Peak(s):  South Little Bear - 14020
Date Posted:  05/19/2009
Date Climbed:   05/18/2009
Author:  DHatfield
 Tackling the baby bear   

"South Little Bear Peak" (14,020')
Partner(s): Susan Paul and Bill Tarvin
Distance:Approx. 7.50 miles
Elevation Gain: Approx. 5,100'

If you like...
Long, sweaty walks up steep slopes thick with thorny cactus, thistles, and dense, bristling briar...
Skipping across miles of steep, loose talus...
Negotiating narrow ridges with hundreds of feet of airy exposure...
Just to get a summit that doesn't even appear on any traditional "lists," is noted in trip reports as little more than a bump to get over on the way to its more impressive (and famous) big brother, and which came to my attention as a mere cursory mention in the appendix of a certain 13er guide book....
Then "South Little Bear" is for you!

With the great weather forecast Susan and I decided to continue our quest to summit the 22 unranked Colorado 14ers, or points above 14,000' that don't really qualify as ranked peaks due to the limited drop in elevation to the saddles between them and their more famous big brothers. Our friend Bill also joined us on this hike.

Here are links to some trip reports that we found helpful for those choosing to go this way:

"South Little Bear" is also noted on page 120 of Jacobs & Ormes guide to the Colorado mountains, and page 355 of Roach's 13ers guide.

The trip reports have several ways of how to get to the trailhead so I'm excluding here. The main thing is to hike east and north to the Tobin Creek, which requires a fair about of bushwhacking through trees, thorny cactus, and thistles. We found crossing the Tobin Creek to be fairly easy just south of the waterfall, after dropping down to it, although there is very dense brush that requires a fair amount of fighting to bust through. After crossing the creek you need to gain the ridge on the east side of the creek and head north utilizing game trails to gain the southwest ridge.

We took a brief break at the top of the ridge before continuing on, where we managed to find some nice orange surveyor's tape and a faint trail that contours along the south side of the ridge for several hundred yards before getting back on the ridge crest.


On top of the southwest ridge and where you head east toward the summit following
Surveyor's tape.

Up to tree line you can follow the surveyor's tape, though you have to look kind of hard to see it. There are several very small talus fields below tree line however once above tree line it becomes a talus hop the whole way to the summit with no trail.


The long talusy southwest ridge.


Looking up the southwest ridge with the false bump east of Point 13,133 in distance.

This route requires a lot of time above tree line with really no easy escape. If you go, bring more water than you think you'll need. We all did, and still managed to drink it all!

From on top of the first bump on the ridge east of Point 13,133 we were greeted with awesome views of Little Bear Peak, South Little Bear, and Ellingwood Point.


Amazing views of Little Bear Peak and South Little Bear from top of the false bump west of Point 13,133.

Due to the loose rock its best to stay on the ridge rather then skirt the bumps on the ridge as you continue east and climb up and over Point 13,133.


Looking up the southwest ridge at the rest of our route.


Along the southwest ridge.


The southwest ridge with South Little Bear false summit in center.


Scrambling down into the notch.

We could see some climbers on the summit of Little Bear Peak - apparently this was fellow member Alpine, his brother and his son on the summit. Congrats guys!! Looking closely we could later see them descending through the Hourglass.


See Alpine's group in the middle of the Hourglass? Kind of helps put that route into perspective.


Little bit of scrambling along the way.

Continuing along the ridge we had to drop down through one notch and one other bump along the ridge before we started heading up toward the false summit of South Little Bear.


The false summit of South Little Bear on right and South Little Bear in center. Almost there!


The long tedious talus hop on the ridge.

It was here that we donned helmets due to the steepness of the slope combined with all the very loose rock, but as lower down on the ridge the closer you stay to the ridge crest the better, which was kind of nice, allowing for some nice class 3 scrambling. After the false summit of South Little Bear we could see the summit was very close, however the real scrambling starts with a nice 100 foot long knife edge that could be skirted on its south side - although that puts you on some slabby and loose rock terrain - and then you can climb back up to the ridge. We stayed high and enjoyed the thrills.


