Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Date Posted:  06/26/2020
Date Climbed:   06/07/2020
Author:  HikesInGeologicTime
Additional Members:   SpringsDuke, TallGrass
 Ropes for the Recreant   

Note: SpringsDuke already posted an excellent trip report about this outing, which contains some awesome pictures and is in general less like the ramblings of someone who really needs to find a new therapist.

Just a refresher for anyone who isn't familiar with my usual reason for writing trip reports: it's to prove that if I can do these mountains, anybody can. No, really. I am pantophobic. The many, many things that give me anxiety include getting out of bed, leaving the house, being the first ever recorded case of someone catching pregnancy from a bus seat...and heights. I have no functioning smoke detectors in my home because the ceilings are too high for me to stand on a chair in order to reattach them (and I get the sweats merely from standing on chairs), but getting a stepladder? And then climbing up it? And then standing on it while reattaching the smoke detector? Oh, HELLLLLLL no! I'd rather live in constant fear that some stoned neighbor's going to leave a stove on in my 124-year old, questionably modernized building!

I knew well before going into it, then, that Little Bear was going to be...interesting. Nevertheless, I'd managed to summit a smattering of Class 3 peaks last year, after having run out of the comparatively pleasant Class 1 and 2 fourteeners, and (spoiler alert) I hadn't died on any of them, plus I'd only had the beginnings of a panic attack on one! As Fall 2019 faded into winter, then, I was totally ready to PM SpringsDuke, my companion for a failed-for-me, successful-for-him winter Culebra attempt and successful-for-all-involved winter Bierstadt climb, to put the idea of a spring-ish go at Little Bear in his head! And then, when conditions and forecasts finally aligned for such on June 7th, to rope our fellow Bierstadt group member TallGrass, who was worried about the state of the infamous Hourglass' infamous ropes, into this cockamamie scheme! And then squeak out, "Ha! Ha! Yeah, great, guys, let's do this!" while wondering if faking a Type I diabetic emergency would be worth the hospital bill as we finalized our plans on June 6th!

I ultimately concluded that overwhelming our hospitals was a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad thing to do, especially since there's a certain notorious infection going around that would be liable to deliver a(n un)healthy does of Instant Karma for my attempt to harken back to the days when I'd groan and clutch my stomach every time I had a homework assignment due that I'd ignored the night before, so as I drove TG and myself first to retrieve SpringsDuke, then all three of us up and over La Veta Pass, I resolved that I'd go only as far as I felt comfortable, and if I needed to chicken out and leave my partners to the rest of it, I could come back to the car and take a Sleeping Beauty-sized nap. Which was already sounding good, as I hadn't slept since Saturday morning, and it was now technically Sunday morning.

I had every intention of getting Booger, my Subaru Outback, to 8800' on the Lake Como Road, as on my last time up that deleted chapter of the American edition of Dante's Inferno, I'd seen her identical twin parked that high. After observing that both my passengers seemed liable to ruin Booger's reputation as the first car I've owned that no one's puked in yet and that I was about to ruin that day's reputation as one I hadn't sobbed through yet, I reluctantly found a pull-off 1.1 miles from the 2WD TH - the same distance I'd made the year before - and did nothing to discourage the murmurings about how we'd, like, totally planned to hit the trail as soon as we parked, but maybe a nap was in order now?

20250_06TG's commentary at the Mt. Hope A trailhead, several days later. Poor Booger.

The murmurings only lasted for a few minutes before we reluctantly decided that it would be in our best interests to do what we set out to do in more or less the manner we planned to do it, with SpringsDuke pointing out optimistically that if we got back to Lake Como early enough, we could take a nap in the afternoon's warmth. "That is so not happening," I sighed, as we started the long trudge up my least favorite stretch of any fourteener I've encountered to date.

We hit the lake by sunrise and the turn-off for Little Bear not long after. The first gully brought back wonderful memories of Challenger, and there was snow - hard snow, at that - at its top that brought back even more wonderful memories of Handies, though at least I managed to avoid splitting my head open this time. Then came the blissfully mild, if irritatingly long, traverse near the ridgeline, which offered increasingly detailed views of the Hourglass that were doing nothing for my altitude-churned GI tract.

