| Should be called Big Bear Peak
Monday, Aug. 20, 2007
When climbing Little Bear, Gerry Roach poignantly states: "Climb during the week, wear a helmet and start early." We heeded his advice entirely. Not only is Little Bear one of the "hardest" 14ers to climb, it's also one of the most dangerous. And most of that danger comes from other climbers accidentally kicking rocks down on you. By climbing early and on a Monday, we thought we were mitigating that risk as much as possible.
Little Bear is a rather intimidating peak. When I looked up at it, I wondered if I'd make it up (more importantly, I wondered if the mountain would let me up).
As corny as it may sound, I've learned a lot about life from climbing mountains (and a lot about climbing mountains, too). One lesson I've learned: When faced with a large, seemingly insurmountable task at hand (i.e., climbing a tough mountain), it's better to break the challenge down into smaller pieces, rather than trying to drink it all in at once. If you try to take it all in as a whole, panic and feelings of "I can't do this" start to take hold of your mind. Focusing on "bite-sized" pieces and taking it one step at a time seems to work better. This is what we did.
Once it became light enough outside to climb without headlamps (around 6 a.m.), we started up the steep gully, which was just across a stream from our campsite.
Little Bear Peak under a fiery morning sky:
Approaching the gully head on, it appeared to be too steep to climb. But as we got closer it wasn't so bad. Jen hated the "steep, loose crap," but it didn't bother me so much. Halfway up, we gravitated to the more stable rocks on the right, and kind of used them like a handrail.
Climbing up the gully. The red arrow designates our campsite (actually, it was a little more up to the right, but it‘s close enough):
Once we gained the notch at the top of the gully we hung a left and more or less followed some cairns around the back side of the ridge. We noticed more than one trail, but they all seemed to head in the same direction. We ended up following the most clearly defined trail we could find, and it slowly gained elevation as we scampered along, below the ridge.
Thankfully, the skies were really clear, but the wind was gusty and chilly. As we passed by a notch in the ridge, a huge blast of wind whipped through, and we heard a loud cracking/snapping noise. It was so loud, I thought a large chunk of rock had broken loose, but it was just the wind snapping against the rocks. It was crazy.
After crossing over some ribs of rock, we could finally see our destination – the deep gully harboring the infamous "Hourglass."
At the base of the Hourglass we took a quick break to collect ourselves. I tried to eat but my nerves wouldn't let me.
Jen started up first, and climbed up to the left of the ropes. The first section was really easy, but when the Hourglass narrowed, the climbing became much more difficult. Only a little water trickled down the middle of the gully, but it was enough to make the rock really slick. Thus, we had to climb up a steep section on the left. It seemed like it was nearly vertical, and good hand holds seemed to be few and far between. The rubber on the bottom of my shoes did most of the work, and I had to put a lot of trust in them.
Deep in the heart of the Hourglass, I was a little nervous and very focused. Jen, on the other hand, seemed to be having the time of her life, and she was all happy, blabbering on about this and that. Meanwhile, I was hanging on for my life.
After making it up that section, I thought the hardest climbing was over, but I was wrong. We then had to climb up a smooth, water-polished slab of rock that had even fewer hand holds (and a longer fall behind us). Once again, I was relying mostly on my feet (frictioning) and my fingertips. The 40-mile-per-hour winds were not making anything easier, either. When I heard the wind building, I clung just a little tighter to the rock.
Beyond the rope anchor, we angled slightly to the left and went up a loose gully.
When Class 5 rock blocked our progress, we hung a right and crossed a few ribs of rock. Some small cairns marked the way and there was a faint trail at times. With strong wind gusts trying to throw us off balance, we gained the summit at 8:20 a.m. Because the wind was cold and our hands were becoming numb, we didn't stay long up there.
Ellingwood and Blanca, viewed from Little Bear:
Me and Jen on the summit:
Lake Como, way down below:
Climbing down seemed to be easier than climbing up, as we were able to pick the best line from our vantage point.
On the way up we stayed to the (climber's) left of the rope, but on the way down we swung to the left and then back to the right (climber's left and right). Neither of us used the ropes at any time.
Once again, the hardest part to down climb was the steepest, narrowest section of the Hourglass. The rock we down climbed didn't appear to have any holds whatsoever, but when we inspected the rock from just a few feet away we were able to find some small little nubs to place our feet. Hand holds were virtually nonexistent. Jen seemed to do much better on this section than I.
After making it back down to the Class 3 section, we both sighed with relief. The sense of accomplishment was a great feeling, and we were pretty proud of ourselves for making it up and down safely – without using rope, no less. We also didn't kick any rocks loose on the entire way up or down. Even though there weren't any other climbers below us, we didn't know that at the time.
Climbing back down was easy compared to what we had just done. Although, Jen didn't like down climbing that 600-foot gully.
At 10:20 a.m. we made it back to camp, packed up and headed back down the Lake Como Road. Even though the air temp was cold on the summit, the road was brutally hot (Is that road ALWAYS hot?!).
Little Bear and Lake Como:
I won't bore you with the details of the hike/drive back down the road, but here are a couple pics:
As I mentioned, Jen and I felt a great sense of accomplishment after climbing Little Bear. It was the shortest, toughest climb we've ever done, thus far.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):