Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
San Luis Peak  -  14,014 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Pyramid Peak  -  14,018 feet
Date Posted:  06/16/2009
Date Climbed:   05/20/2009
Author:  JB99
 Redefining Success in Spring  

You win some and you lose some, the important thing is that you keep trying. Well it's certainly been a "trying" spring 14er season for me. Sometimes you simply need to redefine success; sometimes success just means you are able to get your crippled vehicle all the way home without a tow; sometimes success means you reach the summit of the peak you are trying to climb and sometimes success just means you are able to get off that shifty snow slope before it slides with you on it. Despite an almost ridiculous lack of summits I have managed to have a successful spring. Here are a few of my more successful failures...

Little Bear 5.20.2009

It seemed like Little Bear would be best handled as an early season snow climb so I decided to give it a try. There were some promising trip reports so I geared up and set off alone. Lake Como road is the worst, driving or hiking that is one ugly road; I had been up it once before last November but was in a much tougher Jeep Wrangler with big tires and a lift. That trip I managed to get to Jaws 1 before parking. This time I was in a newish '05 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. I slowly worked up to the hard switchback where the harder romping begins and parked. I had a light pack, no snow shoes, a one pound bivy etc. I got to Lake Como in about an hour and twenty minutes, just as the sun was setting. There was nobody else at the lake, I climbed into the cabin and boiled up a cup-o-noodle before trying to sleep. My mind wandered a bit as I pondered my surroundings; the cabin has a weak lock on the door that I doubted would stop any big animal that wanted to get in. It rained through the night, bad news for a snow climb in the morning. When I woke up at 3AM it was raining, back to sleep, 4AM still raining... and so it continued. Finally by 7AM I decided enough was enough and packed it out. It was a successful day though because I made it home in time to watch the Denver Nuggets play the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Even if the Nuggets didn't win...

San Luis Peak 5.24.2009

The trip started off with the bad omen of a speeding ticket and some wrong turns, eventually we made it to the top of the four wheel drive road to Willow Creek. We started off from the trailhead making our way toward San Luis. The area is beautiful but not the same as the rest of the San Juans, much more mild terrain compared to the otherwise jagged mountain range. The clouds were putting on quite the show for us and made the ambience unique.

As we followed the route over a saddle and back down into the trees the snow and postholing began. It had been dry to this point. We began working our way, slowly...

Finally passed the trees we looked across the basin and noticed that there was much more of the same posthole nightmare ahead. Deciding that we had already enjoyed a beautiful day and that the Nuggets played later in the evening we decided to call it a day. We returned to the car quickly and then the real fun began.

Just as we left a truck with a giant camper on the back set off in front of us quickly becoming insanely stuck on the muddy 4 wheel road. With no way to tow him out I offered a ride to Creede so that they could get a tow truck and went to go around him on what looked like solid ground. Before I could even realize it the ground gave out from under me and my Jeep became buried in the mud. I now know what a bog is.

Lucky for us a local from Creede pulled up the road in his F-250 and hopped out of his truck with a grin, he'd seen this before. The man was nice enough to spend the rest of his day towing us out. My Jeep got out first and feeling like it was the right thing to do we stayed until we could get the truck and camper out. We managed to drive my crippled Jeep Grand Cherokee home to Fort Collins with every possible warning light on and the occasional awful noise from my wheels. It was one of those days that everything that could go wrong seemed to and by the end of the day all we could do was laugh at our misfortune. It was a good learning experience, sometimes you just need to laugh it off. The Jeep cost $471 to fix a broken sensor of some kind, speeding ticket cost $162, day we will remember forever... invaluable. I know what you thought I was going to say.

Crestone Needle 6.9.2009-6.10.2009

I bother my little brother to come climb with me almost every day. So far I've got him to come out twice in the last couple years. He committed to these two days and I decided something short and fun would be best. Crestone Needle came to mind... We drove all the way to the 4x4 S. Colony Trailhead and found a nice relatively dry campsite. It took us awhile but we mustered up a pretty intense fire to sit around just as the wet graupel/hail/rain came down. Quickly getting soaked we warmed up in the car before settling into the tent, then we settled into the tent on a nice air mattress, the benefits of car camping. It was still a cold night but I slept well for once. We awoke to amazing views of the Needle although the summit was shrouded in a cloud the entire trip.