20250_01I have never had to break trail yet with these guys, and I feel guilty for not feeling guiltier about it.

Soon enough, we ran out of traverse, minced our way up steep scree and across snow, and arrived at the base of the dreaded Hourglass. The first part of it didn't require any skills that I didn't already possess, although at one point, I did wrap the blue-and-white rope dangling down around my hand for stability while I straddled an ice patch. Then we reached the narrowest - and steepest - point.

Ice coated the middle, which looked like the most climbable portion to me. To the right of the ice was dry but slick rock that didn't seem to offer any promising holds. The left was better on holds, but they were tiny, and it was steep.

My partners, both more experienced than I, clambered up. SpringsDuke would occasionally pop into my view to shout updates at me (or try to - the gusty winds in NOAA's forecast showed up in full force and impeded communication) while TallGrass got to work inspecting and clearing ropes that, he said, had been there since his last climb of LB in 2013 or '14.

I had resigned myself to my fate of returning to this peak later in the summer, after the ice had melted, when I could climb straight up the center, so it was with an unusually Zen state of mind that I waited, watching from the side of the main pipeline as small pieces of ice cracked off and tumbled down toward and then past me. It would have to be on a weekday, I mused, because the ferocity of those ice pellets - not to mention the occasional larger, heavier missile dislodged above, thankfully preceded by a cry of, "ROCK!!!!!" in enough time for me to take cover each time - ensured that I would not want to be in here when anyone else was above, nor, if my own erosive abilities and I could help it, below me.

20250_02Taken a bit below where I waited. The iPod Touch camera isn't always the greatest at grabbing fine detail, but you can see the slickness if you're looking for it.

I was a little taken aback when SpringsDuke tossed a rope down to me and yelled what sounded like, "Clip in!" I did so, then hesitated as I examined my potential routes. I then took a step or two back to see just how far I was going to fall when I inevitably slipped. Not far at all, seemed to be my encouraging answer, so after another few hesitating moments of figuring out where exactly to put my hands I feet, up I went.

I did slip in the ice once, but it was really only the one foot that suffered for it. After that, I was almost blissfully unaware of what was happening; I had some vague awareness that this was by far the most challenging climbing I'd done off a wall (and that not for a decade and a half), but I was in so solidly that even the part of my lizard brain that liked to shriek bloody murder at me about using a chair to get something off a high shelf was stupendously silent.

I did need to hyperventilate once I greeted my knights in shining nylon harnesses at the anchor, but it was only because of my lungs' natural reaction to steepness and altitude (which is to say, total toddler-esque meltdown). We were all in agreement that, even though it was now later in the afternoon than it is generally recommended for a summit, the lack of clouds and sheer amount of suck we'd put up with to get to this point meant no one was turning around here.

We stuck to climber's left the rest of the way up, and while there were a couple moves that I had to think about before committing to, either my prior experience or my newfound sense of "too tired to GAF" kicked in hard enough that I knew I was going all the way, even if I had to defy the laws of gravity to do so. The summit almost seemed like an afterthought; granted, it was now late enough that we didn't want to take too much time celebrating our victory, but in my mind, it was more a confirmation of the achievement than the achievement itself; the destination was for sure nice, but that day really had been more about the journey for me.

20250_05Thank you, SpringsDuke, for making me look good when I finally did reach the top!

We still half the journey left, however, and while it would be mostly downhill, this was no time to slouch. With no one below us, we did take an easier, if loose-rockier, route back to the anchor station, where I got to be the remaining rope's guinea pig for the downclimb just as I had on the way up. I elected to be belayed down rather than trying to force my fatigue-and-hyperglycemia-fried brain to remember proper rappelling technique after not having done so in well over a decade.

