Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
"South Little Bear" - 14,020 feet
PT 13,122  -  13,122 feet
Date Posted:  06/17/2020
Date Climbed:   06/13/2020
Author:  mickknu16
 Little Bear - SW Ridge  

I had been eyeballing this route for a while, especially after my recent summit of Blanca, where we lucked out on a very quiet day trip up to the Lake Como basin the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. I knew it wouldn't be this quiet in the Blanca range probably for the rest of summer. I always seek solitude on hikes when possible, and would gladly check out any back way to bypass heavily trafficked trails or something as notorious as the LB hourglass and its rockfall.

My girlfriend ( Kenna who is not a 14er member... yet =) ) and I decided to backpack in according to this "route" as we had the whole weekend open and nothing but time. All trip reports seem to detail the hellishness of this route, so we figured why not take the time to try and do it right. Forecasts had been off and on predicting afternoon showers for our Saturday summit, but our last and latest update showed that the storm had pushed to Sunday. We car camped at Lake Como Road Thursday night and then got the bushwhack done in the cool of the morning Friday, starting by 6:30am. We kept a pretty solid trail, and found the bushwhack to be easy to navigate in the light of day.

20206_11

We never found any of the flagging tape for this route, but managed to find a small crossing at around 9250ft. We were overall happy with the route we chose and didn't have to bushwhack much. It wasn't the best crossing, but we made it work after a bit of looking around.

20206_10

20206_02
Tobin Creek Waterfall at 9400ft

We setup camp around 9,350ft and a few hundred yards down from Tobin Creek Falls after crossing the creek, which was about the closest you could get to having a head start on the route while remaining close to a water source. Good camping spots are sparse as that area is a transition zone between the desert and forest. You will be lucky to find a flat spot free of cactus, rocks, or thorn bushes. We relaxed for the day and explored the area to prepare for the big day ahead.

20206_03

We left camp the next morning around 4:45am which was a later start than I wanted. I blame me getting a little too cozy with the warm weather in my crazy comfy new REI Magma sleeping bag. But we got right to business and kept a solid pace gaining tree line. Early in the morning we saw a mama bear and her two cubs WAY off in the distance scaling the start of the West Ridge of LB, and we knew it was a sign of the summits to come.

20206_08
The start of the LB West Ridge in the distance (NOTE no bears in this photo, but this is just after we saw them)
20206_09
Approaching tree line

It is a relentless uphill climb, and it felt like hours went by before making a dent in this ridge line. From here, the route is pretty straightforward, just follow the ridge!

20206_01
A view of the daunting task ahead
20206_12
Getting closer after the Mama Bear false summit and just before the knife ridge (Blanca in the background)
20206_05
Arriving on the Mama Bear summit Looking towards the faintly seen climbers on the Little Bear summit

We could see 3 people on the LB summit and had a quick, casual conversation between peaks since they are really close together. We got right to work after our 10:30am summit to finish what we came for and began our way across the traverse, leaving our packs behind for easier scrambling across the ridge. Following the description from the legendary FCSquid trip report, we navigated the ridge with ease, and really enjoyed the spicy traverse! We averaged about 30 minutes from MB to LB one way.

20206_14
Kenna working her way down one of the ledges

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20206_06
On the traverse

About halfway through the traverse, a tiny cloud we had been watching closely let off a small rumble of thunder, and things quickly got real. Our pace increased dramatically as we raced up to the summit of Little Bear, where we spent less than three minutes up top and quickly returned across the traverse. Everyone on the summit of LB descended instantly after the crackle of thunder. I really wish we would have had more time up there, but we had a long way to go and were going to be exposed for the majority of the route down.

20206_16
Summit at last! #43 for me and quite the #10 for Kenna

The clouds miraculously blew off, temporarily giving us the window we needed to get down. Although a late afternoon storm was clearly brewing (so much for the Sunday storm), the weather was on our side for the time being, and it allowed us to get back across the traverse, down to the knife ridge, and about halfway down the overall route before the weather really started coming in. We still managed to have a bit of fun aside from being pretty stressed out.

20206_07
Mick coming back down the knife ridge portion of the upper SW ridge

We were totally exhausted by tree line as we expended a ton of energy and adrenaline with our panic of trying to get off of the peaks so quickly. Staying on the ridge line definitely has the most stable rock and is the easiest path to navigate. We dropped from ridge a bit to avoid topping out when lighting seemed imminent, but ran into loose, miserable rock that beat us down and slowed our pace. Stay on the ridge!

