Chris and I saw that the weather was ideal for an attempt at Little Bear’s SW Ridge route. We got amped up throughout the week, and drove down Saturday afternoon, perfectly timing our arrival at the Blanca group at sunset.
We drove up the 4wd road to the “TH” and parked as flat as we could, then set up our Holiday Inn in the back of my XTerra.
We wanted to get an early start, so after playing some Texas Hold ‘Em and Go Fish in our sleeping bags, we hit the hay at 8:30pm. Chris got some sleep, I seemed to stay in the half-asleep phase throughout the night. Our alarms got us up about 2:30am, and we fumbled around to get ready to rock, and we were off by 3:25am!
Bushwhacking seemed pretty easy in the beginning as we headed NE through the trees, then we crossed the Tobin creek, and it slowly got more dense as we headed North toward the ridge.
Frozen Tobin at 9,040’, happen-chanced surveyor’s tape in foreground
By 4:45am, we were on the ridge at about 10,100’. Wahoo! Bring on the talus, baby.
As we hiked up the ridge and broke free of the trees’ protection, the wind blasted us from the left side. Hmm, didn’t the forecast say “5mph winds”?? Eh, it’s just wind. The talus was dry, and we appreciated it.
We got a nice view of the Spanish Peaks at sunrise:
Before we knew it, we crested Pt 12,900’ at 8:00am and just about peed our pants at the classic view of Little Bear from this route:
Above: Ellingwood Point on the left, Little Bear Peak slightly left of center (big bump), and “South Little Bear” slightly right of center (flatter bump that’s almost as high as Little Bear).
A zoomed-in view of the “Mama Bear traverse”:
Little Bear on left, South Little Bear on right. Connect the dots!
The climbing got more interesting as we ascended up the false summit (~13,800’), and the wind was slowly relenting as we got higher in elevation. Whew! I sure was hoping it would calm down for the traverse; that ridge wind was non-stop. We mostly stayed very close to the ridge, sometimes on the ridge proper, as the snow lower down seemed like more trouble than it was worth.
Little Bear on left, South Little Bear center, Chris ascending false summit on right
Chris on the ridge
Chris enjoying the rock
The winds were completely calm as we popped up on South Little Bear at 11:40am.
Gaining SLB. Little Bear’s summit is on the left, Blanca peeking in the pic on the very right
Picture time, baby! We snapped some shots of the SWEET views from the top of SLB. Even if we just climbed this sub-peak today, the views made it worth all the effort.
Little Bear & the Mama Bear traverse, Ellingwood blanketed in snow in the distant center, and Blanca on the right
Now, the traverse! Chris took a good look at it from SLB, and decided that there was too much snow for his comfort, and he’d look forward to returning for this in summer. I admire Chris for having the ability to follow his instincts. He sure has his head on straight.
Little Bear and the Mama Bear traverse from SLB
I wanted to give it a shot, though. If it got too dicey, I’d turn back. Chris, being an awesome friend, agreed to wait while I scoped it out. So I ditched some gear to lighten my pack, and headed down off of SLB, enjoying my microspikes.
Some people say the crux is coming off of SLB, but I didn’t find it that hard. Just taking it slow and safe, no prob. I went to the left of the “jutting fin” immediately on the ridge.
Once around it, I decided to climb the ridge proper for as much as I could, to avoid the sketchier snowy ledges below that didn’t look to have great hand holds.
The ridge is exposed, but dry from the wind and sun. Here’s a quick video I took while on a narrow point on the ridge:
Some pics along the ridge:
Little Bear, notch at bottom of photo
Dropping down into the notch above the Hourglass was the crux for me. The easiest way to descend wasn’t obvious to me, so I just went pretty much straight down on a class 4 wall, including a finale sideways jump into the notch as I grabbed some solid rock in the notch itself.
That was fun!
Then I just kinda found my way up to the summit, and was there before I knew it at 12:55pm. Wahoo!!! Time to bust out the little bears.
Teddy Grahams, oh yeah!
10 minutes on the summit, didn’t want to waste time ‘cuz my good buddy was still patiently waiting for me on the other side of the Mama.
Can you see Chris?
SLB and the Hourglass gully in the foreground
Infamous “Looking Down the Hourglass” shot
It had taken me just over an hour to come across, and I wanted to get back safely but swiftly, because I felt bad for Chris having to sit there.
I came to the notch again, and saw a slightly easier-looking couple of holds to climb just to the right of inside the notch, so I ascended it that way. Then when I was almost to the ridge, I noticed a small cairn I had missed, below the wall I downclimbed into the notch! “Oh, that must be the way.” So then I downclimbed again, went over to the cairn and then realized, “What the heck, this isn’t a good way, at least not with a bunch of snow. Screw this, back up to the ridge.” So, up again I went, haha.
The notch on the way back to SLB:
The notch, top of the Hourglass
Regardless of that retarded mini detour, I felt comfortable retracing my basic path on the ridge (mostly) back up to SLB. This sure was fun climbing!
From LB to SLB, it only took 45 minutes, making it about…
“Grin a little and Bear it.” –Gerry Roach
Okay, okay, put your clothes back on. We got some descending to do.
And that we did.
Chris coming off SLB
Cool, the sketchy stuff is out of the way, and God kept us alive! I’m happy.
Little Bear in the afternoon
Oh but wait, our lovely windy ridge wants to visit us again! As we descended, the wind picked back up (it’s probably just the ridge, not the weather) and kept on us for the length of the ridge. It was making my eyes soooo dry, especially since I didn’t sleep.
Chris cruising down the ridge that blows
At 5:45pm, we turned on our headlamps at around 11,200’, where the trees sufficiently block the wind. Yes! Only 2,400’ to go, this shouldn’t take long…
At 7:30pm, we were back to the base of the ridge at about 10,100’, and now we only had the adventure of bushwhacking between us and the car. Somehow, bushwhacking absolutely SUCKED now. We seemed to zig-zag a whole lot more, and our Tobin Creek crossing never seemed to come. Then it did, and the car was not far away at all. But the trees wanted to play Red Rover and grabbed us & our packs every chance they got. I wanted to unleash my axe and fiercely start hacking a direct path to the car.
9:00pm, THE CAR. Flippin’ wonderful. But not as wonderful as it felt to take my feet outta those mountaineering boots!
What an exciting day!! I’m glad Chris was able to stay within his comfort zone, so we can enjoy being alive together! I drove us down the 4wd road, then Chris agreed to drive for 2 hours so I could sleep. Nice, thank you Chris! Then at midnight or so, he woke me up as planned and we decided on a celebration at Denny’s in Pueblo. As the waitress took our orders for burgers, eggs, and skillets, I realized how much I needed a shower, haha!
After that refreshing stop, I drove the last couple hours back to Longmont while Chris got some well-deserved shut-eye. 3:00am – in bed, at last! (after a brief shower, of course)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.