We left around 3:45AM and were happy to find firm snow through to S. Colony Lakes. There we were treated to a beautiful sunrise; no words could do that morning justice so I'll just let the pictures do the talking.

We began our traverse up toward Broken Hand Pass as the sun came up behind us, the views weren't promising. The Needle was dusted with snow/ice as was all the rock around us. It had rained throughout the night and the conditions were quickly deteriorating as we got above timberline. The snow became punchy and the choppy snow ahead reminded us to tread carefully. We moved one at a time and the snow didn't do anything to threaten us so we felt alright but it was clear this would be a troublesome area with a little sunlight.

Ahead was the steep climb over Broken Hand Pass, there were slide paths all around it. We made another traverse closer to the Pass and contemplated our future. Looking at the rock around us it was pretty clear the scramble up the Needle would be on verglas covered rock, the worst possible conditions for an exposed scramble. We decided this would be it for the day and that we'd return in the summer for a drier attempt. Pretty successful day, I got my little brother to come to the mountains with me.

Pyramid Peak 6.13.2009-6.14.2009

This trip began with the intention of climbing N. Maroon via the Bell Chord with the possibility of the traverse to S. Maroon. Jessica and I were hiking into Crater Lake to meet up with Mike (MikeyC) and Cliff (Ascent88.) The three of us would climb while Jessica stayed at the camp; she was relieved to not have any pressure to do anything more than camp. The scenery around here is stunning, the Bells loom overhead and the red rock stands out against the bright green foliage.

When we arrived at the ranger station to buy our $10 road pass (cash only) I asked the ranger about the conditions in the Chord. His response was not what I wanted to hear, he'd been up yesterday and it was sliding all around him. "Probably best to wait a few days before trying that one." Not a luxury we had, we did have the option of attempting Pyramid instead though and after an evening rain storm that was our decision. We woke up at 4AM and set off pretty quickly.

Once you turn off onto the climbers trail that leads into the amphitheatre things get steep. Mike wasn't feeling well and was pushing himself to continue on. Eventually snow covered the trail and we decided to boot it straight up snow to the amphitheatre. It was somewhat hard going on firm snow so we took turns kicking steps, opting to leave the crampons off.

Once into the amphitheatre and onto the "rock glacier" Mike had enough and decided to turn around. He passed off the route description and turned back. Cliff and I continued on, I had been feeling a bit nauseous all day but now felt more determined to continue on so as to not turn Cliff back. I was moving slowly but managed to continue moving, I made the deal with myself that I wouldn't turn around unless I threw up. We got to the base of the slope leading to the saddle of Pyramids NE ridge and threw the crampons on.

It was a pretty steep slope and as we made our way up the snow felt less and less stable. We climbed up the class 4 rock in the spots that we could and snow when we had to. It was pretty firm until we were about 300 feet from the top. That was the first time it made the infamous "whoomp" sound and we could see a fracture starting below us. We decided to continue to the saddle and decide what to do from there. We reached the saddle around 9AM and were treated to some amazing views.

The summit looked so close but we knew it was an hour away in good conditions so in these we figured at least 2. That would put us back on the saddle around or after noon, with sun on the slope it would be even more unsafe. It was time to turn around. As we plunge stepped the first bit of the slope the snow shifted a good inch beneath our feet. At this point we knew it was a good decision to turn back but also worried we were already almost too late. From here on we moved one at a time down the slope as close to or on rock whenever possible without incident.

The rest of the hike out had a few nice glissades and a short hike back to our campsite. When we arrived I felt worse than before so I lay down and gulped water. Uninterested in anything at this point except trying not to throw up I dreaded the 1.5 mile hike out. Even the porcupine just feet away from my tent couldn't attract my attention. He was pretty cute though...

The rest of the day I felt sicker than I have for years and threw up a bunch while Jessica drove us home. I'm not sure what it was but luckily I felt better the next day after some good rest.

