| This Ain't Your Grand Ma's Day Hike!
Crew: Mad Mike (Mike), Mike’s wife Dani, Kiefer (Kiefer), Ridge runner (Stephanie), tmathews (Terry), globreal (Britt)
Climb date: Saturday, March 12, 2011
Start Time: 5:23am
End Time: 9:00pm
Total Time: 15.5 hours (total hiking/climbing/summit time)
Trip Length: 8.5 miles (8 miles for me to South Little Bear only)
Elevation Start: 8,800 feet
Elevation at Summit: 14,037, (14,020 South Little Bear)
Total Elevation: much more than the 5,200 feet you get from doing the math. According to tmatherws GPS, it's 8,000+!!
After completing the “ranked” 14ers last year (2010) I couldn’t see retiring from climbing. Not yet. I love it to much. So, I needed a new goal. Something to motivate me to get off my editors butt to exercise and stay semi-fit. Besides, it would be nice to be able to say someday, “I’ve climbed ALL the 14ers in Colorado.” (It’s your fault Bill Middlebrook….for adding those darn “unranked” checkmark boxes below the ranked 14ers!) So…that’s what I am now after….the unranked 14ers here in Colorado.
Kiefer posted on 14ers.com a new post looking to see if anyone is interested in climbing the south-west ridge of Little Bear:
He said in his post that “it’s technically easier and the avy danger is lower than the standard route going up the Hourglass.” Perfect, this route will lead directly to one of the peaks on my new goals list…South Little Bear. I’m in. Especially after seeing Dancesatmoonrise’s amazing new winter trip report of this route:
We all got to our trail head about 5am and were hiking in the dark at 5:23am. This is the only photo where you’ll get to see the faces of Mike & Dani (the two in back). From here on out, all we saw were their backs. These guys are fast hikers!
Terry had done this route before and knew where he was going. Thank goodness! The scrub oaks down low and the forest a bit higher…this place could easily become a nightmare. However, Terry knew where to go and how to get to an old road that paralleled Tobin Creek heading north.
Dancesatmoonrise (Jim) told me to cross Tobin Creek to it’s east side at 9,150 feet. Well….I was just following Terry and forgot this suggestion. Our point to cross Tobin Creek was at 9,600. Hmmm, this is not looking good!
Now that we were getting some daylight, I can see why Jim said to cross over the creek at 9,150. I think this could have very well been the crux of the day! Steep vertical down….
and steep vertical back up the other side.
(Note, if you do choose to cross the creek at 9,150, the trade-off is you loose the benefit of the nice open road and are forced to do more bush-whacking through even more scrub oaks.)
Once we got up and above the Tobin Creek drainage, there’s a short portion of this hike that was actually quite delightful as we went through some nice forest with a smooth pine needle floor. However, it was short-lived in comparison to what we had left to climb. Welcome to the rock pile!
This is one looong ridge. And it’s ALL talus! I could show more photos to visualize it, but that’s not what we are here for.
This is what we are here for!
The occasional posting-holing on the ridge wasn’t stopping Kiefer from enjoying his day….evidenced by his smile.
This is one view to behold from left to right… Twin Peaks, Ellingwood Point, Little Bear, South Little Bear, and Kiefer hiking the ridge.
This ridge hike has it’s visual moments. Kiefer was quite taken back with this steep couloir as Stephanie joins him in peeking down into it.
The problem with flat, one-dimensional photos, is that it flattens things out. You can’t get how deep and steep this is from this photo
Climbing this ridge in calendar winter, there are some places where we couldn’t avoid the snow.
Around 13,400, the somewhat mellow ridge walk turns more vertical. It becomes a lot steeper! I had to keep telling myself, “don’t look up!” “Don’t focus on how much more there is to climb….just keep going…put one foot in front of the other!”
If you look closely at the far right hump, you might be able to see Mike and Dani cruising on up. If you can see Mike standing out on the ridge, compare his size to elevation drop off of the cliff to the left. Can you say “exposure?”
It was along this spot at 13,400 where the wind really picked up. And wouldn’t you know it? It’s now windy where we have major exposure to the left of where we are! In fact, I found myself when I was just inches away from those drop-offs, bending over or squatting down to lower my center of gravity to avoid being blown over the edge from a major wind gust. Sobering place to be on a calm day…but all the more so in windy conditions!
Here is Kiefer coming over the highest hump from the previous photo.
The summit of South Little Bear turns out to be no easy peak just because it’s unranked. For some reason, I kept saying all day, “This ain’t your GrandMa’s day hike.” Can you see Mike and Dani making it up the last steep section? Yeah…this peak does have it’s Class 4 sections.
