Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Date Posted:  08/13/2013
Modified:  08/14/2013
Date Climbed:   07/18/2013
Author:  zinj
 Little Bear via Preparation H gully - 2013 Summer Trek: Rpt 7 of 7  

July 18, 2013 - Summit Day 7
Little Bear

We started on Lil' Bear before dawn. This would be our final day in Lake Como as we would break camp and backpack out after the day's summit hike. In the predawn hours, I discovered why I was able to get such a good deal on "Headlamp" brand head lamps at Costco (3 for $10). The limited range they can illuminate is what the Spanish call muy lame. I had to follow Young Master William and poach his light for the first part of the hike. Photos/video begin once ambient daylight was sufficient to bother taking pics...

First, a couple of views of the Bear from previous days:
Little Bear Peak and Lake Como

Little Bear Peak and Lake Como

Little Bear Peak from Ellingwood Pt

Spoiler Alert: While I really enjoyed Little Bear I was underwhelmed by the ascent difficulty of the Hourglass Couloir -- my feeling is that it gets too much attention relative to the gully used to gain LB's west ridge, which is a horrible, horrible mess. (That's two "horribles" for you home gamers). I therefore dub that geographical feature

Preparation H Gully
Chillin Like a Villain - Preparation H gully in background (different day)

Preparation H gully (different day)

Will nearing the top of Preparation H gully

More on Preparation H gully was by far the worst part of the hike. The Hourglass, in contrast, was a delight.

Lake Como from LB's West Ridge

Ellingwood Pt (and Crater Lake) from LB's West Ridge

Little Bear Lake and the SW ridge (where badasses roam, or so 'tis told)

The Hourglass - I had worried about this pitch for months, and scrubbed an idea to climb it the previous day because of recent rainfall (waiting for it to dry out). Now that I was finally there, I put on my harness, locking 'biner, ATC, grabbed a couple of prussik lines (just in case), and...and... never even contemplated using the fixed line. FWIW - we learned from other climbers the previous couple of days that the fixed line was frayed in one spot where it was rubbing on rock, so we never intended to depend on it on ascent, but thought we might still clip in as a backup. No. Not at all necessary. Not even helpful.

Hourglass Couloir

Prairie Doggin below the Hourglass

Above the Hourglass, we had been advised to take a hard left and proceed to the ridge in order to avoid class 5 pitches. I think that advice is probably correct as to the location of the easiest route. What we were not told was how fun the class 5 pitches were - so I intentionally meandered all over the upper face of LB insteadof taking the ridgeline. I was using nice and sticky one-day-old approach shoes and thoroughly enjoyed myself in a series of class 3-4-low 5 moves -- the consequences of a fall in most cases would likely have been minor injury (albeit quite inconvenient above the Hourglass). No injuries were incurred, however, and we had LB's summit to ourselves.

Two vids: 1) Hourglass 2) Summit Ascent above hourglass. (I usually chop out most of my video, but in this case I left it all in case it's helpful to other climbers. Feel free to FF>> as may be appropriate)

We didn't see anyone on Ellingwood, Blanca or even on the Blanca trail at this early hour.

1 min video of windy LB summit views/panos:

Connecting ridge to Blanca, Ellingwood at Center-Left, hazy Lindsey at right

Lake Como and its valley (North side of Little Bear's West Ridge)

South Little Bear

Little Bear's Summt

We ducked out of the wind and I broke with my no-music tradition while mountaineering and played the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter as we enjoyed the summit. (Please refrain from suggesting this song choice makes me old -- the Stones recorded this 5 years before I was born -- I just think it's a good song).

Summit chow

Like several other steep 14er routes, Little Bear is trickier to descend than ascend. While we were careful to avoid shooting any widowmakers down the Hourglass, we were not perfect and did dislodge some gravel and a couple of small rocks. Each of these, even the gravel, gained ridiculous speed bounding down the couloir. A couple of the rocks that went shooting down were "spontaneous" rockfalls from above our position. One shattered into shrapnel when it collided with a boulder. Nobody was below us, however, so apart from the odd spontaneous rock, we mostly had only to worry about each other, so we took turns moving as we got closer to the funnel point near the fixed rope anchor.

Tebow!!! (yeah, it's 2013, and I'm still doing this. Wanna see my Macarena?)

Selected bits of video of the pitches immediately above the Hourglass anchor:

Time to GET OUT OF HERE! We each roped up, in turn, as a sort of third-hand/extra balance point but neither of us rappelled. The fixed line was not trustworthy enough to intentionally load.

Hourglass near the anchor - Roped up for balance only -- no rappel today!

