Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
"South Little Bear" - 14,020 feet
Date Posted:  06/22/2020
Date Climbed:   06/21/2020
Author:  Wentzl
 Another take on Little Bear SW Ridge   

I have been interested in the several reports on the SW Ridge of Little Bear, especially because of the various descriptions of the bushwhack necessary to get to the start of the climb. Whether trespassing through the subdivision that abuts public land near Tobin Creek, or hiking overland from the Como Lake Road, everyone seems to agree that this part of the hike is as unpleasant going up as coming down. So, here for your consideration, is an alternative that makes the bushwhack a one way trip!

It was a Saturday night, and the first day of summer, so I did expect some traffic on the Lake Como road. But when I saw just how many cars were parked lower down, I figured I would be out of luck for a decent campsite. There were at least 40 vehicles scattered along the first few miles of the road. But my plan was to seek out a road right around 8,800' that is easily visible when searching googlemaps, satellite view, which is how I researched this approach. The road goes off to the right, just an 1/8 of a mile or so after the sign warning of bears in the area. There are actually a couple good sites right there, but I saw one just a little earlier on and grabbed it.


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Nice camp around 8,700'

From my camp, I could easily see the bear sign. Just after this sign, the road turns sharply steeper.


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Bear Sign, close to road at 8,800'

The road is obvious and hard to miss.


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Turn off Como Road here.

Just 100 yards or so off the road are some nice campsites and the road continues on, contouring at about the same elevation to the southeast. There is an old ladder back there.


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Old ladder and start of road leading to Little Bear SW Ridge

Some of the other SW Ridge reports talk about driving near Tobin Creek through the "Hills Have Eyes" sort of subdivision. Since I have not hiked that route, I can't say this road is easier, but I can say that it was not the exhausting, time consuming effort that I expected. It took just about an hour to reach, and cross Tobin Creek. 45 minutes of that time was spent walking on decent roads connected by substantial game trails. The hike up from the Como Lake road from below treeline would be substantially more of an endeavor both for route finding and stamina.


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The view down to the Lake Como road after 15 minutes from camp.


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Fork in the Road marked with cairn.


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Nice old tree, more easy walking


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Clearing and old pen of some sort.

The previous few photos show the travel for the first 30 or 40 minutes. The last bit, getting to Tobin Creek is where the bushwhacking began on my trip. My guess is that there are better ways to get across the creek, but when I could hear the waterfall, I tried to make more of a beeline, than follow the path of least resistance, and there was some mild cursing. When the creek came into view, I was a little disheartened by the canyon which presented. It was not as substantial as it appeared on first view, but I did have to scramble down 150 vertical feet to get across the stream. I think I was downstream a couple hundred yards from where mickknu16 took the photo of the waterfall in his SW Ridge report posted last week.

Anyway, I left camp around 6:00 a.m. and was across the creek and heading uphill by 7:00 a.m. so all in all, this was a good approach. The creek was 2.4 miles from camp.

NOTE ON MILEAGE: While I did carry a GPS to track distance, I forgot to turn it on until approximately 40 minutes into the hike. So for the duration of the trip, I added one mile to the gps reading. Not perfect, but probably pretty accurate, and distance as measured from the creek are correct.


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First view of Tobin Creek Canyon

Surveying the opposite side of the creek it was not at all obvious what the best path would be to get on the ridge. But once across, it was just as straightforward as could be with game tracks making way pretty much straight up. This turned out to be the theme for the next 90 minutes until I reached tree line. Just move straight up over ground that presented few obstacles on talus that was for the most part very stable under foot.


20229_10
Looks like a jumbled mess, but easy travel.

I crossed the creek at 9,465' at 7:00 and reached treeline at 11,300' 80 minutes later, at 8:20. The distance up the hill was 0.8 miles. It was brutally steep for just the first 15 minutes or so and then gradually eased back. Up on a level perch I found a nice bivy shelter someone had constructed. Hard to tell how long it had been there. Couple weeks? Couple decades. Anyone recognize it as a temporary camp?


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Bivouac

The terrain up to treeline, after the steep section was very pleasant. Easy grade, no doubt about travel direction, sheltered from wind and sun by beautiful trees.