Here is the view back down on the steeper section above 13,400, where you want to stay away from the edge. Taking a looksie over the lip here, brings quite the adrenaline rush! Love that red in your hair Steph.
After getting over that one big hump at approximately 13,800 the slope angle on to the summit is pretty steep…somewhere between 40-50˙. I kept thinking, in the wrong conditions, we are on an avalanche prone slope. Thankfully we had 4-5 warm, sunny days in a row prior to our climb. This had melted out any verglas, and consolidated the remaining snow quite nice for us.
There is a false summit before the actual summit of South Little Bear. Don’t be fooled by it. However, the jaunt over to South Little Bear from that false summit isn’t any thing to speak of.
If you look closely, you might be able to see Mike & Dani approaching the far left summit of Little Bear proper.
Through-out this entire day, I was struck with the views of the surrounding mountains, drainages, lakes, and the expansive San Luis valley. I truly believe, this south-west ridge up to South Little Bear and over to Little Bear is one the most awe-inspiring climbs with hundreds of miles of views in all directions.
Stephanie stops to take it all in. This is livin!
As we were approaching the summit of South Little Bear, Mike and Dani had made it over to the 14,037 top of Little Bear Peak.
Terry is making his way up the last little bit of South Little Bear. Of course he’s pulling up the rear cuz he carries 50 pound packs in winter! At least he’s prepared to stay the night out if he ever has too. Terry, were you a boy scout when you were younger?
Terry took my picture to prove I made my goal of the day. South Little Bear. Yoo hoo! However, that little jaunt took us over 7 hours! Jeez! This ain't your grand ma's day hike! I was content to stay right where I was and let the others go on to Little Bear. I got what I wanted. And besides, I have a family at home and therefore didn’t feel I needed to risk going on for a peak I’ve already climbed. Besides, I enjoyed my nap on South Little Bear.
(Photo courtesy of tmathews)
Kiefer and Stephanie on the summit of South Little Bear with Blanca majestically behind. (I didn’t follow them on to Little Bear, so I don’t have a close-up photo of them over there.)
By the way, photos flatten images…but wow….you can’t imagine how much higher Blanca looked with it’s 300 foot advantage.
Three on a Little Bear. Kiefer, Steph, and Terry surprised me and made it over to Little Bear in 32 minutes. I was planning on that traverse taking them closer to an hour….each way.
I was thinking the traverse over to Little Bear was like Class 4 moves, with super-major exposure. I later heard from Mike and then also Kiefer, that this traverse was easier than what we had already done to get up to South Little Bear. Hmmm. Oh well. It was probably meant to be that I didn’t hear this sooner…or I might have tried going over to Little Bear myself.
At 2:30pm, Stephanie, Kiefer, Terry and me were all regrouped and it was time to head home.
Now that we were looking back down the mountain, we get the view of what we had to go back down. Wowser….that is one long ridge…and lots of elevation to descend. Over 5,000 feet to the valley floor. This was going to be a long afternoon indeed.
There is one short knife-edge on this route if you choose to take it. However, it can easily be averted by going to the east side of it. Terry is coming down it…and this photo doesn’t show the exposure.
All-in-all, I believe this has got to be one of the most awe-inspiring ridge climbs in the state. It’s truly a place for hundred-mile views in all directions. To be blessed with conditions and weather to safely accomplish this feat in calendar winter, I believe has got to be a gift from God.
Now…that being said…the sun was setting around 6pm. (This was just a day before the daylight savings time changed to give us longer evenings.) We got back down into the trees and it was dark….I mean, pitch black! If we had to try to find our way out and back to the car without any assistance (GPS), we all agreed that we would have been FORCED to spent the night in that forest. There is no trail to follow and the few orange markers on the trees were impossible to find in the dark…even with headlamps. Had we not had a GPS, we would have been waiting all night to get out of there! As it turned out, it wasn't until 9pm to get back to the vehicles. A very long 15 ½ hour day. So, if you attempt this route, realize it takes a long time. In fact, I use to think that the Lake Como road was a long and hard death march. I will now say…that’s the easy way! (Never thought I'd say that.) This south-west ridge is not a route to be taken lightly. Like I said all day, “This ain’t your grand ma’s day hike!” And don’t attempt unless you have a map & compass and have mastered their use…. or you have a GPS where you can lay down a track that you can follow back out. Yes, the route finding is easy on the ridge, but it's not down in that dark forest! (I think this trip convinced Kiefer to “get off the fence” and invest in a GPS!)
What a day…I haven’t had legs this sore two days after a climb in years!
I pray before every climb for God’s safety and success. He answered that prayer once again. I am grateful…and I am grateful to have experienced His creation from this amazing ridge.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):