| Little Bear (Hourglass to Baby Thunder)
Who: Jarrett Luttrell, Brennan Metzler
What: Splitboard of Little Bear Peak
When: April 10th, 2010
Where: Blanca Group, Sangre de Cristo Mountains
How: Hourglass Couloir to Baby Thunder
Our trip began last Friday, when Jarrett called. Needing just six more 14er descents to become the first snowboarder to complete the 54, he was interested in checking out Little Bear and Blanca Peaks. Unfortunately, there has not been a whole lot of alpine activity in the Blanca group as of late (or at least not of the intraweb/beta variety), so our adventure was planned with the understanding that we would check things out and climb as high as the snow conditions would allow.
"Sometimes you have to be the beta"
Friday's Spring Sunset guided my drive south down highway 24, providing a beautiful beginning to the trip.
We spent the night car-camping around 9,000 feet on the Lake Como Road, just below the first set of switchbacks.
Note: the road is passable to approximately 9,500 feet (4x4 vehicles only). Deep snow blocked the last set of switchbacks before the road winds into the Lake Como Canyon, where it is entirely snowpacked.
We began our Saturday with a nice skin up to Lake Como. Watching the San Luis valley gain an early morning glow was especially pleasant during the approach, as the valley is framed by steep canyon walls. When we arrived at Lake Como, we were treated to another awesome sight.
Jarrett dropped off his camping gear at the lake, and we made out way up the base of the northern "notch" gully (see standard summer route). The view of Ellingwood did not suck.
Climbing the gully involved passing over, across, and often through a snowpack composed of thick windslab, breakable crust, and other standard Crestone wind-hammered conditions. With the exception of minor crampon issues (soft snowboard boots are less than ideal for steep snow climbing), the ascent of the 600'gully went quickly. Soon, we found ourselves enjoying the warm sun on Little Bear's West Ridge.
We chose to stay on the relatively exposed ridge to avoid loose snow on the southern face, across which the Summer trail traverses. The climbing remained non-technical as we progressed towards our day's goal.
Our progress was both steady and slow, as we carefully picked our way across soft snowfields to Little Bear's southwest face. The sun was hot, even at 13k.
Any concerns about wet/loose slide activity in the Hourglass were alleviated once we gained access to the couloir, discovering firm and stable conditions through the crux. Another concern of mine was the potential presence of an iceflow/bulge that frequents the skinny point of the Hourglass at various points during the year. Thankfully, recent storms had covered the ice, as well as the numerous anchored ropes used by hikers to gain the summit in the summer months.
Jarrett nears the top of the hourglass crux.
A different perspective of Jarrett showing the route's pitch (darn steep, in my humble opinion).
After negotiating the steepest pitch of the entire route near 14k, a snow ramp/rib described as "nearing 60 degrees" by other 14ers.com climbers/users (certainly steep enough to get the palms sweating, who cares about degree specifics) we found ourselves enjoying a remarkably calm summit.
The time was 1:30pm, and we had been climbing for close to seven hours. Both Jarrett and I found our condition to be less than energetic, an interesting reality when standing atop the steepest and most committing line of your life (for me, at least). Yet, the minute we snapped into our boards, an incredible transformation took place. In lieu of nausea, cottonmouth, and lactic legs we found the comforting conditioned sensation of our glisse. Focused turns were linked in rhythm down the soft upper pitch.
As we rounded the corned into the crux of the route, the snow changed to a lovely blend of firm wind-effect and refrozen. A few big breaths and the commitment was made....one, two, three turns were snapped with precision down the narrow rock-walled chute. Four, five, six turns and we're out, blasting turns down the soft south slope. Observing Jarrett's smooth style through this technical section was a treat, the product of year's of riding the challenging terrain of Crested Butte. "Perhaps I should move from Keystone..." I thought to myself.
Nailing a steep committing line, the first of the season for both of us, brought us back to an excited reality. What fatigue? What thirst? We just rode the hourglass in bomber conditions. Sweet!
We exchanged high fives and smiles as we repacked for our traverse to the West Ridge.
Rather than retracing our steps to the northern gully, we decided to check out Baby Thunder, a more aesthetic couloir carved into the side of Little Bear's west ridge. Sure enough, following a sporty mixed down climb, we found ourselves standing atop the hanging snowfield that serves as a non-repel entrance to the route.
Jarrett negotiates the down climb in fine style.
Steep moves on thin snow required....
The reward for our efforts: "Baby Thunder"
Baby Thunder's northern orientation and deep inset into the ridge kept the snow chalky and smooth. Powerful turns were taken down the couloir, each rider carving his signature out.
A wind buffed apron provided the icing on the cake for an awesome day on Little Bear. Soon, we were sipping warm drinks on the shores (see snows) of Lake Como, and I found myself buzzing with adrenaline and excitement. Despite several split ski face plants on the way out the Lake Como road, I was grinning ear to ear. We had just safely climbed and ridden a committing line in the Sangres, and done so in pretty darn optimal conditions. STOKED!
A parting San Luis Sunset:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):