Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Date Posted:  06/15/2010
Date Climbed:   06/14/2010
Author:  jf32

 LB/Blanca Traverse  

Route: NW Face of Little Bear and traverse to Blanca
Team: Hana and John (me)

On Sunday in the early am I was looking over at a modified version of the Gash Ridge from roughly 12,800 ft or so. The plan was to climb the Gash and camp in Lake Como Basin for the night before ascending Little Bear, traversing over to Blanca, and then out via Blanca's South Ridge. The problem was I couldn't make out a decent descent down the South Ridge and knew that the weather report was not ideal and that we'd be slower carrying our heavy packs. It became clear one of us (of our party of three) would have to sacrifice this chance at the Gash Ridge to basically run a car shuttle and park at Lake Como road, thereby allowing us to climb with day packs and hike out over a grueling but easy trail as opposed to a Class 4 ridge with no discernible weakness. I volunteered knowing that this would mean that I would have to hike up the Lake Como 'Road' again. I salvaged the day by putting together a sporty ridge run on either a high 12er or low 13er and watched as Steve and Hana started to make progress towards Blanca's summit.

Last Look at Blanca before seeing my partners off and turning back

Monday morning started with a nice 2:30 am wake up call for me 2 miles into the road. I got ready quickly and hiked to the lake. I arrived to find my two partners still in their sleeping bags awaiting my arrival. When Steve discovered that the group he had planned to lead up the standard route of Little Bear decided not to show he lost interest in the climb and opted to hang out at the lake and make the trip down to the car solo. After a bit of weather discussion and timing issues Hana and I decided to head up and see what the day would bring. The route of choice was the NW Face of LB as I had (have) no interest in re-climbing the hour glass route again.

Quick Disclaimer - I didn't take a lot of pics or put any effort into taking interesting shots as I was pushing the pace so that we wouldn't have to worry about weather while on the traverse - this paid off as it started to snow on us 5 minutes after reaching Blanca. The following is what I do have.

The NW Face
Little Bear

I took the above pic from the lake and it proved very valuable as we climbed as we had it as a reference point. Basically we ascended between the two water stains and traversed right. We quickly changed direction and did an ascending traverse to the left until we reached that snow field. We ascended to the right of the snow field and zig zagged our way to the ridge keeping much of the climbing in the Class 3 range (that said there was quite a bit of class 4 just not as much as I expected - and you could make it as hard as you wanted climbing a few hundred feet to our right).

On route?? One of the few cairns we saw on the day

Hana and the terrain of the NW Face

Hana topping out on Little Bear

We made it to Little Bear's summit by 9:30. From this vantage we could see how impossibly far away Blanca was. We down climbed the first of many knife edges back to our packs, which we stashed at the notch where we gained the ridge, and had a quick snack before starting the long push towards Blanca. My way of dealing with a traverse of this nature is to try my best not to look at Blanca but to focus on each small segment (sometimes just 15 ft) of the climb - it makes it much more manageable for me. The best way to describe the first 3/4 of this traverse is to imagine an elevated sidewalk with bumps on it. A lot of the traverse involved doubly exposed ridge walking and navigating the bumps (over or around). The final three towers before Blanca's summit proved another obstacle. Skirt the 1st on the right, climb the 2nd and traverse over the third. This 3rd tower made me the most nervous as much of the traverse to it was blocked from view and I kept wondering if we had to downclimb around it (which did not look fun) - thankfully it worked out.

Some Traverse Shots
The whole thing - and the clouds on Blanca which forced us to rush our pace

Getting started with Ellingwood watching

Hana downclimbing the first knife edge

a bump

Hana going around another bump

An upper level course in ridge running

Lake Como Basin

Looking back

blurry shot but it shows the exposure

Getting closer

An upclimb

At this point we can see the finish and it doesn't look rough - traverse is mostly finished

Final obstacle before the summit push

Looking back at the last tower

The Little Bears!


Once we topped out on Blanca - a little under 2 hours from being atop Little Bear - we snapped a few pics and were greeted with a brief (20 minute or so) snow storm. We took this as a clear message that we were granted our weather window and it was time to get off the high peaks. We booked it down Blanca. The snow relented as we hiked toward camp. Hana packed up and we started the long painful hike (one I don't plan on ever repeating - although I have said that before) back to the car.

