Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Date Posted:  06/20/2013
Modified:  07/01/2013
Date Climbed:   06/14/2013
Author:  Alan Arnette

 Little Bear West Ridge Direct then Blanca Traverse  

Climbed Little Bear, 14,037' via the rare West Ridge direct route with Tom Pierce and Barry Johnson Kowbell on Friday June 14, 2013.

This was not the normal Hourglass route. I then continued solo across the Little Bear-Blanca Traverse to summit Blanca Peak, 14,345’. It was an extreme day with unbelievable exposure and fun rock climbing.

I had to take cover midway on the traverse when a lightning storm developed overhead. All in all, an incredible adventure in the Colorado Rockies.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

Addendum: This is an abbreviated TR I posted on my site but thought it might be of some limited value here as well:

Colorado has 58 mountains over 14,000 feet. Within this grouping many peaks have ridges that connect them but only four are deemed worthy to be called Great.

To qualify as a 14er the peak must be 300 feet higher than the saddle of an adjacent peak. A notable exception is North Maroon Peak so 54 has become the 'official' number. I have climbed all of them but only recently competed the Traverses.

On June 14th, 2013, I completed my final traverse, the Little Bear - Blanca Traverse. In my opinion, it is clearly the most difficult.

As Gerry Roach, the undisputed King of the 14ers, writes in "Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs," "Simply put, this is Colorado's most astonishing connecting ridge."

First I climbed Little Bear, 14,037' via the rare West Ridge direct route with partners Tom and Barry. This was not the normal Hourglass route. I then continued solo across the Little Bear-Blanca Traverse to summit Blanca Peak, 14,345’. It was an extreme day with unbelievable exposure and fun rock climbing. The good news on both these routes is that the rock is somewhat stable (with huge exceptions) unlike the very loose holds in the Elk Range and on the Bells Traverse.

I would not recommend doing any of these solo or in uncertain weather - this is based on my own personal experiences.

Little Bear West Ridge

This route is rarely climbed due to it's technical nature. Identical to the hourglass route, we started from Lake Como around 5:00AM. We climbed the rock filled scree gulley to the West Ridge proper. The lower section of the ridge is straightforward and in fact is often taken by the Hourglass route climbers until they reach a deep notch that defines the start of more serious climbing.

From the notch, the route is circuitous and often invisible. Between Tom, Barry and I, we scrambled, climbed and nosed our way around small towers, sharp buttresses and the occasional dip. On occasion it was nearing class 5 in difficulty but mostly stayed at a high level of Class 4.

The key was to continue to gain elevation by staying on the ridge itself and not dropping onto the lower sections of the ridge. It was tempting a few times but we were glad we didn't.

Near the summit, a sharp headwall defines the final obstacle. This is clearly class 5.2+. I free climbed half way up and found myself surrounded by loose rock within a narrow gulley. This garbage chute was dangerous so I retreated and followed the guys around the headwall on a slightly easier route.

We summited at 11:00AM making it a six hour climb.

Little Bear - Blanca Traverse

This is clearly a test of courage as the exposure over 1.5 miles is significant and sustained exceeding the small section of the knife edge on Capital Peak or the exposure on the Maroon Bells Traverse

The climb starts with a sharp descent on a combination of a slab then a knife edge from Little Bear onto the connecting ridge to Blanca. Throughout the entire traverse the ridge was between 2 to 5 feet wide. The first obstacle is a small tower blocking the narrow ridge called Captain Bivwacko Tower. I went climber's left around the tower creeping along a narrow 2 foot wide ledge with over 1000 feet of air to my left.

The climb continues along the ridge with an amazing number of short ups and downs. It was never flat or even. Halfway through my climb, a small isolated thunderstorm developed directly overhead causing me to take cover for half an hour in a small rock pocket down from the ridge's top section. I layered up due to the cold winds and pelting sleet.

Once the storm passed, I continued pass the deepest gulley on t he Traverse only to find three large towers between me and the summit of Blanca. I took the climber's right on the first one and found myself skirting the ridge along a steeply angled hillside of scree. Once past the first of the three, I regained the top of the ridge and continued to the summit of Blanca.

It took me 3 hours to make the traverse with the half hour stop and another 2.5 hours to return to Lake Como. In total, a 12 hour day.

Thanks to Barry Johnson for the idea and to both Barry and Tom Pierce for the partnership.


 Comments or Questions

06/20/2013 22:34
Nice video!


06/21/2013 03:31
Nicely done!


06/21/2013 14:07
That is some serious exposure! And congrats on the traverse(s). I assume the two in your group that didn't continue to Blanca descended the Hourglass?


Nice Alan!
06/21/2013 15:01
Been wondering what you've been up to...and now I know. Great job!

Alan Arnette

06/21/2013 15:14
Thanks all. Yes, the others descended by the beloved scree route! At least they didn't have to dodge lightning!


Cool route!
06/21/2013 16:54
Barry, thanks for the spark that got this off the ground, and Alan thanks for the camaraderie, video, and timekeeping standards (everything is only 20 minutes away! :lol) A fun day, once we were out of scree-hell on the descent.

Screeman: Yes, Barry and I decided to drop down the Hourglass, my third time there. I wasn't feeling 100%, I'd done the traverse alone many years ago, and the weather was a bit iffy, for my taste anyway. We also had a desire to be home that night, so we bailed down the Hourglass. But the WRD is a really cool, sporty alternative to the Hourglass. But exposed.


06/21/2013 18:44
Alan, congratulations on finishing the 4th of the 4 great 14er traverses! You've been elevated to ”Animal Status”.... if you weren't there already!

And Tom, I'll get the TR up soon.


08/21/2013 23:50
Awesome! Congrats......

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