| Tour de Little Bear
Mountains: Little Bear Peak (14,037')
Route: Started at 9400'on Lake Como Road, camped at Lake Como, climbed the West Ridge / SW Face to summit. Descended most of the NW Face Route
Elevation Gain (from 9400') - 4700' (approx)
Total Mileage from 9400' on Lake Como Road and back down to Lower Parking Lot – 12 miles (approx)
Crew: Triple M, USAKeller, Comin2Getcha, Kirk, LordHelmut, Maverick
After a long Saturday on Kit Carson / Challenger I fought off a swarm of clucking chickens in my head and decided to head over to Alamosa to meet up with the LB-Blanca-Ellingwood crew from the forum. After two entrees each at the East/West grill at Alamosa, Kirk (KirkT) and I drove to the bottom of the Lake como trailhead where we met Brian (LordHelmut), Caroline (USAKeller), Alyson (Triple M) and Lance (Comin2Getcha). We planned to camp close to Lake Como and climb early… we would first drive two of our vehicles as far up the road as possible. The weather had other plans though, and minions were unleashed upon us through our drive up the road. Brian decided to park at 9400' from where Kirk, Brian and I packed and started hiking up under headlamps at 9 PM. The other vehicle made it up to 10,200'. Brian and Kirk soon went ahead while I crawled up the road with a 60lb pack formed by strapping two daypacks together, feeling pretty miserable… After what seemed like an eternity I came across a creek crossing where Kirk had been waiting for 45 minutes since he was trying to find an alternate route through the forest (we found out the next day that there was, in fact, such a route). However, when I got there we decided to do this instead (pic from the next day).
The hike is pretty long beyond this point. I got to the camp site at midnight. Kirk had arrived there a while earlier and the others had already pitched tents and turned in. I went to bed at about 1AM. We woke up at 4AM and after a quick breakfast we started hiking by 4:30AM. We got to the base of the 'talus pile' (11,900') pretty quickly and Brian, who had climbed LB before, set off ahead to route-find. It's pretty easy to find cairns even under head lamps. We started ascending the gully at around 5:30AM staying as close as possible to minimize rock fall. We made it to the saddle by 5:45AM, cached our poles and started making our way up the ridge. The ridge is pretty straightforward Class 2/2+ hiking. There is a good climber's trail that can be followed a ways below the ridge crest.
We made slow but steady progress to the base of the hour glass gully, which we reached at 6:45AM. There was a small icy slope at the base of the gully. We were able to kick steps into it and ascend it without any problems. Here's looking up the hourglass.
In the lowers sections of the gully, you can either stay along the stream to its left or climb a few easy Class 4 walls to the left.
In the upper parts of the gully it seemed easier to stay close to the middle where the rope is.
Staying close to each other to prevent rock fall, we topped out above the gully at 7:15AM. The climb to follow would be no harder than Class 3, but be very careful about not sending rocks down the gully. Anything you dislodge will go down this gully very fast.
Here's looking at the section that followed… This is the grey area in many LB descriptions…
Another look down the hourglass from higher up
The scramble up to summit was very straight forward Class 2+ and we summitted at 7:45AM.
These two Blonde Back Country Babes wanted the publicity… you should check out one of their guided tours some time next year.
We spent quite a while on summit contemplating this traverse which we weren't really prepared for.
However, the weather was good, we had summitted LB early and we started considering it very strongly and managed to spark the interest of the group. We set off down the ridge at 8:20AM. This ridge is one sweet piece of work and I was drooling all over myself. Here's one of the cruxes early on in the route. The picture doesn't do it much justice but this is a steep slab of rock. Find the right holds and maneuver slowly down it. If you slip, you will fall about 800 feet on either side. This picture is from halfway down this slab.
Comin2Getcha and USAKeller at a notch past this first crux…
The ridge had no plans to tone down the intensity but hit us with this section immediately afterward.
Here's looking at the rest of the ridge
Here's looking back up the portion of the ridge that we'd descended. It looks a little easier than it feels.
The exposed, sloping ridge continued…
Once again, we look back up at what we'd descended
We reached the first tower you see in the pictures above… The traverse across this tower is hairy if you stay on the ridge crest. You might need to go below it to traverse across.
This is where we first ran into route finding issues. We found that the traverse was tricky below the ridge crest too. It was very disappointing that we had not read up enough descriptions or reports on the traverse. Our party was split at this point with Brian, Kirk and I planning to give it one last attempt while the others descended down the face. Kirk needed to traverse across this vertical wall to regain the ridge…
The face is a maze of grassy ledges with dead ends. I was traversing low on the face and found several ledges going around a bend, but there was no way of confirming that they continued fruitfully. They might have been dead ends as well. Brian and Kirk were up on the ridge and had crestfallen looks when I turned up. Brian decided to call it off since there seemed to be no safe route to attempt given our poor preparation for this endeavor. He decided to go back up the ridge and down the Hourglass while Kirk and I descended a hybrid route (behind the others) which seemed to comprise much of the NW Face route. We were unintentionally completing the 'stunning' Tour de Little Bear described in Roach's book, in reverse.
This face is not very easy to descend and rock fall hazard is huge. We had to wait on several occasions while the others below us searched for cover. Route finding is huge here since most ledges fizzle out at the top of sheer cliffs or slippery rock slabs. The route is marked by ONE solitary cairn half way down the face. I let the others get far ahead of me because rubble was flying around like crazy. Weather started turning bad and a dense fog obscured the others from me. This did not help the route finding and I had to explore several ledges each time there was a tricky section. If it helps though, throughout the descent I was able to stay on ledges. If you are descending down extremely exposed steep terrain, climb back up and get on a ledge. Many of these ledges are not part of an organized climber's trail, but bits and pieces of Mountain Goat Highway. Kirk kept homing in on ledge after ledge, discovering some magical continuous ledge that none of us managed to stay on for long. I would like to call this the "Tubb's ledge" for the rest of this report. Here are some pictures that might make things easier…
Lower down the face you will appear above a gully that must be traversed across from time to time to avoid cliffing out. Here is where you will find the solitary cairn. It tells you where to cross over.
Here's a closer look at the cairn
Skirt the cairn… below and to its left you will find more bits and pieces of Tubb's ledge.
Here's looking up at some of the terrain we descended. It might turn out to be much easier to ascend.
Once below this section the terrain eases out significantly… just a bunch of annoying talus to follow. From here, finding a reasonable trail down to the lake is pretty simple. Here's one last look up the face…
The standard trail is a few hops from the base of the final talus slope. We made our way back to camp down more wretched sections of that sad excuse for a 4WD road. At camp Kirk and I packed up and decided to hike back down the entire road to our trucks parked at 8000'. There are not a lot of pictures of Lake Como Road around. Here are some…
We reached the parking lot at 4:45PM, while the heavens opened up above treeline. No wonder this road is so useless... these mountains get slammed so badly by weather. We let out some steam and started the drive back. I needed to call everyone I knew every 15 minutes to help me stay awake since my demmed coke and Rockstar didn't do $h!t. Check out this awesome road side restaurant on 160 at Blanca… best home made Pork chops and fried ice cream I've ever eaten. It was a pretty successful day despite our not having been able to complete the trifecta. We got a successful Tour de Little Bear under our belts. Once again, a great tour with some top class people. I would trust these folks on any hike.