Steve - I still can't tell you how happy I am you moved the car an extra mile up the road - my knees really appreciate it - also sorry we didn't share a summit but it was an awesome weekend. And Hana - unrelenting is the best word to describe your effort. It was a blast being out with both of ya.

See ya Little Bear

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Info please
02/05/2011 00:22
Could you estimate your distance traveled, elevation gained
& total time hiking. Thanks.
Good report.


11/30/2010 17:28
A little over 2.5 hours on the road - about 3 hours from the lake to Little Bear - A little under 2 hours to Blanca - 2.5 hours back to camp - 2 hours back to the car - There was about an hour gap between me arriving at the lake and starting to hike - between a 13 and 14 hour day - no idea on actual distance and elevation but from Roach's book he puts the trip (using the std route of LB) at 14.7 miles and 6800 vert - i prob did a touch less as I didn't start from the base of the road.


06/15/2010 13:33
I have been wanting this climb for a while and got off route on the NW Face last year. I guess that‘s what happens when you arrive at camp in the dark and start in the dark. We were about to come up somewhere in the middle of the traverse on 5th class terrain and one of the partners got a bit scared. Anyhow. Great job and thanks for the beta.


06/15/2010 14:08
Way to get it. Great TR!


06/15/2010 14:25
The NW face is the best route on LB and the traverse is the most exciting of the 4 well known 14er traverses. Congrats!


06/16/2010 01:01
Micah - I‘d say it‘s definitely worth going back for these routes - it was a blast. Hana and that shot I took from the lake really helped keep the climbing pretty tame but there were quite a few more aggressive lines you could take and I could see how you got ‘off‘ route
Gary - thanks man
Dsunwall - completely agree with both - not sure why people climb through the hourglass when so much fun scrambling is available, And this was the coolest of the 4 traverses in my opinion - I wish the clouds were less threatening so I could have relaxed on it a bit more


Great job
06/16/2010 04:03
Excellent write up and sweet photos. Grats on an epic traverse.


06/02/2011 14:57
'Nuf said!!!

How was the route finding on the NW Face John?


06/16/2010 20:24
Good beta. And no soft effort on your part, nice! Is it correct that your partners made it over the day before via Gash Ridge? Any info you can pass along on that portion? Namely how long did it take them? Thanks.


06/16/2010 20:33
I‘m not really sure how long it took them to do the Gash. Steve (the 3rd member of our team) said he‘d have a tr up at some point. Hopefully he answers all your questions. I will tell you that we came towards the Gash from Huerfano Basin after climbing Lindsey and the Iron Nipple on Sat and planned on climbing point 13081 (i think) from the east and not the traditional start of the Gash. Hana (my partner and the only person on our team to do both routes this trip) described the gash as harder but less exposed than the lb/blanca traverse for what that‘s worth (she said hiking it with a heavy pack may have been the difference maker). I saw ur post on the 4 traverse in 4 days - good luck man - that‘s an ambitious agenda. If you have any questions feel free to ask - i also may have a few more shots of the nw face if that interests you.


Nice Report - some additional data please
08/23/2010 03:32
Thanks for posting the excellent photos. There is definately some serious exposure. How hard are the up and down climbing moves? Is this soloing low 5th class or easier than that? Is the rock quality good? I have rock climbed for several years and when in shape can climb lead 8-9 trad and 10-11 sport. But this is roped placing pro where you all were unroped.


08/23/2010 03:42
Hey man - thanks

On the NW face we didn't get into anything harder than class 4 (the majority of the climbing was in the class 3 range I'd say - but that's only if you choose an easy line - there are a million options up there).

On the ridge if you bypass captain bivwacko (5.6-5.7ish) then the traverse is no harder than really low class 5 (5.0-5.2). As far as rock quality - it was not great but ok - you had to check all the holds but they were decent. I probably can't do what you can do in the gym but I'm cool with exposure and all the moves were in my comfort zone. Hope that helps - Good luck.


08/23/2010 17:37
Thanks that does help to know what to expect. I'll try to do it next summer when in a little better shape.

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