Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Date Posted:  05/20/2014
Date Climbed:   05/18/2014
Author:  DrewR
Additional Members:   Summit Fever
 Tackled the Bear  

Little Bear (14,037')
West Ridge III, Class 4
Lake Como Trailhead starting @ 9,000 ft
Distance: ~11.0 miles
Elevation gain: ~5,037 feet

The Mighty Little Bear

This was my first attempt on Little Bear and my second trek up this valley. Back in August 2009 I summited Blanca and Ellingwood and vowed to come back for the Bear. After hearing how dangerous this mountain can be (rockfall in the Hourglass) our group of three decided that a snow climb was the best option. The storm last week that dumped new snow in the area solidified our decision for this trip on this date.

We arrived at Lake Como road in the early afternoon and managed to reach ~9,000 ft just below the hair pin turn marked by the black "Blanca Peak Road" sign. If you can manage to navigate through the rock obstacles at this location you can easily drive another mile or two up the road. It wasn't until I had to descend back down this road with a full pack in the late afternoon sun did I wish I had pushed my 4Runner through the obstacle.

The road was clear almost all the way to the lake. A few short snow crossing were required in the trees where the sun does not reach. We reached the Lake an hour or so before sundown and were met by a vacant Hotel Como. The floor was a bit wet but we managed ok. If you stay at the hotel this time of year be sure to remove as much snow from the roof as humanly possible or you will get wet. The plastic bags that fill the holes in the roof do only a marginal job keeping the snow/water out.

Hotel Como

After a decent night sleep we awoke to the sun hitting the bear. What a view?! We had a quick breakfast and hit the trail at ~5:00 AM heading for the steep snow couloir leading to the notch on the SW ridge. Another group of three climbers had a 30-45 minute head start on us. Their headlamps marked their position 2/3 of the way up the couloir. Although temperatures overnight did not seem to get below freezing the snow around the lake and up the couloir was amazingly firm and easy to ascend. Crampons went on at the base of the couloir.

Sunrise on the Bear

Once at the notch we turned left and followed the ridge crest over the initial rise. Instead of going over point 12,980 we skirted around it's southern flank to the saddle between it and Little Bear. This section between the couloir notch and the saddle between Point 12,980 and LB has some snow but did not require crampons. From the point where you leave the ridge to head for the Hourglass it's "crampons on" all the way to the summit.

Looking down the couloir from the notch

Ridge above the notch heading towards Little Bear

Looking back on Point 12,980

The traverse over to the Hourglass was fairly easy going with a gradual increase in elevation. We stayed below the rocks in the picture. From this point up to the entrance to the Hourglass was tough sledding. The snow was deep and not yet consolidated, which means we were postholing quite a bit. Thanks to my climbing partner and the group ahead of us for blazing the trail.

SW ridge looking towards Little Bear

As we started up the Hourglass small pieces of snow began raining down on us. It became easy to understand how dangerous this route can be during dry conditions. There's just nowhere to go to escape the danger. Be really, really careful. About half way up we stepped off to the far left and let the other group descend before heading on up. From the visible rope anchor point you can go left or right. GO RIGHT. The route then bends back left above the Hourglass and takes you straight to the summit left of the notch on the summit ridge. The snow conditions in the Hourglass were good with the exception of a few spots of exposed ice. A little extra attention to detail and patience got us through without incident.

Looking up through the Hourglass

Climber from other group descending the Hourglass

Looking Hourglass to the right

The summit was reached at ~10:20 AM and we were met by an amazing view. After grabbing a bite and signing the register (no digging necessary) we headed back down. As did the group before us we descended the Hourglass face in without incident. We retraced our steps back to the notch above the couloir where I enjoyed a leisurely glacade down to the road. By this time it was early afternoon and the snow had softened up quite a bit. The trek back to the hotel was slow going due to lots of potholing.

Ellingwood Point (left) & Blanca Peak (right)

Blanca Peak (left) & Mt. Lindsey (right)

Good luck, have fun, and be careful.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

 Comments or Questions
Wish I lived in CO

Nice Work
05/20/2014 12:23
Looks like you picked a great weekend for this climb!

Nice Work
05/20/2014 12:46
Thanks. Yes, we got lucky with both the weather and the snow conditions.


05/22/2014 01:11
Seems like left is easier without snow, but it sure is prettier at the summit with snow regardless.

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