Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,042 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Date Posted:  08/15/2009
Modified:  08/22/2009
Date Climbed:   08/06/2009
Author:  Paul_Robert
 Little Bear or Bust  

The more I climb, the more I'm learning that it's as much a matter of conditioning the mind as it is the body and learning technique. That seems to hold true whether it's dealing with exposure, loose rock, nasty storms, route-finding, snow couloirs, steep ball-bearing scree slopes, driving the road from hell, or marmots that chew up your hiking poles. (Seriously! Read on...)

Clouds dance playfully over Little Bear, as the sun calls an end to another day at Lake Como. The nasty scree gulley that starts the climb is on the far right, with the upper part in the shade.

Little Bear is one of those peaks that can sort of work you over"psychologically, and then physically. You read those trip reports describing the treacherous loose rock on this peak... and Roach's description of it in the guidebook, and wonder, "Do I really want to do this?" The reasons we do, I suppose, draw from a desire to explore, to ascend to great heights, experience the drama and beauty of the mountains close-up, and to"in some small, very temporary way"conquer our surroundings. And perhaps to put ourselves to the test...

August 6

Whatever the reasons, Jason and I were up at 3:40 am and left our camp near Lake Como by headlamp at 4:30. As if the peak wanted us to know it would not succumb easily, we couldn't find the route in the dark"the road just ended. The route description just says to go past Lake Como; so after about 20 minutes of wandering we found the right road. If we'd studied the map better, we would've noticed it runs on the north side of the lake...

But it was a mixed blessing, because now we were faced with the 600-ft. scree gulley we had to ascend to reach Little Bear's west ridge, and the faint twilight helped us navigate it. Reaching the 12,600 ft. notch in the ridge at 6:50, we headed straight for the peak, and looked back to see Alamosa faintly glowing under a shrouded moon.


There is no trail on this ridge; it's mostly a matter of rock-hopping from cairn to cairn. Soon the sun was up, throwing enormous shadows of the 14ers deep into the San Luis Valley.


The next two shots were taken on the descent, when the sun was on the route.

This shows most of the West Ridge route, with the Hourglass now coming into view.

The Hourglass is the left-leaning gully ascending the steep center portion. The upper, class 3 section is above it to the left.

We headed for the deeply inset gulley that contains the only way up, and soon found ourselves face-to-face with the Hourglass.

The 150 feet of class 4 slabs known as the Hourglass.

Another pair of climbers reached the Hourglass about the same time we did, and we let them go first. We left our poles at the bottom, and after the other two had reached sufficient height, headed up. I must confess that I had this section of the trip in my prayers for quite some time. I'm not very comfortable climbing exposed sections, and this had falling rock to boot.

Suddenly, about 200 ft. up, one of the other climbers dislodged a rock, which knocked loose a couple more. Not little ones, either. Watching that happen"while clinging to class 4 slabs"gives you a feeling of incredible helplessness. But the Lord was "riding shotgun" on this trip, and the rocks blasted past several feet away.

There's now six ropes anchored in the Hourglass. I tested them and together, they were quite strong, so while we didn't depend on them, they were helpful for some added support and stability.

Jason Ascends

Above the Hourglass, looking down it, it's pretty easy to see where all that loose rock comes from...

From here, there's no obvious route, and we saw no cairns. We proceeded straight up, then angled left up the ledges and ribs, as the guidebooks say.

Beauty amongst the rubble

It's somewhat like El Diente"you think, "There's gotta be a summit somewhere on top of this huge slag heap..."

Closer to the top, the angle eases but the ledges and scrambling continue.

The summit comes abruptly, and is quite exhilarating. We somehow managed not to send any rocks down.

Yours truly at the summit, with what appears to be a mushroom cloud perched on Blanca. Ellingwood is on the left.

Jason takes a breather.

The sand dunes' distinctive shapes appear in the distance, 5000 feet below, and 26 miles straight north in the shadows are, from left: three summits of Kit Carson Mt. (14,165'), Crestone Peak (14,294'), Crestone Needle (14,197') and Humboldt Peak (14,064').

