Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Date Posted:  05/21/2010
Modified:  05/22/2010
Date Climbed:   05/20/2010
Author:  vorticity
 Little Bear Was a Bear  

Little Bear Was A Bear.

Here was the view to the north from Ft Garland.
Little Bear is just left of center in that group of peaks. Best weather day of the year.

On Thursday, 20 May 2010, neighbor Donny Rickert and I climbed Little Bear. The idea was to avoid the shooting gallery in the Hour Glass by gaining the summit on snow fields The plan worked, but in short we now know why the Standard Route is considered the most dangerous and most difficult of all the 14ers. We calculated the climb would take 8 hours. It took us 13 hours and 30 minutes. Lest you think I am a wimp, for comparison I did Sneffles TH to TH in 2 hours 4 minutes, and summited Longs Peak via the Keyhole in 4.5 hours. The round trip from our parking spot at 10,000 feet (see below) was 8.5 miles.

Little Bear (as a late Spring Climb) simply kicked our butts. We had a 5-day window to make the climb and picked the best weather day of May. Not a cloud in the sky all day (and night), no wind. Due to work schedules we got to the 10,000 foot mark at noon on Thursday following a drive from Colorado Springs, Mountain Dew and a Moon Pie at the Ft Garland Conoco. We got back to the car at 1:30 AM. Our original plan was to camp on Thursday and climb on Friday, but Friday's SW winds were forecast to be high. Neither of us wanted to be on the West Ridge in high winds. It's spooky enough with no wind and clear skies.

Donny and I followed the standard Lake Como Approach. Image
Donny has a Toyota FJCruiser.
We decided to park at a good turnout at 10,000 feet. For reference, that spot is a 37 33.683N, 105 33.083W. Image
From there it is about 2.1 miles to the lake. In hindsight we could have driven further with his vehicle. But you should know, this road, even to 10,000 feet requires a pretty capable off-road vehicle with good clearance. There are countless large river rocks that must be navigated around and over. The road was mostly clear of snow all the way to Lake Como (certainly walk-able on the snow that was there. Just before the Lake, we were tired of post-holing and donned snow shoes.
We continued around the north and west sides of the Lake. There was no road visible, just deep show. We saw evidence of post-holing from other hikers to around 4 feet deep. If you go soon, take snow shoes. We saw no cairns, but continued through the woods to the SE of the Lake and
snow-shoed as far as we could up the gully to gain the ridge line. Image We ditched our snowshoes and made a break for the ridge line. This was very slow going as we were kicking new steps for 600 feet vertical. We initially did this with boots only.
About 100 feet below the ridge, Donny put crampons on. I, microspikes. Image We checked our watch 4PM. Four hours from the car already. The saving grace was there was zero talus, zero scree, zero rocks falling on us. Only a double black diamond ski slope to climb for 600 feet to the notch in the top of the ridge.

From here we followed the ridge line on west. We saw a couple of cairns, but for the most part heavy seasonal snow appears to have had its way with them. The ridge was very exposed with a lot of snow on top. We were very careful ... a slip in many spot would have made for a bad day.
Where the ridge ends at a large notch Image Image
we found our way to traverse across the steep slope (talus and scree free, completely snow covered. This snow is in the sun all day, so it was very mushy and deep. It was slow going breaking trail.
Donny did most of the work but found himself step after step up to his crotch. Image
We both wore crampons. I did a handy job shredding my gaiters with my crampons and managed to draw blood the inside of my thigh. You can see your entrance into the Southwest Face and the "Hourglass" by looking for a horizontal streak of red rock. At the bottom you are at above 13,000 feet with nearly 1000 vertical of kicking steps. We were already exhausted.

