| Traverse Trip Day 3 - Little Bear SW Ridge
Little Bear Peak 14,037' - Southwest Ridge
Date Climbed - 7/10/2010
Climbers - doggler and Patrick
Decisions that aren't really decisions
Sunday, 1:30 PM. Patrick and I left the San Juans feeling a bit meloncholy. We knew we had a hard day ahead of us and a long way to get there - about 300 miles, with stops in Ridgeway and Durango. Furthermore, we had just ended a great morning in a not so great way. Witnessing Chris's accident shook me more than I'd like to admit. Not so much in the "phew, that could have happened to me" way, but we were so close to having a very ugly situation on our hands.
I've made my share of bad decisions. Fifteen years ago, my buddy and I climbed Torrey's from Loveland Pass in the afternoon, in jeans, with no water or backpacks. We didn't know any better...we lived and we learned. Three years ago I left for a summit at 10 AM and consequently felt my axe vibrate on the summit - I would have never been in that situation had I simply honored the simple rule of start early. I lived and I learned. On the north face of Mt. Wilson, I learned that mountaineering isn't like college. You can't get away with making good decisions 90% percent of the time. You are often one mistake away from bad things. I carried this with me as we drove east towards the Sangres.
On our drive, we conferred with our "home base" in Castle Rock. We were given the updated weather reports through 14ers.com, noaa.gov, weather.com, and wunderground.com. All suggested that moisture would be moving out overnight and it would be warm and dry on Monday. Furthermore, the wind speed would only be 5-10mph down low.
Pulling as high up Lake Como Rd. as the dogglermobile would go, we parked at 9:30 and talked about Monday's plan. We decided we were going to ascend Little Bear via the southwest ridge, traverse across to Blanca Peak, and then descend via the dreaded road. We made the decision to sleep in a little on this one, feeling that an extra hour and a half of sleep would have more benefit than leaving an hour and a half earlier. Additionally, we were concerned about going off-route while bushwacking in the dark while trying to gain the southwest ridge. Looking back, I believe this was the correct decision.
The beatings will continue until morale improves!
Besides the page dedicated to the route on summitpost.org and tmatthews' TR, information on this route is scant. Furthermore, it was my guess that very few people have ever done it from Lake Como Rd. We couldn't in good conscience encroach on the private property and play dumb, so we knew we were adding a good deal of work to an already long day.
Our general route. Although it looks "straight", it consisted of much up-and-over, taking whatever the terrain gave us
However, that proved to be part of the allure to it! We knew that without GPS, it would be extremely easy to hop up too early and end up on the wrong ridge. Looking at the topo, it seemed like it would be very easy to do!
one of the more open spots on the bushwack
there were a few very faint "roads", but they weren't very helpful. SLOW GOING!
We kept climbing up and traversing over, trying to find the path of least resistance through the scrub, trees, yuccas, and cacti. We wanted to hit Tobin Creek as high up as possible below the canyon. We ended up getting pretty close!
It took a LONG time just to reach Tobin Creek; just short of two hours, to be exact!
The cliffs on the east side of Tobin Creek
Once we crossed the creek, the plan was simple: go UP!
The usual scenery on the lower ridge
As we began the slog up the ridge, we came across tape. As far as we could tell, it was the closest thing to an old "route" that we could find...every once in a while, you could even see evidence of a trail at one time existing! It was too faint to follow; instead what happened was we continued to give what the terrain gave us, and in turn, we kept running into the trail. This continued for maybe 1,000 vertical feet.
The wind was blowing before we hit tree line, but the second we got out in the open, we were blasted pretty good...we figured 30 mph or so. It wasn't bad enough to bail yet, but it slowed our progress to what felt like a crawl.
Looking south at the San Luis Valley
A lot of very old, very cool trees on the ridge
Approaching tree line. There's a reason they don't call it "talus line"...because we were digging through it for nearly 2,500'
The ridge undulated quite a bit, so the views alternated between amazing and depressing. Having been to Como Lake three times, seeing LB from this vantage got me jazzed! It was easy to see the remainders of both the SW Ridge and the Hourglass route! Unfortunately, the desire to escape the northerly wind kept us just a little below the ridge line on the south side and therefore unable to appreciate the view.
most of LB's hourglass
Until we reached tmatthews' point 13,182', we found ourselves not just talus-hopping, but talus-HUMPING. The rock sucked...however, the view was great and we weren't on Lake Como Road. The next couple of pictures shows this.
Little Bear Lake(left) and Lake Como(right)
summit of South Little Bear
We got to the summit of South Little Bear five hours after we left the car on Lake Como Road. It was 10:30.
Looking across a mini-ridge to Little Bear's main summit, we could tell the difficulty was about to increase dramatically. The ridge didn't disappoint, and 25 fun-filled minutes later we were atop Little Bear!
The wind was pretty annoying during the traverse from South Little Bear, but the main summit was catching some of the wind, and the rest was coming directly at us instead of from the side. This was doable.
We looked across to Blanca. It looked doable. We started down, but immediately had to deal with strong crosswind gusts. The voice in my head reminded me to bail when things were about to get stupid. Patrick looked at me, and I knew what he was thinking - let's turn around. I agreed. Maybe on a calm day, but it was just too easy to imagine getting swept off the ridge by a monster gust. We turned around at 11:30 - six hours after we started.
Once past the difficulties of the LB - South LB ridge, I had a lot of time to process. I kept thinking about the difference how "runner doggler" has to make totally different types of decisions as "mountaineer doggler". In races, you can push yourself to your limits. Just doing so is why many people run. However, if you push too hard, what are the consequences? You pull out of the race, you run a slow time. You live to race another day. In mountaineering, one must exercise so much more caution. If you try to push yourself to your limits and you're wrong...well, the consequences are a little more dire. Watching Chris shoot down that snowfield on Sunday was a reminder that bad things can happen.
Oh look, more trees and talus!
This tree got zapped pretty good
A gorgeous waterfall on Tobin Creek
Abandoned aluminum cans, circa not 2010
My mind wandered during our return to Lake Como Rd. I felt good about our decision to turn back. It was an easy decision. I thought about the past three days and all that Patrick and I had done - the climbing, the driving, the talking...I was pretty stoked. Even though we didn't complete the traverse, we had gotten a chance to summit Little Bear from a rarely climbed route. We wondered who else has been stupid enough to have bushwacked from Lake Como Rd.
Although he wouldn't admit it, Patrick was having some pretty painful knee issues. (he tore his ACL a year and a half ago. Jumping downhill on talus for miles upon miles will jar it around a little bit!) I decided we were done for the trip. Although we didn't accomplish our goal, I know I learned a bit more about this craft. Additionally, I now have to only visit Longs, Wilson Peak, and Bierstadt in order to "finish" and just do whatever I feel like doing.
At 4:30PM, we got back to the car. We had been out for almost 11 hours, which is one of the longer days I've ever had. We were both quite tired and ready to celebrate.
Cheers - what a trip!
What can I say? This climb was long. If the access issues near Tobin Creek ever get worked out and some trail work on the lower sections is done, this should be the standard route of Little Bear. If you're fit and savvy and curious, I highly recommend this route. It truly was a unique experience!
Nearly all of the route
Little Bear's southwest ridge
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):