- Date Hiked: May 20, 2004
- Miles Hiked: 6.8
- Elevation Gain: 4,200'
- Hiking Partner(s): Jim Mallory
& Mark Connell
- A Little Bear was a lot of fun. After hearing of the recent
success climbers were having on Little Bear Peak in the south Sangre De
Cristo Range, I pulled together a last minute trip to check it out for
myself. Little Bear Peak is considered one of the more difficult
14ers in Colorado with the easiest west ridge route rated class 4.
I would consider this a grade II climb with steep snow. In addition, it is also revered as quite possibly the most dangerous
14er because of the excessive rock fall that occurs near the infamous
"Hourglass". Many climbing accidents and several deaths
have occurred on this mountain. In order to mitigate this danger,
I decided to attempt a spring snow climb on the peak similar to the one
I did on the Idaho 12er, Lost River Peak. It is difficult to get
caught in the "deadly shooting gallery" of rock fall when all
the rocks are under snow.
- I left Denver at 4:00 pm on Wednesday to pick up Mark in Colorado
Springs. After a quick meal at McDonalds, we were on the road at
6:00 and parked at our trailhead by 9:00. The official trailhead
for this approach is at 8,000', one of Colorado's lowest for
14ers. Although all passenger vehicles must utilize this low
trailhead, the initial section of the trail is actually well known for
being one of Colorado's toughest four wheel drive roads. In an
effort to cut some distance and elevation off of the hike, we decided to
see how my Trooper would fair on this road. I was pleasantly
surprised with the performance of my vehicle, and we actually made it
exactly 3 additional miles up the road to 9,850' cutting 6 miles round
trip off the hike and approximately 1,850' of vertical gain.
Generally speaking, I don't think most people would take a newer vehicle
up this road regardless of whether they could actually make it.
However, I bought mine for instances such as this and I do know how to
put it in four wheel drive. With a few new scratches and a bit
less rubber on the old Trooper, we went to bed at 10:00.
- We awoke at 4:00 am and were hiking in the dark at 4:30 am. It
became light sooner than expected and we could have started at least a
half an hour earlier. On the approach, I became very pessimistic
about our climb because of the warm overnight temperatures and soft snow
we encountered on the hike in. After caching some water and gear
at Lake Como, we made our way over to the north facing gully that leads
to the notch at 12,580' on Little Bear's west ridge. Things began
to look better as the snow was considerably harder above the trees
around 11,900'. We donned our crampons, put on our helmets, unsheathed
our ice axes and began up the gully.
- The snow remained stable, and although relatively steep, the gully
posed no significant problems. Approximately half way up, we
looked back to see another climbing coming up on us fast. We
gained the ridge at the notch, removed our crampons, and continued east
on the west ridge assuming the other climber would catch us on the
traverse to the base of the Hourglass. We stayed directly on top
of the ridge to Point 12,980' where we could finally see the crux of the
climb. Descending slightly, we made our way over to several snow
fields that we had to cross on the south side of the ridge. This
snow was sun-cupped enough to provide adequate footing, so we didn't put
our crampons back on until we were directly below the Hourglass.
- At this point, Jim finally did catch us and we decided to all climb
together just in case there was any rock fall hazard above. As
mentioned in Roach's Colorado's 14ers, the initial climb of the
Hourglass is class 3 and then increases to class 4 as you near the
narrow section of the route. Despite being the steepest snow I
have ever been on, I felt comfortable as the crampons bit in well and no
rock fall was evident. We passed a sling rappel anchor and
continued to the steepest and slightly icy portion of the climb.
The gully opened up and we were now only a couple of hundred feet below
the summit. We all wanted to avoid any rock climbing, so we angled
to the left (northeast) and continued towards Little Bear on snow that
remained steep all the way to the summit.
- There were only two short 20'-30' feet sections where we were required
to do some mixed climbing. After a few more minutes, we popped out
directly on the summit with only a slight breeze to chill us. Jim
and I climbed most of the day with simply a base layer or light wind
shirt on while Mark kept his soft shell on for much of the day.
Needless to say, we were the only 3 on the mountain, and after taking a
few photos and congratulating each other, we started back down. We
wanted to get back to the notch and Lake Como before the snow had time
to soften significantly.
- Generally speaking, the trip out was uneventful. We did down
climb face in using our front points for approximately 100' of the
steepest section of the Hourglass. After crossing the snow fields,
we removed our crampons and began our slog back across the west ridge to
the notch. Conversation dwindled and fatigue was setting in.
Once on top the notch, we tested the snow and decided to plunge step and
glissade back to the lake. We rested at the lake, ate, drank,
packed up, and headed out after becoming slightly rejuvenated.
Upon reaching the Trooper, we celebrated with a Milwaukee's Best and
- Other than ripping a hole in my shell pants and slicing my hand open
with my ice axe as I threw my pack into the back of my vehicle, it was a
great day of climbing with two other SummitPosters. I would recommend this type of climb on Little Bear to
anyone apprehensive about climbing it because of the horror stories
circulating around the rock fall danger. It is still a difficult
peak to climb, but alleviating some of the risk can help a lot.
- Time Statistics: There was a 5 to 15 minute break at all of the
stops included in the times below. It doesn't appear as though we
gained a lot of time from the lake to the trailhead on the way out
compared to going in because we hung out at the lake for quite a while
before heading out.
- Trailhead 9,850' - Lake Como (1 hour 45 minutes)
- Lake Como - Notch 12,580' (1 hour 15 minutes)
- Notch 12,580' - Base of the "Hourglass"
(1 hour 0 minutes)
of the "Hourglass" - Little Bear Peak (1 hour 0 minutes)
Time (5 hours 0 minutes)
Time (0 hours 30 minutes)
Bear Peak - Base of the "Hourglass" (0 hours 30 minutes)
of the "Hourglass" - Notch 12,580' (0 hours 50 minutes)
12,580' - Lake Como (0 hours 30 minutes)
- Lake Como - Trailhead 9,850' (1 hour 40 minutes)
Time (3 hours 30 minutes)
Trail Time (9 hours 0 minutes) (4:30 am - 1:30 pm)
- Click here
to view a 2D
map of the area where this hike is located.