Hour Glass. If there is one advantage of the late Spring climb it's lack of competition (no other climbers) and no rocks raining down on your heads.
About 600 feet up into the Hour Glass, you will see an option to move left up a narrower gully. That's what we did and wished we had not. Image In Spring, if the Hour Glass is loaded with snow, there is a good chance the gully extends all the way to the summit. Turns out it did, but we missed that fact until we had gained the summit. Instead we got ourselves on the most dangerous Class 4 rock I have been on in 24 14ers. The rock is rotten, off camber. Handholds are difficult to find. You have to head toward the summit by crossing from ledge to ledge with very steep snow bands between them. You can't keep putting your crampons on, so have to hope a kick step will keep you from shooting back down the gully on the snow.
We finally made the summit at Sunset. Image Fortunately there was a moon and not a cloud in the sky. Without crampons we stepped off the summit onto the snow chute (think Double Black) and hoped we would be able to heel step our way down. In the end, of the 1000 foot decent back to the traverse at the bottom of the Hour Glass we glissaded about 700 feet of it. In two places we had to do some emergency self-arrests, but it was a blast. We got back to the traverse before the light had failed.

With the sun down, the snow conditions changed so that there was slightly less post-holing on the way back East. We got to the large notch at the west terminus of the West Ridge and put headlamps on. Under a bright moon we were able to find out way back to the gully leading to Lake Como without much trouble, but we were very careful with every foot placement and hand hold.

All in all a very tough day. Very tough. But we are both glad to have this one behind us.

Here is the route and profile from my GPS uploaded into MapSource

Some advice if you want the Snow Climb option. Start early when the snow is congealed. Try to get to the first gully at 5AM. It should be a lot easier to get up before the snow gets mushy. Coming down it will be soft for a great glissade. We knew the weather was going to be great, so for this climb a 12 noon start was not too late. However we forgot to consider how much the character of the snow would change after a full day of sun. That's what slowed us down. Not sure how much longer this snow route will be available. In several locations we could hear water under the snow. That can, of course contribute to avalanche conditions.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Great report
02/05/2011 00:22
Great beta for anyone wanting to do a snow climb soon. Sounds like you earned this one.


You Beat Mister Latestart Larry
05/22/2010 01:36
I can‘t believe a 12 Noon start! Unthinkable, and you guys pulled it off! Wow. Way to persevere. I‘ll bet that moon in the sky was gorgeous - once you got off the lower col.

Thanks for the report and the conditions - and the photos of the road. Great job, guys.


I need to change my username!
05/22/2010 03:19
Because with that report I am pretty certain I won‘t be climbung all the 14ers :-) Great are one brave man!


11/30/2010 17:28
the steep snow was cooperative for you guys at 4pm. I must admit I was biting my nails thinking "wet slide" the entire time I was reading this .

Wish I lived in CO

Great Job
11/30/2010 17:28
Being a summer climber, I don't read as many of the winter TR's, but this one was great! Just the right amount of photos and text (not waaaaay too long like many of them). But, more importantly, looked like a great adventure! Sounds like this is a peak to be happy to just cross off the list. Congrats!


Little Bear
05/23/2010 00:15
Excellent report. Congrats on making the summit.


05/23/2010 15:16
Great job on tacklin‘ ”da bear!” I think I saw your glissade route below the hourglass as I was coming down LB on 5/22/10. Agreed, doing LB as a snow climb is a lot safer than summer conditions. Well done!


Wet snow
05/23/2010 18:31
That snow looks pretty freaky to me so late in the day. Did you guys get a lot of rock fall? We were exiting the couloir at 9am on Saturday, and I was personally glad to be getting off that snow and out of the way of melting snow = tagged by rocks. Glad you made it through this


Wet Snow? and Rock Fall
05/24/2010 00:12
Yog. No we had no issue whatsoever with rock fall ... however, the temperatures have skyrocketed since Donny and I made the climb on Thursday. The Chinook wind combined with lots of sunshine will melt the couloirs out very fast making them potentially hazardous places. Vort.

Kevin Baker

05/24/2010 18:48
Dude, glad I didn‘t hear about you guys in the news getting buried in an avalanche. A noon start for a day hike of LB with snow is just asking for trouble. Glad you made it out OK.


Pulled off the big one
05/27/2010 16:33
unarguably dangerous success but you made it... Congrats on the success. Great Pics, TR and beta and glad you made it out safe.


WOW, that is one experience you get to tell...
07/15/2010 18:02
Congrats, wow, that is one experience you get to the tell the grand kids...maybe one of these days, I will follow in your foot steps.

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