20206_13
The clouds building, and Kenna's look of determination to get down

Shortly after this photo, the darkness of the clouds overtook us and a downpour ensued, drenching the remainder of the route down, which slowed our pace dramatically. We crawled our way down the remaining 1000ft, and did our best to not wipeout on the slick rock. A lot of thunder and a bit of lighting, but we were spared as we worked our way into the trees and back to our camp. It was a grueling and frustrating finish to the day, which is the epitome of type II fun that we live for. We had initially planned to try and pack all the way out after the hike, but decided we should just crash out one more night at our base camp to rest our tired bones. We packed out the next day at 6:30am and felt fortunate that we caught the weather window that we did. The Sunday storm still rolled in and engulfed the Blanca group from the moment we woke up until we left later that afternoon.

20206_17
Packing out as the Sunday storm lingers above the Blanca group

IN SUMMARY:

OVER THE WEEKEND (3 DAYS):

OUR MILEAGE ROUNDTRIP FROM LAKE COMO ROAD - EST 15.7 MILES

TOTAL HIKING TIME - EST 17 HOURS

All the top searches for trip reports from this route seem to be pre-2015 and all seemed to reflect mileage starting near Tobin Creek, which really didn't click into my head planning out this trip and how long it would be mileage wise. I didn't get to all the reports I could have either I'm sure, but it was a real good choice to backpack in as I felt confused on the mileage we would be facing on the trip.

I personally logged about 3 miles each way doing the bushwhack to our camp (we did cross Tobin Creek a bit higher than is suggested & weren't perfect with our navigating towards the end). But we stayed higher/north on this route to ensure we were respecting private property, and we never once saw a sign about any. I'd estimate the RT bushwhack portion of this route to be roughly 6 miles.

20206_04
Our Bushwhack route to our base camp

From the "Tobin Creek TH" to the LB summit and back, Roach says 8 miles, FCSquid says 9.2 miles, we got 9.5.... Soooo, averaging that out to about a 9 RT mile distance, you are looking at roughly a total of still 15 miles RT from the Lake Como Road as my estimate. The hike on the ridge from Tobin Creek for this truly feels so much longer than just the estimated 4.5 miles one way, gaining over 6600ft at least in that time with ups and downs.

My main goal with this report is to establish the mindset that this route is longer than what many of the popular reports portray when one would does a search on the 14ers website of this route. And yes, that's because most are reports from the Tobin Creek area directly. That factor may not compute for some people like it hadn't for me. Overall, this miscalculation effected our mindset and planning for the trip; I'm so glad we backpacked in! I also feel safe saying that you should expect at least a 15 Mile round trip hike with the bushwhack included. I'd love to hear anyone else's take on this and the distance they might have logged while legally accessing this route from Como Road.

WAKE UP EARLY!

Even setting up a camp near Tobin Creek, I would leave by 3/3:30am unless you are crazy fast. Being on this ridge in a storm could be very bad news. We almost found out the hard way. A day trip for this route could be done for sure, but I personally would not recommend it to anyone. It was very doable navigating the bushwhack during the day as it would be a tough way to start out a massive day if you were to do it in the dark. I think an overnight trip is ideal. We lucked out big time with weather, and I want to say thanks to mother nature as she was truly on our side for this one. This hike is a major accomplishment for the both of us and is also a day on the mountain we both will never forget!

Thanks for reading and happy hiking.




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
CaptainSuburbia

Nice!
06/17/2020 21:36
Excellent climb and report! 15 miles is about what I got on that route this past winter.


greenonion

Agree with Nice!
06/18/2020 08:53
Nicely executed and written up. Valuable insights on this route. And, congrats to you both!


mickknu16

Thank you both!
06/18/2020 13:48
I bet it makes quite the winter route, well done! Glad to hear the mileage was similar for you.
I appreciate that a lot! Hope it helps clear up some of the uncertainties behind this route.


CaptainSuburbia

Winter route
06/19/2020 14:39
Thanks! It's the perfect winter route as it wasn't much more difficult. I didn't even use snowshoes or traction. There is a recent TR posted for it by my partner supranihilest and another one posted by me that you may have missed.


mickknu16

In Hindsight
06/22/2020 13:02
I could see that being the case, way cool. He writes awesome reports, I went and read up on it and really liked how he broke down your stats at the end. REALLY wish I would have seen that...

I realize now when searching for reports, I should lookup the individual mountain first under the trip reports tab where it breaks down all the most recent reports chronologically. I had mainly been searching the LB SW ridge on the search feature in the upper right so it brought up all the most viewed reports which were older in dates.



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