Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Date Posted: 
Date Climbed:   03/05/2006
Author:  lmcarlton


Little Bear Peak (West Ridge Route)
Elevation: 14037'
Date: 3/4/06 – 3/5/06
Trail Head: Lake Como at 9700'
Miles: ~ 7.85
Elevation Gain: ~ 4350'
Climbers: Jeremiah Clifford, Yanki Lama & Larry Carlton

I was extremely excited to think that it may be possible for a winter summit attempt. A few weeks later I mentioned the possible trip to my climbing partner Jeremiah and suggested that he read the TR. The thought of being able to climb some lower angle ice in an alpine setting was enough for me to justify a second ascent of Little Bear.

We spent some time discussing the variables that would be involved in making a successful bid. We decided that we would only make the attempt under good weather conditions. On a daily basis, I made it a point to check NOAA and the CAIC for upcoming conditions. Prior to the weekend of 2/25 thru 2/26 it appeared that the weather was really stable and that it could be a great weekend, however a pre-scheduled trip to Vegas prevented me from being able to climb. I was very hopeful that the current weather conditions would remain through the week and into the weekend, which they did. So we decided on 3/1 to make a run down to Lake Como and check out Little Bear.

For this trip we brought a bunch of gear as we were looking forward to potentially climbing the ice fall up through the hourglass. Along with our camping gear that we would need to stay the night at Lake Como we brought along 2-60m ropes, 7 ice screws, 1 nut set, lots of runners, technical ice axes, general mountaineering ice axes and crampons.

The trip started out by Jeremiah and Yanki picking me up at my work place in the Lone Tree area on Friday night at 10:30 PM. My Friday class delayed us from leaving earlier in the evening. Thanks guys for waiting up for me on Friday!! The drive down to the trail head went quickly. We arrived at the Lake Como Road off of 152 at about 2:00 AM and proceeded up the worst road in Colorado. Jeremiah was able to drive his Tacoma about 2.5 miles, up to the 9700' mark. The drive up the road took about 30 minutes and we found a level spot to camp for the night. Jeremiah and Yanki set up camp in the back of their Tacoma and I was able to pitch a tent beside the truck for the night.

Thanks to Chucky for the Lake Como Road Information!!

After sleeping for about 5 hours or so we got up to a clear day with mild winds and great views of the San Luis Valley. We stumbled around our little camping area for a few hours packing gear, drinking Tea and Red Bulls to awaken from the short night and getting motivated to pack a ton of gear up to the lake. We set off around 9:30 AM towards the lake, taking our time so as to not wear our selves out over the next 2.5 miles and 2000'. The hike up the road took us about 3 hours. We stopped a few times to snap some pictures and shared good conversation along with lots of laughs the entire way. The road was in great shape and we did not need our snowshoes. The river crossing was about the only major obstacle that we encountered, as it was entirely frozen over and very slick.

Arriving at the lake, we were all very happy to be able to drop our packs and scout out a place to pitch our tents. Yanki wondered over to an old cabin and noticed that it was completely empty and in really good shape. We decided that this would be our home for the next two days and one night. Having been up to Lake Como twice, I was amazed that this structure was in good shape! I guess both times that I was up to the lake in the summer the cabin was surrounded by Jeeps and people partying, so I did not pay much attention. We dropped out gear in the cabin and discussed our plan.

Originally we were going to hike up to the base of the hourglass on Saturday and scout out the ice. If it looked to dicey, we would climb the SW ridge of Ellingwood as a back up plan. With the overcast skies and the increasing winds, we decided to hang out in the vicinity of the cabin for the remainder of the day and rest up for the climb on Sunday. At one point we did venture around the lake and up to the cut off for Little Bear to check out if snowshoes would be needed and to get a glimpse of the gully heading up to the notch.

We were out by about 8 PM after a hearty meal. Sleeping off the snow sure made the night more enjoyable and it was nice to be out of the wind. After a long night of sleep we were up and moving by about 6:30 AM. Taking our time, we brewed up some tea and finally set off for Little Bear around 8 AM.