As happened during my ascent of the Hourglass, I had a vague awareness that someone with my particular set of neuroses really should have been more freaked out than I actually was, but in addition to TallGrass (and SpringsDuke, when the former needed to pass a knot) being exceptional at belaying, most likely the fatigue and mysteriously high blood sugar had shut down much of my higher-level cognitive functions.

20250_03At least the ice had largely melted out by that point, so while the running water was almost as annoying as the wind blowing it back uphill, that middle section didn't seem anywhere near as treacherous as it had a couple hours before.

I maintained my worrisome-in-hindsight calm demeanor as my buddies descended, as we descended through the base of the Hourglass, and up until my glissade of the snowfield below it became speedier than I was prepared for. I managed to self-arrest before winding up in the pokey-looking rocks barricading its lower edge, but if you were on Blanca or Ellingwood that day and heard a profanity-laden shriek rend the very air above your head... sorry.

I would have no further incidents on winter's last remnants, which was good, as I swear the traverse back to the first gully had expanded during the afternoon, so TallGrass and I did not reach that last bothersome patch of snow until last light. Darkness set in as we picked the rest of the way down the gully, and my balance was so shot by that point that, even though I could and did manage to avoid all the remaining snowfields, I couldn't help but glissade down most of it in a way that gives an unfortunately literal meaning to the phrase "ripped a new one."

My balance wasn't the only thing that was slipping. SpringsDuke had gotten way ahead of us on the traverse, and TallGrass got ahead of me in the gully, but he kept pausing to make sure I was behind him. As he reached the bottom of the gully, I saw his headlamp cross paths with another, and I was relieved that our group would be reunited soon. First, however, I had to get up and over one last boulder-strewn hill, but it didn't look that bad from where I stood at the bottom of the gully - why, the road was just beyond it, right at the edge of my headlamp's range!

Except it wasn't. Every time I reached the road, there were only more boulders. But then I'd see the road again, just at the edge of my headlamp's beam, and when I reached that edge...more boulders. I could feel my blood pressure spiking with each cycle. I could see no other headlamps, and while I could see mountains silhouetted against a starry sky, I was no longer certain which mountains they were - Blanca? Ellingwood? Pikes, Elbert, Longs?

I forced myself to keep stumbling onward, and I finally ran out of boulders, though I was not at the road...a stream blocked my path to it, and it was wide enough where I was that crossing didn't seem like a good idea. Fortunately, however, I could see a headlamp to my left, and as long as I followed the stream, it looked like I'd be able to reach it in no time!

When I did meet up with him across the stream at the cairn marking the Little Bear split, I think TallGrass may have obliquely asked me how I managed to stray off course - not too far, thankfully, but still off the clear path - but my internal processors were, by that point, shutting down everything besides absolutely essential functions...and maybe a few of those as well. I sat down to maybe take off my climbing helmet at last, maybe leave it on for the rest of the night, I no longer remember; definitely to tend once again to my blood sugar and chug some of the water TG had filtered while he was waiting for me. I figure I must have asked him where SpringsDuke was, since I'd seen them meet up at the bottom of the gully earlier.

"Haven't seen him since the traverse," was the answer I received, or something close to it.

I don't remember standing up again or starting to walk down the road. What memories I do have from between that cairn and the lake are like flashes of lightning: maddeningly brief, but illuminated with a quasi-supernatural intensity. But it didn't matter, I reasoned in more lucid moments. I'm on the road. The way forward is obvious.

Or so I thought, until I'd run into downed trees near the lake. Most of them I could fumble over or around, until one section with three downed trees that appeared to have fallen together. I followed them to their precipitously bent trunks in the woods beyond the edge of the road, where I stopped cold. The trees surrounding their fallen comrades looked to me to be thick - no, impenetrable - and menacing. When a breeze rustled through them, I remembered a story I'd recently read about a gathering of Fae who lured wayward travelers off into the woods, never to be seen again. Come play with us, I might have heard the trees whisper, if my Wernicke's area had still been operating at full capacity.