That amazing traverse to Blanca Peak.

We enjoyed the summit for almost an hour since the weather was perfect, and headed down at 9:20 a.m.

Descending the upper rubble.

When we got to the base of the Hourglass, we found our hiking poles, and--would you believe it? Marmot mischief and skullduggery was afoot. They had chewed up the rubber handles on Jason's poles!

The scree gully is a good test of patience to get down.

We made it back to camp at 1:45, in need of a good rest.

A spot of beauty beside Lake Como, looking at Little Bear.


That evening was a visual feast, as clouds played tag with Little Bear...



August 7

The next day, the plan was to climb Ellingwood, and then use the traverse to reach Blanca. As we hit the trail at 5:10 a.m., the day didn't look too promising, with cold, windy conditions and clouds draping the peaks.

Ellingwood (left) peaked out of the clouds just long enough for a photo.

As we ascended Ellingwood, the clouds lifted from it.

The view from Ellingwood: Mt. Lindsey, left, and Blanca, right, looked majestic in the ethereal landscape. The northwest ridge we climbed on Blanca is silhouetted to the left of the summit.

Little Bear as seen from Ellingwood, with Crater Lake far below, as the mists roll in from the San Luis Valley.

On Ellingwood's summit, with the Crestones shrouded behind us.

We summitted Ellingwood around 8 a.m. Blanca looks massive and imposing from here. It was so cold and windy on the Ellingwood ascent that I was having trouble seeing since my eyes were watering so much. In fact, my camera battery got too cold and quit after taking a couple summit shots. So I stuck it in my glove against my hand, all the way up Blanca, and then it worked fine.

We stayed high on the traverse only until the first gully. Following the route description at this Web site, we descended it, ran into some class 3 ledges to downclimb, and eventually reached the traverse trail. Hit the low point of it, just over 13,600 ft., at 9:35.

Arrived at Blanca's summit at 10:20. Little Bear doesn't look quite as menacing from here. It's still so windy that my clothes are inflating.

The traverse route from Ellingwood.

Mt. Lindsey, at 14,042', is the same height as Ellingwood. But it looks quite a bit higher than Ellingwood, interestingly, from the 14,345' summit of Blanca.

On the descent of Blanca, we reached a couloir where you get a view of just what an impressive ridge Ellingwood is.

August 8

We camped one more night, and then headed back down the road. Jason is the skilled ATV driver, so he carries the gear on it, which makes the walking oh-so-much more pleasant for me.

There were many people camped around the lake, but the Durango Jeep Club was there, and they are a blessing because they volunteer there once a year to keep the whole area in good shape.

Mind over matter: Jason had plenty of chances to demonstrate his steely resolve and skill with an ATV on the many rock "features" of this road. In this spot, we unloaded the gear from the ATV to make passage easier.

The difficulty of the road seems to take some people, especially from out of state, by surprise. On the ascent, we ran across various folks who were dehydrated from not bringing enough water--Jason gave them a liter from the ATV and it was literally gone in seconds--or they either couldn't make it up the road or couldn't carry their packs up. Again, Jason was the Good Samaritan and loaded packs on the ATV.

All in all, it was a truly excellent trip, with a number of unique aspects not to be found on other 14er climbs.

But I think we ought to go back and get that marmot...

"The whole earth is full of His glory."

- Isaiah 6:3

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Awesome Pictures
08/16/2009 03:19
well, the title says it all


08/16/2009 12:52
Well done, nice report!


Some Beautiful...
08/16/2009 18:39 Nice Report and congratulations.


Nice report!
08/17/2009 01:31
Congrats on getting all 3 on one trip. The ATV helps with that awful ”road,” but Little Bear is, well, Little Bear, and you nailed it!


Nice report!
08/18/2009 03:34
Cool photos, too! Thanks for the info and the perspective.

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