It's been quite the spring for me although the summits have been minimal. There are more trips that I've left out that were less interesting than these. I've had to redefine what a successful trip is to keep my spirits up and continue to venture out. It's hard to complain after a beautiful day in Colorado's Rocky Mountains and I've been lucky enough to have quite a few so far this year. I hope that everyone is finding their success throughout this spring season and is ready for the great summer that lies ahead... I know I am.

 Comments or Questions
Wish I lived in CO

Enjoyed your report
02/05/2011 00:22
At first reading the title, I thought ”oh boy, somebody‘s really patting themselves on the back”. But quite the opposite once starting to read it, in fact it‘s one of the most humble but yet best reads in a TR this season! Your ”new level of success” may have saved your life turning back on Pyramid! (Success in deed). One place of true success were your pictures, they‘re great - the Crestones where you had the light were some great alpinglow pics. Thanks for sharing.


thanks for posting
06/16/2009 13:50
I really enjoyed this, your reports were different and interesting.
Looks like you made some good decisions, its hard to turn back 300‘ from the summit. Hopefully you get some summits soon!


Nice photos ....
06/16/2009 14:33
Love that porcupine photo (we‘ve seen porcupines in that wilderness area many times). So glad, Jesse, that you have the common sense to know when to call it a day. Wise choices like that give all of us the opportunity to enjoy your future accomplishments. Take care and happy trails!


Great overview of conditions
06/16/2009 15:14
Thanks for an ususual TR. I, too, thought the porcupine was great.


Thanks again...
06/16/2009 16:08
for getting out with me again! I really enjoyed your company even though neither of us felt too good and we had more crappy conditions. Looking forward to seeing you soon! This was a great report.


Thanks for the comments...
06/16/2009 17:48
I‘m glad everyone sounds like they‘ve enjoyed the report so far, it‘s a little unconventional so it‘s nice to have it well received. I‘ve always been pretty summit focused so this spring has really taught me to be a little more patient. Mike, it‘s always great to get out and climb with you and it was really great to meet Cliff too. Thanks for letting us join you guys!


Amazing and fun pictures
06/02/2011 14:57
Thanks Jesse for sharing the amazing pictures. Some of the best I‘ve seen. My daughter especially enjoyed the porcupine... ”He‘s so cuuuute”!

Way to persevere.


Great quote
11/30/2010 17:28
”I made the deal with myself that I wouldn't turn around unless I threw up.”
I plan on trying the Bells, Pyramid, Snowmass & Cap during a bp trip in a month or two. I thought there was a mandatory shuttle to the parking lot until 5pm. Can you park there overnight & is there camping around Crater Lake? It would be nice to shave 1.5 miles off for the 2 days we attempt the Bells & Pyramid. Thanks for the report & any info you can give me.


awesome report!
06/17/2009 03:10
I think most people forget that the greatest thing about being up there is the journey itself and not the summit. I‘m willing to bet you had way more fun this spring than people with thier head down looking to cross some stuff off a 14er list. good stuff!


Thanks everyone...
06/17/2009 05:45
BJ- I‘m glad you and your daughter enjoyed, that little guy was pretty cute.
Rock Hopper- There is overnight parking and there are marked campsites at Crater Lake, just need the road pass and a free overnight permit.
Ajkagy- It‘s been a really fun spring, even if my list hasn‘t had much checked off of it.

Don Eberl

Beautiful Pix
06/17/2009 16:52
Nice trip report. Beautiful pix. Looks like there would be some great skiing.

I was up hiking to Crater Lake a couple of week‘s ago and was looking for the ”climber‘s trail”. I believed it was where the trail flattens out just overlooking Crater Lake. I really wasn‘t sure where it was. It is fairly obvious or am I missing something?


Thanks Don.
06/17/2009 20:11
The turn off for the climbers trail is around .4 miles before you reach Crater Lake so it sounds like you might have gone too far.


i really dig
06/18/2009 19:48
the photos! very nice trip report, and it sounds like you made a series of wise desisions and got a ton of really super cool photos out of it


Beautiful Pics
06/21/2009 21:21
Great pictures! I was also rained out of Little Bear at about that time. Good decisions.


Great Series of Reports
06/22/2009 14:56
Jesse, It was great to climb with you. What a great day... I‘m thinking that Pyramid is calling me already, thinking sometime early August? I say we team up and get revenge.

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