Little Bear Peak, the ridge traverse, and South Little Bear.

This is what we did. From the knife edge the climb to the summit of South Little Bear was a short, but steep scramble away.


South Little Bear with knife edge on right.

The views were amazing looking all around especially of the Little Bear Peak to Blanca Ridge Traverse. The ridge to Little Bear Peak looked pretty loose and we didn't continue over there since we did that peak 2 years ago as a snow climb and were pretty satisfied with the climb of just South Little Bear on this day.


Bill enjoying the summit.


Congrats Susan!! I bet you don't want to do this again


Me on the summit.


Looking north at Twin Peaks (13,580' - far left), Little Bear Peak with the traverse in foreground (center), California Peak (13,848' - right of center), and Ellingwood Point (14,042' - right).


Looking north-northeast at California Peak (left), and Ellingwood Point (14,042' - center), and Blanca Peak (14,345' - right). What an impressive view of the Little Bear to Blanca Traverse.


Looking northeast at Blanca Peak (14,345' - center) and Mount Lindsey (14,042' - right).


Looking east at Mount Lindsey (14,042' - left) and Hamilton Peak (13,658' - right).


Looking west at Little Bear Lake, West Ridge to Little Bear Peak, and Lake Como.

Those who choose to do the traverse should tread very carefully as part of the route crosses above the Hourglass, so take care not to dislodge anything.
The descent went fine although very long and tedious due to all the talus hoping making it a very long and tiring trip back out.


Getting a little airy.


I bet you're glad to be heading down now


Bye-bye South Little Bear.

What a long, but wonderful day!!!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
05/20/2009 06:51
This route looks like one serious pain, congrats on making it up. Makes me want to just do the hourglass and be done with it. But who knows, maybe I‘ll give this route a try. Thanks for the beta!

Sweet report!
05/21/2009 22:15
This looks like a great alternative. How does it compare to the hourglass in difficulty?

05/21/2009 23:14
Thanks! I think the Hourglass would be easier especially considering the very long day this requires. Only good thing going this way is keeping yourself out of danger from being in the Hourglass. The traverse to Little Bear looked interesting though.

Rock opera
05/22/2009 02:58
I agree... technically, this is an easy route, and there‘s virtually no danger (although I can‘t speak for that final traverse from south-main summit, as we didn‘t cross it). But overall it was one of the most physically demanding routes I‘ve ever done on a 14er - ranked or unranked. That river of talus goes on forever and just saps the life out of you. The Hourglass is tough, and can be tricky depending on conditions - it took me two attempts to get it - but it‘s a shorter day and much less strenuous. This route is just plain masochistic.

But if you‘re into that sort of thing, be sure to bring a camera - the views are fantastic!

05/27/2009 18:03

11/30/2010 17:28
Papillon - I'm not sure there is. The Hourglass seems better to me after all this talus as long as one is comfortable climbing up and down steep snow and the snow conditions are great. The views are better this way though.

Tempelton - Thanks! You should, just be different.

Good stuff...
02/05/2011 00:22
Man, is there a Maalox-free route on Little Bear? I don‘t know whether to John Wayne it on the hourglass this summer, wait for snow next spring, or take your report and the one you link to on summitpost and tackle this ridge. Endless talus can fry the brain. Thanks for the report.

Nice job!
07/29/2013 18:29
We attempted this last year and got to point 13,133. Everything you wrote in this report is dead-on! It‘s a heckuva quad-burner, both up and down, that‘s for sure!

I‘ve done Blanca and Ellingwood Pt from almost the bottom of Como Road in a day before, and physically, this southwest ridge route is on par with that (except that there are places to refill your water supply on Blanca/Ellingwood and nothing on this route).

Still I plan to try this one again sometime because the views are fantastic, less rockfall danger than the standard route, and because in some weird way, it was a lot of fun.

Very surprised the surveying tape is still there. The going seemed a lot easier when we followed the taped route vs. when we lost it.

Thanks for writing this and congratulations to all of you who did it. It‘s a great accomplishment!

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