Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,041 feet
Date Posted:  02/11/2016
Modified:  02/12/2016
Date Climbed:   01/30/2016
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   mbourget
 Green Light in the Sangres - Little Bear peak via Hourglass   

Green Light in the Sangres - Little Bear peak via Hourglass

Peak: Little Bear
Route: West Ridge and Southwest Face
Date: January 30, 2016
Trailhead: Lake Como road (8,800 ft)
Distance: ~12 miles
Elevation Gain: ~5,400 ft.
Party: Matt Bourget and Natalie Moran
Time: 16.5 hours (including 2 breaks for hot meals)
Gear: 70 m 8.9 mm rope, ice tools and crampons, Jetboil

Since Matt couldn't come with us on the Kit Carson trip and was unable to take a day off to do Challenger with me, he got roped in (literally) for Little Bear. SW ridge is a popular route to do in winter, but I wasn't looking forward to repeating it, and since the avy conditions were still rated "green " by CAIC, I was more intrigued by the Hourglass route, which I haven't done. I gave it a few more days of melt/freeze cycle to be sure. Matt could only go on Saturday, and a big storm front was supposed to move in either later that day or on Sunday with strong winds expected, which definitely added to the anxiety factor. Given the time constraints AND a lot of extra gear for this climb, we decided to day trip it. We invited Jason Maki to join us, but he overslept his alarm. Matt and I rendezvoused low on Lake Como road, same spot we met before skiing Blanca with Jaaron and Bill M & Co last May. Alarm for me went off at 1.30 am. After loading Matt's truck with gear, we were off at 2.30 am. Without Jaaron and his monster truck, we were only able to drive to the familiar pull-off at 8,800 ft, and after gearing up, started hiking and skinning by 3.08 am. First 3 hours were spent in an already familiar and rather miserable grunt of almost 3k in the cold and dark up the Lake Como road. We arrived at Lake Como at 6.15 am just as the sky was lightening up. I pulled out the Jetboil from my pack, we topped off the fluids and had a quick breakfast of hot chocolate and spiced apple cider - always good for morale. After stashing Jetboil and dinner food at Lake Como, we left the established snowshoe trench and started making our way to the bottom of the gully.

Approaching the apron of the gully

Peaks will be in and out of clouds for the remainder of the day

Almost immediately we encountered deep sugary snow in the gully, and the upward progress burnt a lot of time and energy. In a couple of spots we punched through to our waists and were both punching through each other's steps. We could see where the windslab had slid before. Top of the gully had less snow and we were able to use some rocks.

Matt in the gully

After topping out on the ridge around 8.30 am, we joined the sunnyside. The summer route was easily recognizable by multiple cairns. Still frozen snow was holding me up (it will be different story on the descent). Winds were rather mild by winter standards and appeared less than forecasted. Sturdier Grivel crampons I brought (expecting ice) were giving me trouble, so that part got frustrating. Nevertheless, we were making decent progress for a while, keeping an eye on approaching clouds.

Keeping eyes on the prize

Eventually, the rocks ended and we were left with nothing but snowfields between us and the Hourglass. I took the lead since I was punching a bit less through breakable crust, but still had to pick my way through islands of rocks to avoid thigh and waist-deep postholing, and more importantly, not to disturb any wind slabs (CAIC maintained there was no persistent slab on SW aspects). Matt is really averse to postholing and had a bit more trouble with this section both on the up and down. Eventually we persevered and were finally staring into the Hourglass around 11 am or so.

Traversing the snowfields

Trying to float with mixed results - Natalie

On the apron of Hourglass

Peeking into the Hourglass

Weather was starting to look somewhat threatening, but we knew we had a few more hours before the storm was scheduled to arrive, and we were at 13,300 ft. Hourglass entrance was reasonably firm, so we decided to give it a go.

Matt takes the lead up the Hourglass

We encountered multiple ropes frozen into snow and ice, but we felt we didn't need them, since we brought one ice tool each. I almost counted on seeing some ice, and we soon indeed ran into it above the Hourglass. With our tools and crampons, it was quite manageable and kinda fun. It was Matt's first time swinging ice tools in the alpine and I think he enjoyed it. Top of the gully was fairly steep, but we just stayed with it. The moody weather was adding ambiance to this alpine endeavor.

Ice, ice baby

In the gully - Natalie

Swinging tools - Natalie

Top of the gully - Matt

Top of the gully was rockier and not as steep, but we were anxious to see the summit. It was a bit surreal to reach it half past noon. Winds were much less than we had on Blanca, but we didn't get much of a view.

Matt on the summit

Matt is obviously much better at taking summit photos - Natalie

Anxious to get out of the wind and to get down before the real storm arrives, we put on harnesses and hurried down. As we started the descent, the weather cleared out for a bit.

Off the summit

We hanged out by the anchors, ate lunch and rigged the rappel.

Down the Hourglass I go - Natalie

We could have downclimbed the gully, but rappelling was more fun and felt more secure. We, however, downclimbed the lower portion of the Hourglass, as the anchor rock was covered with snow and the angle was less steep than the upper part.

Matt downclimbs

Matt finishes the downclimb

At this point, being past 2 pm, we could see more serious clouds approaching, so we knew we had to hurry. Unfortunately, we still had to deal with the posthole fest on the traverse and be careful about not sliding down in sugar snow. Matt was slipping a bit more in this section and we had to take it slow.

Let the posthole fest begin



Road to safety

But as soon as we reached the rocks, our steps from this morning wouldn't hold me any longer and I started to punch through more than ever. Eventually, we reached the top of the couloir and plunge-stepped and glissaded down. Matt skied lower portion of it.

Heading home

A few turns - Matt

Despite having an hour of daylight still left, we decided to stop at the lake again and have some chicken noodle soup. We both felt very dehydrated. Feeling reenergized after a snack, we started the ski down at 6 pm, reaching the truck at 7.40 pm.

Parting look from the lake

Start - 3.08 am from 8,800 ft
Lake Como @11,700 ft - 6.15 am
Breakfast: 6.15 am to 7 am
Start of the ridge: 7.30 am
Top of the ridge: 8.45 am
Bottom of the Hourglass - 11 am
Summit: 12.30 pm
Start of the descent: 1 pm
Bottom of the Hourglass: 2.30 pm
Top of the ridge: 4 pm
Lake Como: 5 pm
Dinner: 5 pm to 6 pm
Start the ski down: 6 pm
Car: 7.38 pm

Comments or Questions
Nice work
02/11/2016 11:50
Looks tough and like a lot of fun climbing!

Joe W
Proud Work
02/11/2016 17:42
Nice display of endurance ,Natalie .

02/14/2016 11:43
tough go there, nicely done, good report

Nicely done, Natalie!
02/15/2016 10:06
Looks like excellent conditions. Reminds me of similar conditions of one of my climbs up the Bear like a forever 13 years ago. I love that mountain as a snow climb. Great pics and congratulations!

02/18/2016 09:13
Great write up of a fun day out!

Excellent report
11/24/2020 14:57
The hourglass looks like a lot more fun with snow in it.
Great report with wonderful photographs.
Thanks for posting this.

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