Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
"South Little Bear" - 14,020 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Date Posted:  03/23/2011
Modified:  04/06/2011
Date Climbed:   03/20/2011
Author:  Dad Mike
 South Little Bear to Blanca Winter Traverse  

Going into last weekend I didn't know if I was going to get another chance to get out. I was scheduled to work both Saturday and Sunday. My only chance was to convince my client that he didn't need me around on Sunday. At 2pm on Saturday I approached the subject with him and was given the get out of jail free card. SWEET! Now what to do with this golden opportunity. How about a traverse from South Little Bear to Ellingwood?

A winter LB - Blanca traverse has been on my mind since this past summer. I've done the traverse a couple times and felt like it was well within my ability to attempt it in winter. Plus I really like the idea of doing something that most people would consider crazy.

My biggest concerns were...
1. WIND..the forecast called for wind gusts in the 45 - 60 mph range
2. SNOW the hourglass and on the part of the traverse where you have to leave the ridge
3. TIME..after reading Steve's post about being back at the car by 5:21pm to be considered a winter attempt, I questioned weather I could start early enough for this to be possible

I set the alarm for 1am and tried my best to go to bed around 8. I didn't sleep much. I kept waking up to the sound of wind whipping the trees around in our backyard. All I could think about was being blown off that ridge. It was impossible to get that thought out of my mind. When the alarm went off, my initial thought was...this is a stupid idea, go back to bed. After about 15 minutes, I decided to at least check the current forecast. It looked better than it did 6 hours ago...let's give it a shot.

The ride down there SUCKED. I felt like I was driving into a hurricane. I couldn't get my jeep over 65 because I was being blown all over the place. I thought maybe it was just the I-25 wind effect, but it didn't get any better on 160. I came up with a backup plan...Blanca and Ellingwood.

Then the craziest thing happened. I got to Lake Como Road and the wind stopped. Little Bear here I come.

Little Bear and the gully leading to the west ridge

Early moring light on Ellingwood original plan was to traverse from Blanca to Ellingwood and climb down the SW ridge

Looking down the gully...the snow in the gully was in the worst condition of any snow I would be on all day

My route to SLB and line = boots, orange lines = crampons and route over to SLB, yellow = traverse to LB

Looking up the hourglass...I would make the same mistake I made the last 2 times I was here and head too far left when the face opens up

That mistake took me to this fun little section

Almost to South Little Bear's Summit...our tracks from last week were still visible

Previewing the traverse from SLB's summit...the red line shows the section I was losing sleep over...this is the only part of the route where you are forced off the ridge

South Little Bear - Little Bear Traverse...this would be my 4th time across this ridge in 8 days

Took this about 1/4 of the way along the traverse to Blanca...I was pleasantly surprised to find most of the technical sections free of snow

Sometimes the snow would I used the snow to traverse along the side of the ridge

But more often the snow was an annoyance, making it difficult and slowing down my progress on the sections I would fly over in dry conditions

The snow on the section I was stressing the whole time turned out to be pretty stable and not as steep as it looked from is a picture looking back at it

For those of you that haven't done the traverse and have thought about it, you have to be comfortable with views like this...they are everywhere

I did that!

It was 1:45am when I got to the top of Blanca. I estimated it would take me 3 - 4 hours to get back to the car. I did some quick math and realized that if I went over to Ellingwood, I wouldn't be able to make it back by I decided to descend. The route down Blanca was a mix of talus and snow...I glissaded where I could and made it down pretty quickly.

I took this as a sign that I needed to haul ass...spring is coming

Ahh...back with time to spare. Thanks for the lesson in calendar winter Steve. If I hadn't read your post and your recent TRs I would have thought I had till midnight

One last look at the road that everyone loves to hate

Elevation...about 6600 feet with all the ups and downs
Mileage...about 13 miles
Start @ 8800'...5am
Top of Gully...8:30am
South Little Bear...10:45am
Little Bear...11:03am
Start of Traverse...11:17am
Back at Car...4:34p

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Quite the accomplishment
05/02/2011 14:23
Wow. I highly doubt this traverse has been tackled much in winter solo. Well done. I better get in shape this spring if we're going to climb something together.

Dad Mike

Thanks for the comments...
08/12/2014 23:13
Art...I was happy to read your report. As I was kicking those steps up Little Bear, I was hoping someone could take advantage of my efforts. Did you notice the bomb holes I put in where the snow wasn't cooperating?

Steph...You know what this sight is missing? A winter trip report of Mt. Lindsey. Get to it.

Jim...I like the way you think. Go big or stay home. And I have a Canon Powershot. I love it. Small, simple, and takes great pictures.


4 times on an LB traverse in 8 days -- in winter?
03/25/2011 03:34
Don't think about dropping the Mad from the Mike anytime soon.


03/25/2011 00:44
Nice job, Mike. On the last day and last hour, too. (And I thought I was taking this year down to the wire.... : )

It would be fun to get the whole cirque in winter - shuttle - Tobin, SW Ridge, SLB, LB, B, EP, Como - shuttle back to Tobin.

Really nice photos. What kind of camera are you shooting?

Brian C

03/25/2011 02:27

Ridge runner

ludicrous speed
03/24/2011 18:25
I was feeling pretty good after LB and Lindsey last week, but then the Teakettle group, ”Houston” solo, and Cross Couloir group rained on and popped every balloon I had in my parade. Now you go and take a crapper on the last ounce of accomplishment I had.
You know, had you continued on to Ellingwood and gotten back down to your car after the official end of winter, I would not have been impressed.


The Fast, The Bold, & The Furious!!!
03/24/2011 20:11
Mike, nice work man!!
I wasn't surprised when you told me you did it. Congrat's to you and this accomplishment. You've got 'mad' skills. ;)

But I agree with Barry, you're a bit slow. You need to work on that.

Steph...nice reference to ”Houston.”

Easy Rider

03/24/2011 16:40
Nice work!


03/24/2011 15:24
Great endurance! Excellent report and pictures.


Nice Work!
03/24/2011 15:11
I think it may have been your tracks that helped me the following day when I did LB.


Thank you!
03/24/2011 14:39
for the pic...


06/02/2011 14:57
I over use that but Wow. Serious work. Congratulations on this achievement.

EDIT: After sleeping on this I woke up thinking that your times on this route seem excessively slow and that perhaps you ought to work on your speed....


Great job, Mike!
03/24/2011 13:49
Helluva job. Any chance you have a photo of Ellingwood from Blanca's summit? Would like to see how much snow is near Ellis summit. Glad you made it off there safe...

Dad Mike

Ellingwood Pic
08/12/2014 23:13
Hey Bill...I just attached the picture you're looking for to the report. It's the last thumbnail. I hope that helps.


Yup you're crazy
03/24/2011 11:34
Great report and amazing athleticism.

Kevin Baker

04/06/2011 13:37
Just got around to reading this. Awesome job, Mike! I would have thought your odds of getting back to the car on time were slim to none, but you somehow managed to pull it off!

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