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Walk in the Park


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In and out of the trees for a while


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A small cairn, but just go up.


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One of several undulations along the ridge. S Little Bear and Little Bear ahead.

The ridge didn't really have any surprises along the way. There were a couple dips, but none that required any real additional effort to move over

.The SW Ridge does give an excellent observation deck for checking out the Hourglass route, which looks absolutely insane from this vantage point.


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Hour Glass rises above the highest snowfield in the photo.

After a while the ridge turns to the north and gets steep again to reach S Little Bear summit.


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Looking back along the SW Ridge before the final push to the summit

The steep climbing is easy 3rd class and is punctuated with a short knife edge section which is fun.


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Knife Edge before S Little Bear

I reached the S Little Bear summit at noon, almost exactly 6 hours after starting out. While there I noticed a couple folks hiking toward me from the Little Bear summit, who turned out to be a couple other 14er.com members.


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Hello to bmqueen and his buddy, whose red helmet is seen near center of this photo. Unknown folks on LB descended hourglass before I got there.

The hike over to Little Bear from S Little Bear was not too complicated. Not nearly as exciting as it has been presented elsewhere. Basically, when travel on the ridge crest becomes difficult, drop down and to the left, sometimes even retreating a little along the lower section of the ridge. About 20 minutes from one summit to the other.


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Little Bear from S Little Bear without zoom effect

There was one obstacle I thought I could get around to the right, but that didn't work out. Stay to the left (west) side of the ridge, is about all you need to know.

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Obstacle between the summits

So, Little Bear summit at 12:20 and 6.56 miles from camp.

That is all the information I have on the SW Ridge route. Since I intended this to be a one way trip through the bush country down below, and since my camp was on the Como Lake road, I figured it would be easier to just saunter over to Blanca and hike down the road. The rest of this trip report will briefly talk about the Little Bear/Blanca traverse, which has been written about extensively by myself and others. BUT I did have a nice wildlife sighting, and stuck in a few action shots of sheep running down rocks.

PART II

This would be my 4th trip across the LB/B traverse, so I was not expecting any surprises. There was snow visible along the route, but I had read a trip report earlier in the week that said the snow was not an issue on the route. That was correct, and the threatened snowstorm, which was supposed to dump considerable snow on the mountains a couple days earlier apparently never materialized. So at 12:30, with clear skies, light wind and a pretty good idea what lie ahead, I set off.


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Looking back at Little Bear after most of the more difficult parts of the traverse are already behind.


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Looking ahead at the rest of the traverse.

I made decent time, stopping mid way for a long lunch break and to just soak up the atmosphere in this pretty wonderful place. I reached the summit of Blanca Pk. at 2:40. My GPS told me I have traveled 8.11 miles. But before I topped out on Blanca, I was greeted with this:


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Blanca Peak Welcoming committee.

I have to just post a few of the photos as these guys (girls) made short work of getting around an unwelcome intruder.


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Nimble Feet


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Just passing through


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After you.


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Head Dive!


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See Ya.


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S Little, Little Bear and Traverse from Blanca summit

This was the first day of summer, but there was still plenty of ice on the uppermost of the lakes in the Blanca basin.


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Summer in the Rockies

The hike from the summit of Blanca back to camp took about 4 hours. 1 1/2 hours down off the mountain and back on the very end of the Como road and another 2 1/2 down the road to camp. The distance traveled for the loop, approximately 15 miles.

In the next photo I share my navigational tool for anyone who thinks this sounds like fun. Where I hashed out the green highlight mark, and inserted the blue ink, is the actual path, as opposed to the intended. Like I said, I did carry a GPS, but that is just to track mileage. I did save the track, but not sure how to download it, so don't ask unless you are prepared to give technical advice.


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Navigational Aid

Final thought, wear shorts through the bushes at your own peril.


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Bushwhack badges.





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

Nice to meet you up there
06/22/2020 17:37
My forearms look like your legs - bushwhack wounds. Of course, I was dumb enough to do the bushwhack twice yesterday vs. your better plan. You were moving fast - nicely done adding the Little Bear to Blanca traverse and cool to see the welcoming committee you encountered.



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