Little Bear Peak (1)
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Base Camp

  • Statistics:
    • Date Hiked:  May 20, 2004
    • Miles Hiked:  6.8
    • Elevation Gain:  4,200'
    • Hiking Partner(s):  Jim Mallory & Mark Connell
  • Description:
    • 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 headed home.
    • 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)
      • Base of the "Hourglass" - Little Bear Peak (1 hour 0 minutes)
      • Ascent Time (5 hours 0 minutes)
      • Summit Time (0 hours 30 minutes)
      • Little Bear Peak - Base of the "Hourglass" (0 hours 30 minutes)
      • Base of the "Hourglass" - Notch 12,580' (0 hours 50 minutes)
      • Notch 12,580' - Lake Como (0 hours 30 minutes)
      • Lake Como - Trailhead 9,850' (1 hour 40 minutes)
      • Descent Time (3 hours 30 minutes)
      • Total Trail Time (9 hours 0 minutes) (4:30 am - 1:30 pm)
  • Maps:
    • Click here to view a 2D map of the area where this hike is located.
  • Photographs:





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