Total Elevation Gain: ~6200 feet
Starting Point: Lake Como Road
Total Time: 13.5 hours
|From Lake Como 11,750 ft.|
Alright, here's the situation. My wife's friend came to visit for a short vacation. I got keys to the brand new Porsche....and headed to Little Bear Peak. Except it wasn't a Porsche, it was a Subaru. And it wasn't new, it's an '08.
A typical hike for me has always involved waking up quite early and driving 2-3 hours to arrive at the trailhead around 6ish. I devised a new strategy for Little Bear because I wanted to get as early a start as possible. I decided I would just drive there at night and sleep in my car at the trailhead. So, I arrived at the Lake Como Road at about 11:15 pm the night before and set my alarm for 4:45 am. The Chateau Subareaù was very accommodating and I was treated to a continental breakfast of apple strudel and Sunny D! A weird side note, when I arrived I noticed the clock in my car said 11:15 pm and my phone said 10:15 pm as did my watch (which sets the time automatically). So, I'm not sure if there is a time difference between Colorado Springs and Blanca, CO or not but I went with it. This sort of sucked because that would mean I would lose an hour coming home. My phone and watch stayed behind one hour during the whole trip.
I ate my delectable breakfast and was geared up by 5:00 am to get going. There was a faint glow over the mountain ridge to the East but it would be a solid hour before morning light would become available. I had been walking for about 10 minutes when I realized I forgot my camera in the car. I hate turning around but I reasoned that if I did, not only would I have photographic evidence of this adventure, I would also get another bite of strudel and wash it down with a little more Sunny D. New starting time would be 5:30 am.
The first leg of this hike would be a 5.25 mile long "road" to Lake Como. This road is not accessible, even in the summer, by anything but an ATV or a heavily modified 4x4 vehicle (or feet). I found a cool video on youtube that shows a bunch of cars going up the road. The video calls it the Blanca Peak road. Same difference. Blanca peak is an adjacent peak that is accessible by this same road. I came these abandoned log cabins maybe half way to Lake Como and looked up to see my first glimpse of Little Bear Peak.
|Little Bear center and in the distance.|
|From Lake Como 11,750 ft.|
|The plan is to come back in the summer and hike these two.|
|From the bottom of the gully. Only the bottom half is visible.|
|Halfway up the 600 ft gully looking down.|
|And then looking up.|
From the above picture it shows that I would cross a snowfield to a patch of rocks and then across another snowfield to more rocks until the "hourglass." This was an exhausting process. I stopped frequently but only for short amounts of time. I began to think of all the people around the world who are just as exhausted as I am but they're running like gerbils on treadmills. I get to be exhausted in the middle of snow capped mountains and lakes on a sunny day. When it's my turn to be a gerbil, I get done with a solid run and I head to the drinking fountain and think to myself, "That sucked." In contrast, when I finish hiking across a snowfield, I land on a patch of dry rocks, bust open a Gatorade and with the same feeling of exhaustion I think to myself, "That was awesome!"
Before too long (2.5 hours) I arrived at the base of the Hourglass. I ran into a familiar set of tracks heading straight up. I followed them down with my eyes to see that whoever these tracks belong to had started way down in the basin. They were very likely the same tracks that aided me up the north facing gully earlier on. From the base of the hourglass I snapped a picture looking back on what I had accomplished.
I should take a second here to give some background on this "hourglass" I keep mentioning. If you're my mom or my wife or anyone that will scare my mom or wife by talking about this you should skip the next paragraph.
Little Bear is one of Colorado's toughest 14ers and this is due to the last gully that must be ascended. The name of the gully is the "hourglass." It is a large funnel that is quite steep and full of loose rock. People have died climbing this route and maybe the greatest danger is from climbers above you knocking down loose rock into this natural funnel. Hiking this route in March provided a few safety precautions that a summer summit would deny. First, being alone is an advantage in my opinion. Knowing that nobody is above you or below helps to make this a safer endeavor. Second, when the hourglass is filled with snow/ice it provides purchase points that create greater stability. This is assuming that the climber has appropriate gear. I would use the butt end of my ice axe to create a six inch hole in the snow/ice before placing my foot in it. Doing this at every step is tedious but ensures that when I put my foot in the snow and commit to that step it will hold. I wore microspikes and it was sufficient. Crampons would be ideal. As I gained more elevation in this final gully below the summit I did have the opportunity to shift to dry rock to continue. I was so much more comfortable on the snow and ice that the rest of my route was determined by where I could remain in it. The tracks that I mentioned earlier chose a route on dry rock so I could only follow those tracks for a short while. From the base I got a picture looking up but it hardly does it justice.
|The tracks are visible here.|
|From the summit looking down on Lake Como.|
|Looking down the way I came up.|
I made the summit at 2:35 and left the summit at 2:40. I was back down to the base of the Hourglass at 2:49 pm. I used my ice axe as a brake for a controlled glissade down the Hourglass. This is another advantage of doing Little Bear in the snow. The descent isn't as dangerous in my opinion. I cruised back across the west ridge to the top of the 600 ft. north facing gully. I glissaded down that gully as well in about 6 minutes.
I was dreading the postholing nightmare awaiting me at the bottom of the gully back to the south end of Lake Como. I took a little detour from the way up but it turned out to be almost as bad. For every two steps on top of snow I'd have to take five steps waist deep in snow. I was ecstatic to reach the road where I would only sink down to mid-calf. It was 4:45 pm when I reached the Lake Como road. It was a mindless jaunt to the car where I arrived at 6:45 pm.
I had waited until arriving at the car to really assess what I had accomplished. I think Ed Viesturs (famous mountaineer) was the one who said "Getting to the summit is optional. Getting back down is mandatory." Once I was down, I was elated to have completed one of the most difficult and probably the most dangerous 14er in Colorado. I ran a half marathon a few years back and I can say unequivocally this was harder. Physically and mentally I had been pushed nearly to my limits. My only regret is that I wish I had completed this hike one day previous to be able to claim a calender winter summit of this mountain. A big thanks to my wife for allowing me to pursue this hike and this hobby in general. She is the greatest!
Notes to Self:
-Sleeping in cars sucks
-buy more Clif Bars