The trek around the lake to the cut off for the gully went quickly. We left our snowshoes behind as we did not need them the day before. We reached the cut off and proceeded to carefully make our way up and over the initial boulder field. Once over the boulder field we decided to throw our crampons on our feet as the snow in the gully looked like it would be solid for climbing. We soon realized that is was a very sugary snow and decided to stick to the harder snow that was covering the some of the looser scree and rocks on the right side of the gully.

After about an hour and a half from leaving camp we were at the top of the gully. We took a 10 minute break to remove our crampons and drink some water. We left the notch and proceeded to follow the cairned trail along the W. Ridge. The views were amazing, there was not a cloud in the sky and the weather was awesome.

The first .5 miles of the W. Ridge were snow free and we were moving along at a good pace. Once at the second notch things started to slow down for us as there was quite a bit of snow that we needed to cross in order to gain the base of the hourglass. The snow was fairly firm most of the way but with 25-30lbs each on our back it took a toll on us. Rounding the corner and lining up with the hourglass we could see that the snow went up quite some distance. I was surprised to see that we should be able to climb the snow probably about ˝ the way up the hourglass.

After a short break, Yanki marched on kicking some awesome steps in the snow and we were quickly at the demarcation of the snow and the ice inside of the hourglass. Looking at the ice and the remainder of the route, we were able to determine that we only had about 100 feet to the prominent anchor at the top of the hourglass. By this time it was just after Noon. Jeremiah wrapped a prusik around the green rope that was hanging down the middle of the crux and climbed up to the anchor. He inspected the anchor and called down for us to climb. Yanki wrapped her prusik and was at the top quickly, I soon followed her.

At the top of the hourglass, we dropped our 60m ropes & technical gear. It was a nice relief to have 10-15 pounds less weight to carry. We knew that it was getting late in the day and we discussed our options. Our main goal was to be able to get back on the W. Ridge prior to nightfall. The weather was still awesome, so we continued onward.

Yanki found the trail fairly quickly, while Jeremiah and I proceeded to climb up some steeper rock bands. After about 150 feet or so, Jeremiah and I found Yanki and followed her. We took our time climbing on the 3rd class rock as there was patchy snow and wet rock in multiple areas. On a few occasions we had to stop and spot each other. Just after 2 PM we reached the summit of Little Bear Peak.

We stayed on the summit for about 10 minutes or so. The views were incredible!!! There was not a cloud in the sky and the winds were calm at maybe 10-15mph. Views of the Crestones and the Sand Dunes were awesome! The San Juans were really cool to look at along with the San Luis Valley. It looked like we were the first people to sign the summit register in just over a month.

Leaving the summit at about 2:20 PM, we made out way back down to the top of the hourglass in a fairly quick manner. Taking about 40 minutes to descend, again spotting each other in a few places. After a quick discussion we decided to use the established green rope wrapped with a prusik to down climb back to the snow. It was kind of a bummer that we did not get to use the gear that we worked so hard to carry all the way up. The down climb through the hourglass went quickly, we each took turns climbing down and removing ourselves from potential rock fall from the next climber.

By about 3:40 PM we were heading back towards the W. ridge. The trekking was kind of slow as the snow had softened up and the heavy packs weighed us down quite a bit. By about 5:30 PM, we had returned to the prominent notch and we quickly threw on our crampons and descended the gully back to the main road. Climbing down the gully took about 30 minutes; all in all, the gully is much better with snow vs. no snow in the summer.

Once back at the road we headed back to camp and arrived at about 6:30 PM, for a total descent time of about 4 hours and 10 minutes. We took a much deserved break at the cabin to make a hot brew and water for the 2.5 mile hike back to the truck.

Leaving the Cabin at 8 PM, we kept a steady pace back to the truck. Arriving two hours later at 10 PM, we were all happy to drop our heavy packs and take off our hiking boots. From there we proceeded to head back to the Denver area.

Thanks to Jeremiah and Yanki for a great hike!! Congratulations on a new 14er!!


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