I stumbled as quickly as I could back to the road. The three downed trees were obnoxious, to be sure, but better to fight my way through them than be lost forever on the easy part of the route...and fight I did; I'd be shocked if I don't still have sap from the branches I broke through as I army-crawled underneath their low-lying trunks.

The next time I saw TallGrass, I babbled something about how I was kinda losing it, and that I knew he was also tired but was steadier on his feet than I was, so would he mind pausing every so often to swing his headlamp back and therefore give me some reassurance that I was still on the road? He was a little reluctant, since he understandably wanted to catch up with our faster partner as well as drop the pack in which he was carrying a substantial amount of wet, trashed rope, but he also didn't need too much convincing about my equally trashed mental state.

20250_04Brief photographic interlude to demonstrate how much beaten-up rope there was. SpringsDuke and I were carrying some of it, but...yeah. There was a LOT.

Eventually, however, the road clears of downed trees, then really of any obstacles, and while I sort of suspect that one or two of TG's and my later encounters were figments of my imagination, our last encounter occurred far down enough that I knew I could plod along back to Booger safely, if exhaustedly. I gave him my spare car key and told him to rest and get warmed up.

As badly as I wished for the literal-in-the-original-definition rest of the night that I had managed to nudge Booger up to 8800' - I think I would have saved myself an hour or two of walking, at the pace I was going - I was somewhat relieved that I would only have to deal with so much of Como Road's nonsense when I finally reached my car at 5:29 a.m., a full 27 hours and 29 minutes after we'd started.

The time I spent passed out in the driver's seat was enough for poor SpringsDuke, who'd had enough time to get his well-deserved nap at Lake Como AND get back to the car by 2 a.m., to get a ride back from the motel lobby in Alamosa where he'd spent the night (it had not occurred to me to pass out any of my spare keys early enough in the trip - mental note to self in the future) with a sheriff's deputy who handed us a bag of snacks, asked us a few questions to make sure we were as all right as circumstances would allow, and drove away relieved (I would imagine) that that was the extent of his involvement.

20250_07Especially considering...remember when I mentioned that I'd used some of the blue-and-white rope to help steady myself crossing an icy section of the Hourglass on our way up? I sure regretted that decision after I got to see just what other, higher portions of that rope looked like!

I made sure to flip Lake Como Road off with both fingers after I was refreshed enough to drive it for the last time. My third and final outing could have gone significantly better - all the apologies to both my hiking buddies, especially for the parts of the night they spent waiting around in the cold! - but it also could have gone significantly worse. Either way, I think I have earned the right to never set foot or tire on it again.

For the moment, I'd still prefer to die of smoke inhalation than get a stepladder, because I feel like it'd be pretty hard to set up a belay on one of those.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Sweet report!
06/27/2020 10:01
Much thanks to your party for leaving the new rope. It came in handy the other day. As a side note, the new rope he put up already has a big fray in it half way up....
Very funny and well-written report! Enjoyed it!


06/29/2020 07:04
Wow 27 hours , what dues we pay for the summit ! Incredible report . I too suffer from occasional âœsituational❠anxiety but climbing a mountain as majestic as little bear most definitely the cure. Many more successful climbs to you !!


06/30/2020 10:07
@hansolo35 - I might as well laugh and inspire other to laugh about my, uh, issues.

Shame about that rope, but I guess itâs not too much of a surprise that itâs already showing wear and tear, since there arenât any other options left.

@Jillygoat: Iâm hoping Iâll be less anxious about the rest of them now that Iâve got what some call the hardest of COâs fourteeners under my belt, but I did already work myself into a frenzy before my first (unsuccessful, alas, though not because of anxiety...mostly....) attempt of Snowmass yesterday!


07/01/2020 09:20
Little Bear is full of great stories like this! You just have to get on the mountain to live one of them.
And those ropes are bad, the green one was there when we did it in 2017.


Thank you!
07/01/2020 12:12
Yeah, Iâm looking forward to my next story, though Iâm hoping itâll be slightly less dramatic - Iâll have to see how the ankle I tweaked worse than I first thought on Snowmass fares with different footwear first, though.

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