate to send him a message that I was still interested. We both reaffirmed our dislike for hiking on roads and I broke the news that I had gotten rid of my Toyota 4x4 which I previously said we could use. He said he was going to get a 4Runner with all the bells and whistles should be able to knock off a bit of the road. On a hike with Alan several weeks earlier I mentioned our plan and he let me know of his interest in joining and thus the plan and team coalesced.
A day or so before our departure date, Alan said he wanted to drive his jeep as we wanted to get the traverse to Blanca even if it meant having to spend an additional night and get it the day after the WRD. As a group we decided that if we made good time up the WRD, the weather looked good, and we were feeling ok we would all go for the traverse and save Alan from spending an additional night and having to climb Little Bear twice. Tom and I drove to about 10k in his 4Runner and Alan to about 9,800 in his jeep.
Alan and Tom discuss the best way to get a 4Runner past this "Jaw".
We made camp early and took some time looking over the route from camp and discussed options and where we thought problems might present themselves. Of particular concern was what appeared to be a headwall high on the ridge. Tom brought rope and a small rack. While we had heard that the ridge didn’t go above 4rth class, I figured we would have about 3 sections of rope work to stay on the ridge proper. By the end of the day the ridge provided some surprises and hidden gems for the three of us.
Tom and I discuss the route from camp.
We cooked and ate in the cabin due to high winds gusting through camp. Conversation was good and relaxing and we hit the tents about 8:30-9:00 for a night of fitful “sleep”. It seemed that about every 20 minutes or so and massive gust of wind would come crashing through camp at around 40 mph and last for a couple of minutes. We were up at 4 for coffee, oatmeal, and last minute preparations. The walk out of camp came at 5:10 ( later than expected), but we felt ok about it. We made fair time to the top of the first gully. Once there, we put on our harnesses and helmets and walked along the first portion of ridge.
Heading up the first gully.
Alan walking along the ridge.
We made quick work of this section of ridge and came to the first notch. I thought it would pose a bit of an issue but was an easy down and up climb back to the ridge proper. This notch is where most would down climb to “trail” over to the Hourglass. Here are some pictures:
Alan with the WRD looming behind.
First notch. We climbed down to the right and then back up.
The ridge past the first notch was of a different nature than before the notch. Of first import is that it is very exposed. It seemed as though most of the ridge was a “no-fall” zone. It was mostly class 3 to 4. However, it also seemed that much of it was “R” and “X” rated. We purposed to stay on the ridge crest as best we could.
From the vantage points that the ridge offered as to the oncoming route selection, several places caused no little consternation. A number of what we thought were pillars presented themselves and the question was, “Do we climb over or around?” Issues of style and integrity were brought up. We reasoned that if it were a pillar or tower that to climb it just to have to rap it was not necessary and that we could just go around. For the most part we stayed on the ridge crest. At one point Alan traversed left around a difficulty and regained the ridge. I was highly uncomfortable with what was presented and Tom set up protection and we used a rope for safety to go over. We agreed that it wasn’t that difficult (low5th) but the consequences of a mistake would have not been good. The picture doesn’t do it justice. Alan on the other hand, gave his traverse and climb back to the ridge a pucker factor of 7. From here it was just “20 minutes to the top.”
A crux. Alan traversed left and declared it a pucker factor of 7.
Tom climbing and placing some protection in the crux.
Shortly after the pucker crux we came to a long section of loose rock about 1.5 feet wide and jagged with extreme exposure on both sides. From here Alan said it looked like “20 minutes to the top”. Again the picture looks tame.
Narrow bank of junk rock. Alan having fun.
After this section we had periods of good climbing and thoughts of bailing.
Me and Tom.
Just before the headwall we came upon what appeared to be three consecutive pillars. I think here and maybe two other times along the ridge we discussed options and one of the options was to bail. In fact, at one of the difficulties, a piece of webbing around a rock was evidence that someone in the past rappelled off the north side. However, each time we all thought that the best course of action was to stay and continue up the ridge. Once at the headwall the decision was made to bypass again to the right and climb to the ridge again.
Me and Tom enjoying being past the headwall.
Our jubilation was short lived as we went a short distance to find this:
Tom and Alan spent a little time looking at possibilities and again we couldn't tell if it was a tower or not. Time was marching on so we bypassed right. We regained the ridge only to find yet another doozy and retreated again and traversed right. From this point we could see over to the hourglass route but pressed for the ridge proper again.
Tom climbing to regain the ridge.
Looking over the hourglass route.
Back on the ridge.
Easy peasy to the top.
We all arrived at the summit to much celebration. I think we felt as though we had really accomplished something. For me the culmination of over 2 years obsessing had almost come to an end. I still needed to get down. I was pensive for much of the climb and rather focused yet never totally freaked out. Having such solid and experienced partners help to calm my nerves. I really felt as though all of our decision making was as a group and that this really was a team effort. Thanks Tom and Alan for indulging my dream.
At this point Alan was feeling great and said he wanted to go for the traverse to Blanca. While I had doubts about the weather, mentally and emotionally I had accomplished what I had come for. Tom was feeling the effects of his dehydrated meal and lack of sleep from our restless night in hurricane central and said he desired to get back. Thus it was that Alan went his way and we went ours. Tom and I really enjoyed our decent of the Hourglass (not) and the first gully (not). We tore down our camp and headed for the 4Runner. Tom really loved the walk down the road (not). I was happy to be back. I’m glad Tom and Alan didn’t “jinx” it! What a great day to be alive to enjoy great climbing, friendship and one little victory. I can now listen to this song with fond memories and not trepidation!
Two of the best things I found along Como Road!
FOR THE NON-14ER CROWD:
Some might be interested in what all the talk of the hourglass is. Well, it is a relatively dangerous gully that is steep and has a narrow constriction of rock similar to an hourglass. Any rock that falls from the top of the mountain funnels into the hourglass at high velocity and creates a hazard for climbers. The worst part is only about 150 long but it takes time and care to downclimb. Much of the rock is polished smooth from 1000’s of years of water running. Much of the time the rock is wet and slippery. Three years ago a young man fell in this area and passed away. We climbed this peak one day shy of the 3rd anniversary of his death and I was very mindful of this. Here are some pictures of our decent through the hourglass.
Tom heading to the hourglass.
Tom downclimbing in Hourglass.