Will tumbling out of the Hourglass (left of Will)

After escaping the Hourglass we mostly held to the ridge line. It has superior footing than the cairned trail(s) 50 feet lower on the South side of the ridge, which is the route we took on the ascent. This was fun, but an easy place to get hurt as the adrenaline of the Hourglass and summit sections had by now dissipated.

Looking West on Little Bear's West Ridge

Ellingwood, Blanca (barely visible), Little Bear

This part sucked...
Beginning my descent into torment (Preparation H Gully)

Upper Preparation H gully. Can you spot Will?

Yet more Preparation H gully

Ellingwood Pt at left, Blanca barely visible at right. Optical illusion suggests they're similar in elevation (they're not!)

I'm reminded why I'm usually a high-tops guy. To this point, all I had were assorted scrapes and cuts. Neither of us got clocked by a rock -- successful Little Bear excursion!
Preparation H Gully collects its fee

Epilogue: While I cursed Preparation H gully during the climb, it was the Lake Como road after breaking camp which ultimately did me in. We left Lake Como about noon. At that time of day, every foot of vert dropped toward the broiling San Luis valley is another step closer to hell. This road is much uglier going down than it was ascending two days previous. I guess I got hot, dehydrated and sloppy because I fell twice, the first time comically getting pinned under my backpack, but essentially unhurt. The second fall, however, was a trip-ender. We were probably only 3/4 of a mile from the car, so the inconvenience was minimized, but it seemed (and sounded!) like a broken fibula. X-rays the following day showed I merely had a grotesque sprain. I'll take that trade any day (2-3 weeks v 6-8 weeks recovery). Either way, Mt. Lindsey, which had been the following day's target and final peak on this summer's itinerary, escaped my grasp for the second year in a row.

Not thrilled with how this one ended

Image's only a flesh wound!

Preceding Report: Oye Como Va? - 2013 Summer Trek: Rpt 6 of 7

Next up: Sawatches in September 2013. I'll be back, and I'm bringing a big ugly Texan next time as marmot repellant.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

 Comments or Questions

good to hear
08/13/2013 14:48
about the hourglass. I always wonder is it's over-hyped. Bummer on the ankle, but nice work and thx for the TR!


08/14/2013 15:43
The funnel above the Hourglass really is dangerous because it will channel rocks down on you, but the climb difficulty of the Hourglass itself isn't bad (when it's not wet!). If you totally bail, you could end up sliding quite a distance and ruining your day, but you're not at all exposed to the the proverbial 1000 feet of empty air.


Wondering also
08/15/2013 02:04
Nice to see a real opinion of the hourglass. So far everything I've done to this point has been over-hyped. Hoping that's the case with this too. Tempted to go for it in a few weeks just because I'm tired of thinking about it. Thanks for the report.


Interesting but
08/15/2013 22:08
I wholeheartedly disagree with your difficulty assessment, having just done LB 2 weeks ago. Of course, there was a small waterfall coming down the hourglass and all the rock was wet, but the initial gully is more annoying than difficult. I'd rather go up that again than Mt. Lindsey ”standard” route or Challenger point (which is longer and steeper). Or Broken hand pass for that matter.


Preparation H gully
08/16/2013 01:49
...was very annoying. What I had hoped to convey in my comment is that everyone talks about the Hourglass when they discuss LB, and that's fine -- it probably *IS* the most difficult standard route on a 14er that I've done thus far. But ”most difficult” is a relative term and I had expected something close to terrifying and/or exceedingly difficult. On the relatively dry day we climbed, it was neither.

The gully surprised me, however -- I hadn't expected it to be such a pain in the butt. The Hourglass was fun -- maybe because I ditched my normal boots for sticker approach shoes. The gully wasn't enjoyable at all - perhaps also because I was wearing those low-rise approach shoes.

Re: Lindsey --> We had been planning to avoid the ”standard” route and take the ridge before I got hurt and we had to scrub it. In any case, I'll take your wisdom as another vote against the standard route for whenever I finally do get to Lindsy. I've heard many people with stories like yours -- that the standard slope is awful. 8)

Challenger is a different issue - I'm probably not going to have the opportunity to get over there for another year or two, so I haven't scouted routes yet. Thanks for the heads up!


08/16/2013 18:25
I mainly made my post because I was worried that less experienced climbers may read your comments and decide to attempt the HG gully before they were ready. It CAN be dangerous, and moreso in less than ideal conditions. And I do believe at least 4 people have died in the immediate area.

We did Lindsey with the NW ridge bypass and it was super fun. We took the standard way down. Can you imagine ”class 3” dirt/sand?

Challenger Point slopes of doom is pretty much unavoidable and it is the only bad part of an otherwise awesome trip. It's 2,000 feet of gain in 3/4 of a mile I think. Loose and open.

BTW congrats on a (relatively) safe climb of LB. Hope you heal quickly.

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