Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Date Posted:  06/01/2010
Date Climbed:   05/30/2010
Author:  RoboClimber100
 Little Bear in a Day  

2010/05/30 Little Bear Peak
14,037 summit elevation
6100 vertical feet
13+ miles
15.5 hours

My first attempt on Little Bear was June 24, 2004 and that experience left me intimidated at the challenge and danger of the hourglass as well as horrified at the thought of having to hike back up and down the Lake Como Road. I both longed to go back to Little Bear and successfully climb it, but at the same time I must confess I was a bit nervous at the prospect.

After reading others' trip reports I came to the conclusion that the best time to attempt LB would be in the springtime when the hourglass was filled with stable snow which would decrease the rock fall potential. I just needed to wait until my calendar, family plans, weather conditions and snow conditions all aligned. Well, that finally happened on Sunday. I had a narrow window of opportunity between family obligations that aligned just perfectly with weather and the snow conditions on LB.

In order to make my plan work I would need to do the whole thing in one day, and having a small Honda, a start from the 2wd trailhead was in order. This meant that I would have a very long day ahead of me.

I arrived at the unmarked dirt road that becomes the infamous Lake Como road at 10:00 p.m. and I drove my Honda as far as I dared- which meant not that far at all. I tried to grab a few hours of uncomfortable sleep before my alarm went off at 2:00 a.m. I'm not the fastest hiker, but I have a granny gear I can muster that just keeps going and going. That would prove to be the key to success today.

As I made progress up the road it became a sort of 4x4 graveyard as each vehicle was finally humbled by the challenges of the Lake Como Road. I have to say I hate hiking this road. The sea of loose rocks never relents and never is there a moment when you are not afraid of spraining an ankle.

Eventually I came to Lake Como which was surrounded by a dozen or more tents of fellow climbers. The first couloir that must be ascended to reach the west ridge of LB was completely filled with snow. At the base of the couloir I geared up with helmet, axe and crampons and started up the gully. The snow was perfect for cramponing and I made good time up. It was steeper than I remembered and I was careful to make sure I didn't go jettisoning down.

I removed my snow gear and contoured along the ridge along loose and nasty talus until I reached a series of snow fields that start after the notch. There I put the snow gear back on. I would learn from a fellow climber on the summit that the ridge proper is a better way to go (he was right). I could see a party of three ahead of me making their way up the hourglass. I traversed a couple of rock islands doing some rock scrambling in crampons. There is something unnatural about the scrap/squeak of crampons on rock.

I came to the hourglass and began making my way up. I chatted with a guy on his way down who informed me the snow was continuous all the way to the summit which is what I had been hoping for. About a quarter of the way through the hourglass I reach my highpoint on this peak from 6 years ago and was glad to know from here on it was all new territory. The snow was perfect, the weather was perfect. If only both held until I could get back down to Lake Como! There was one spot near the top of the hourglass where some water ice was showing through and made things a bit spicy, but not too bad. The snow continued all the way to the summit and was rather steep just below the summit. I topped out at 10:15 a.m.

I enjoyed a well-earned break and chatted with a couple of guys from Boulder (Ben and Justin). There was hardly a cloud in the sky, very light wind and truly a picture-perfect day. I signed the summit register and counted eight people who had already summated that day. Counting those eight, me and the two guys who summated shortly after me at least 11 summited this day. I saw two people heading up later on as well - if they summited that would make a total of 13 people who tagged the summit on Sunday. Amazingly I got cell reception on the summit (why can I make a call from the Little Bear summit, but not a Broncos game AT&T?) and called my wife.

After about half an hour I started the descent. I paused for a bit at the top of the snow ramp leading down from the summit. Dang, that was steep! I turned around and down-climbed facing in carefully placing my feet and axe with each step. Even though the snow was softening, a slip could still be bad. A said a quick prayer for safety and on down I went. The slope relented a bit and I was able to walk down facing out to the top of the hourglass where the pitch became much steeper again. Again I faced in and tediously picked my way through the shooting gallery. Thankfully, it wasn't much of a shooting gallery today as the snow and ice held most rocks in place. It was a very different experience than I had when I was here 6 years ago.

Out of the bottom of the hourglass the snow had softened and the slope relented enough to go for a bit of a glissade down to where the traverse back along the west ridge began. From the base of the hourglass to the summit and back down required a high level of concentration for an extended period of time. I can't say I've ever done a climb that required that amount of intensity for such a long period. I was relieved to be free of the most challenging and dangerous part.

On the way back along the west ridge I decided to try the ridge top rather than contouring below it and this proved much easier, though still quite tedious. I was beginning to feel the effects of such a long day and was moving quite slowly. Eventually I made it back to the top of the lower couloir where I encountered a guy who seemed even more wasted than me. I down-climbed the top steep section facing in and then had a nice glissade all the way to the bottom of the couloir. I was past all of the difficulties and dangers!

After some apocalyptic post-holing and creek/bog fording around the east side of Lake Como I took off gaiters, climbing pants, gloves, lathered up in sunscreen, called my wife, and began the horrific slog down the Lake Como Road. Somehow I managed to leave my camera on the side of the trail just a little ways below Lake Como. If anybody happened to find a Kodak digital camera in a black carrying case with a shoulder strap please let me know! Until then I won't be able to post any pictures.

The slog down was every bit as bad as I had remembered it. The worst part was being able to see all the way down to the floor of the San Luis Valley where my car was parked for much of the descent, but it never seeming to get any nearer. The air did get hotter and hotter the farther I went. Mercifully the wind was blowing which kept it relatively bearable.

At 6:00 I finally arrived back at my car and hit the road for home, exhausted, but satisfied. I must say this was the most challenging day I have had in the mountains both physically and technically.

 Comments or Questions

Sounds like a looong day!
06/02/2010 06:29
That might have been me you chatted with near the base of the hourglass (blue coat, light blue helmet). You had a white helmet, as I recall?
Glad you made the trip safe, and am jealous that you got to glissade that first gulley! (It was still a bit too crusty in the upper half when we went down...)


Creek Crossing
06/02/2010 16:13
Was there a tricky creek crossing on the road? Was the water high?

H Man

Great Job
06/02/2010 16:26
Way to go--that is a fine days work (play). That hike down the road is sometimes the crux! It can be like hiking in the Sahara Desert.


Thanks all.
06/02/2010 18:16
akmpolsen: Yes, I had a white helmet and blue MH jacket - so I bet that was me. Thanks for the beta on the route.

highplaces: The creek crossing wasn‘t bad. I crossed using the rocks on the downstream side. My boots got a bit wet but the water didn‘t go over the tops at all.


06/02/2010 20:49
Appreciate knowing the conditions as of Sunday. Glad you were able to make it in and out in a day with glissades as a bonus.


wasted guy
06/03/2010 14:59
Ha ha, I think that was me you met on the way down the last coulior. Was he wearing a bright green jacket? If so, then yep. Yeah, I was tired, but the real issue was I had fallen 15 feet on the traverse, so I had lost my confidence. Luckily I wasn‘t really hurt other than my ego and sore butt.


wasted guy
06/03/2010 15:34
Hi lemurtech:

I don‘t think it was you. The fella I met and chatted with for a while at the top of the couloir was wearing a blue long-sleeve shirt; tall guy too.

Sorry to hear about your fall, glad you‘re okay.


wasted guy
06/03/2010 17:12
Yeah, that wasn‘t me, I was descending the coulior to the lake at about 12pm


06/07/2010 17:06

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