Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,041 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,350 feet
Date Posted:  07/27/2021
Modified:  07/28/2021
Date Climbed:   07/26/2021
Author:  Camden7
 Little Bear and Blanca sans traverse. Good fun!   

I am 14. Some 7 yr olds have climbed the 14ers, so I’m not all that special, but I am not normal either. With three fourteeners left, and Little Bear being my hardest, I was really hyped for it. Excited, for sure, but nervous, too. What if I can’t do it? Will I not be able to finish the fourteeners? Am I gonna get hurt? So many anxious questions in my head, circling like vultures, smelling my weakness, knowing they soon may feast.

Huge flooded areas can be seen in the San Luis valley below. They got some rain on friday.

We had spent the two previous days in the Sawatch, climbing Emerald Peak, then Ice and North Apostle. I found Ice pretty scary, and Roach calls that 3rd class, while he calls little Bear 4th to 5th. That was making me really nervous. We got to bed later than we wanted. I couldn’t sleep. When I finally did, several vehicles drove past and woke us up at 11. Then I couldn’t sleep. Then I woke up with a bloody nose. Then the alarm went off. At 2:30. We left the truck at 3:03 and began trudging up the road. I had hardly slept last night, but still I was tense with caged energy, hoping I was ready to tackle Little Bear.

Stats: ~14 miles ~7,000 vert 11.5 hours

From our camp at 9,850 feet, it took a little over an hour to Lake Como at 11,600.

iPhone 11 Pro "night mode" allows clear view of little bear, in the pitch blackness an hour and a half before first light.

After taking a break and stashing water, we started up the gulley on LB’s west ridge at 4:30. We made quick work of the gulley(the west side is definitely the best), then eased our pace along the ridge, finding a well cairned trail south of the ridge, that conveniently lead right into the traverse. We were now sure that no parties were ahead of us. Traversing to the hourglass, there are two trails. At first, there is one. Then, a super faint trail climbs away from the traverse. Then the main trail peters out and leaves you on a very unstable slope, with no cairns, no trial, and in the dark, no idea that there is still a trail above you. On the way back, it is clear that this higher route is where you want to be. The turn off is easy to miss, but worth finding. At 5:45 we reached the base of the Hourglass just as the first light brought the world into color and focus. Time to stop fretting and start climbing. Or make the right decision for my skill level, descend now, and admit that 14 is too young for me to climb LB.

Some background info: the last 3 days had been soaked with heavy rain. Friday brought flooding to much of the state, and even 3 days later the San Luis Valley was a vast wetland, rather than the high desert it usually is. Translation: the Hourglass was flowing more than any pictures I had ever seen. There was a three foot wide section of water flowing, at least an inch deep, maybe more. The upper part of the Couloir was shiny in the light of the setting moon. Perfect. We decided to launch, and it began better than I expected. The first hundred feet we stayed left of the center, climbing 3rd class on solid rock. It was so fun that I was actually laughing. Then we got to Roach’s “crux” left of the water, several moves of 5.2ish were absolutely delightful. This is the first time I have EVER climbed exposed 5th class without a rope. It was great, but I don’t feel like I need to make a habit of it.

Fun climbing at the beginning of the hourglass. TX Guides devoured the bottom portion off the gulley with ease. Crux visible above.
Me on Roach's 5.2 crux. It is hard to see in picture, but tons of water flowing down on the right.

Then above Mr. Roach’s crux, it got way harder. Very exposed 5.0 slab, with flowing water all the way across the Couloir. There was no dry rock, there was no easier way. It was this, or down. We continued up, and in this section a fixed rope began. We didn’t use it, not knowing its condition. After getting above the flowing slab, my hands became very sad. 40 degrees is a little chilly to be soaking your hands in snowmelt/melted hail on a shady face. Cold hands were not ideal, with plenty of exposed 3rd class ahead. At least the rock deteriorates as you ascend. Isn’t this perfect? Finally, 45 minutes from the base of the Hourglass, we reached the summit at 6:30

Right above the wet 5.0 slab. cold and a little scared, but glad to have it out of the way.

We spent an hour on top, eating, drinking, warming hands, and trying to get into the right mental space. We started our descent and found a MUCH better way down. From the summit, start down the obvious gully, then traverse west on a clear weakness to the next gulley over, following some cairns, but don’t totally rely on them, some will take you in the wrong direction. Do a short 4th class down climb, then reach easier terrain, and follow a switch backing trail down class 2+ terrain as it heads surprisingly far right (west) to a minor ridge. Down climb several moves of class 3 to reach the anchors and top of the hourglass.

At this point we met a party of four kids (much older than me) from Boulder. Two were sitting down, and two standing. The one standing closest to us opened a conversation with “hey so uh, um what is your plan for getting down?” We explained our route within the hourglass, and told them how to make overhands in the rope to use as holds. One of the sitting climbers was shivering and crying, clearly terrified and cold. We told them about the route to the summit, and explained that they had done the hard stuff. The one who had first spoken closed with a thank you, and said that we had really raised their spirits, and they may have turned around without our insight.

We inspected the anchor and rope, and decided they were good. They were definitely new this summer. We started down, and when we reached the 5.0 slab, we used the rope as a safety line, by tying over hands and looping them around our wrists. The rope ends on a small ledge. We then down climbed the 5.2 pitch, then the 3rd class, reaching safety at last. They party above us was very courteous and didn’t kick so much as a grain of sand down on us.

After Returning to the Mt. Blanca Road, we gathered our stashed water, and dove into a Gatorade. We had brought lots of extra water to keep options open, and I threw out that we hike up to crystal lake, and maybe even climb Blanca again (I had climbed it when I was 12). Dad responded with a “why not” and I concluded the conversation with a “yeah let’s do it I feel great.”

Interesting view of Ellingwood point from near the end of the road.
Huerfano Peak from the Ellingwood/Blanca Saddle. Hoping to do it later this summer. Huerfano means "Orphan Boy" in spanish.
A very unimpressive attempt at a creative shot with a cairn. Nice view of Ellingwood, though.

Me on the summit of Blanca. It is one of only 5 14ers that I have climbed twice. California Peak in the background.
Colombines. Yay!

We started up the road towards the blue lakes, and then up to crystal lake, keeping our heart rates low and our paces slow, knowing this afternoon would be a haul. We reached the saddle at 13,700, and I decided to see if I was as fit as I thought I was. 9 minutes for 645 vertical. Extrapolated, that is 4,000 vert an hour. 7,000 vert into the day, that was a pace I felt I could be proud of, especially across class 2+ wet boulders. The hike out was long, and we reached our truck around 2:30, 11:30 hours after we started. We drove home to amazing homemade fish tacos and spicy serrano pepper cilantro sauce. Hooray for Mom!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
07/28/2021 12:01
Effort and TR!! Ummmm you‘re kinda REALLY fast.

Nice Work
07/28/2021 13:09
My Dude!

07/28/2021 22:03
Hopefully others in your age group will be inspired to choose, and reach their summits. Please continue to inspire, and guide.

07/28/2021 22:15
That is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me =)

07/29/2021 15:17
That's all I can say... Wow!

Inspiring x 2
08/24/2021 22:12
You‘re definitely not normal, and I mean that in the best of ways. The world needs more not-normal kids like you! In addition to your climbing, your writing is awesome too! Please keep it all up. I‘m sure I‘m not the only one looking forward to reading about your finisher!

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