Peak(s):  Little Horn Pk  -  13,143 feet
Date Posted:  07/08/2014
Modified:  08/08/2014
Date Climbed:   07/07/2014
Author:  flyingmagpie
 Suggested Summer Standard Route for Little Horn  

TOUR DE LITTLE HORN

Total mileage: about 10 miles
Total elevation gained: about 4,000 feet
Trailhead: Horn Creek Conference Center
Climbers: solo
Class: 2, some 3 on northeast ridge
Route: ascent up the northeast ridge, descent down the west ridge into Horn Lake basin
Climb time: left Jeep around 0800, summitted 1200, back at Jeep 1500

Yesterday I climbed Little Horn Peak by myself. The weather was great. Clouds did move in during the afternoon, and the first rumble of thunder came about 1430. It started to sprinkle rain gently by the time I had returned to the Jeep, then began raining harder as I began to drive out of the Conference Center. Perfect timing.



In addition to being a climber, I also love to fish, and I have been into the Horn Lake basin many times fishing. Fishing, I have studied the west ridge of Little Horn Peak, and thought the west ridge would make a better summer route than the northeast ridge, but I wanted to try it out myself before posting a report about it. Turns out I was correct. The west ridge, a fairly steep tundra slope, would make a far easier summer ascent route than the northeast ridge. The advantage of the west ridge is that it eliminates a long steep bushwhack through trees. In the thick trees you can't see where you are going. It also eliminates a fairly complex Class 3 scramble over and around pinnacles on the northeast ridge proper. The west ridge is completely Class 2. If you don't mind bushwhacking, and like Class 3, by all means the northeast ridge route is for you. In that case, the west ridge will provide you with a good bail out route if weather moves in after you summit. I understand completely why other climbers are ascending the northeast ridge as a winter route. It is much more fun to climb as high as possible soon after leaving the trailhead, and ridgelines are often blown clear of snow. The northeast ridge makes a fine winter route, and beats snowshoeing all the way to the Horn Lakes through deep valley snow.

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Little Horn Peak From Horn Peak, Crestones Behind


Please refer to Bill Middlebrook's trip report for a description of the northeast ridge route. That is the route I tried to follow on my ascent. I climb by dead reckoning though, and don't own a GPS, so I found that I strayed a bit eastward than the bushwhack route Bill took through the trees. Bill describes this bushwhack in summer as "minor zig-zagging through the trees." I admit I am getting to be an old man, but I timed my bushwhack at about two hours.

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Northeast Ridge Route, About to Emerge from the Trees


Once the bushwhack is over, the route becomes a straightforward ridge hike first off, then a ridge scramble as the Class 3 begins. There are tremendous views of the Crestones, the Kit Carson group including Adams, and Fluted and Horn. For me, it was a beautiful sunny day with only a gentle breath of breeze. The moss campion was in full bloom so thickly it looked like there were small scattered patches of snow up high. Columbines were blooming in all the talus fields. From the ridge, I could look down into the Dry Lake basin on my right, and the Horn Lake basin on my left. The Class 3 scramble in the pinnacles was complex enough that I had to do some important decision making. I followed my instincts, and didn't recognize what Bill describes as a downclimb through a notch until I was actually past it!

There was a summit cairn, and a summit register placed in 2010. Not a whole lot of people had signed it. Besides Bill's name, I recognized Furthermore's, and a couple others I forget now.

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Summit and Register


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Crestones, Columbia, Carson


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Wet Mountain Valley from the Summit



The route had taken me what I thought was a long time to finish. Instead of heading back the same way, I headed west, dropping down a little bit from the summit immediately.


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West Ridge Descent


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Smallest Horn Lake Below Mt. Adams, Columbia and Carson Behind


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West Ridge Leading to Fluted Peak


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Smallest Horn Lake and Adams


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West Ridge and Fluted



I bypassed three minor knobs by keeping to the southern side of the west ridge. I managed to keep the downclimb totally on Class 2 tundra. I zigged skier's right to the lowpoint of the Little Horn/Fluted saddle, and then zagged left again roughly south. It was easy going, except for the steepness, which wasn't too bad. From above, I could see the Horn Lakes trail, the trail I planned to follow on my way out of the basin. This is the same trail that begins the northeast ridge route. Once back down in the trees, I first moved through scattered alpine fir and spruce. As I continued to traverse around the shoulder of Little Horn toward the trail, also continuing to descend, the timber thickened. Two golden eagles overflew me, and one of them called out as they passed overhead! I crossed a stream, then joined up with the Horn Lake trail. I followed the trail out without incident.

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Tundra Descent Route, and Summit of Little Horn


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One Last Look at the Summit As I Leave the Basin



I did pass another climber headed up as I was heading out, Matt from Colorado I saw on the trail register, who evidently was going to camp overnight (I judged from his pack) and do Adams the next day.

There are good camping places just to the south of the smallest Horn Lake. The ground is level there, and there is pine duff to soften the ground as well, under old growth trees. The descent route from the west ridge actually takes you pretty close to this smallest and most northern of the two lakes. There is good fishing in both lakes. From a campsite near the smallest lake, you could climb Adams, Fluted, or Little Horn, which are all right there.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Alpineair
Nice write up!
07/12/2014 15:53
Goes to show that you don't have to have loads of photos to carry a TR.
Well done.



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