Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,041 feet
Blanca Peak  -  14,350 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,057 feet
Date Posted:  09/18/2021
Modified:  09/19/2021
Date Climbed:   09/17/2021
Author:  Wentzl
 West Ridge Direct on Little Bear   

This trip report will primarily focus on providing information about climbing Little Bear via the West Ridge Direct. After that, I will share a couple thoughts and photos on the traverse to Blanca, continuing on the Ellingwood and then describing a descent off Ellingwood via a steep and enjoyable gully. Finally, I will summarize and compare the various routes on Little Bear.

On Thursday, September 16 I started out from Montrose for the Lake Como Rd and drove up just about a mile to set camp. On Friday morning I started at 6:30 a.m. and drove another 4 miles up the road, starting to hike just a little before 7:00 a.m. I got past the lake and started up the first gully on the Hour Glass route route just past 8:00 and up to the crest of the West Ridge right at 9:00.

A word about this first gully. It is very loose and pretty dangerous. All the attention is given to the hourglass, but while I have never kicked a rock down the hourglass, I have dislodged a couple pretty good sized stones down this first loose and dirty gully. Extreme care should be taken when going up this feature.

First gully up from Lake Como

About this time a couple guys I had met on the trail earlier, Jack and Steve from Colorado Springs, came up and while their plan was to do the hourglass, they decided to join me on the west ridge direct. They were good company and I was happy to explore the new route with them.

One thing that struck me was that the ridge crest at the start is much more fun than the trail that meanders just below the ridge line and is considered the standard route. For about 0.5 mile the ridge is just an easy cruise and then it drops down to a saddle where it intersects the standard route. Anyone doing either the West Ridge or the Hourglass would be well advised to just start out on the ridge crest and not bother with the first part of the sidehilling, and in places obscure, trail.

Jack on the start of the West Ridge
Little Bear West Ridge
Steve working up the lower section of the West Ridge before it intersects with the hourglass trail

After intersecting the hourglass trail the West Ridge steepens considerably. While it looks intimidating, much of the ridge is third class with a few problems along the way. I thought that the first crux, a steep section just a short way before the chimney, was the most difficult. Others will disagree. Since there are some friction moves, some chimney moves and some face climbing it will depend on what each climber is comfortable with.

Getting started on the steeper section of the ridge
The first crux
Looking back down the ridge just before the chimney

If you get past the section in the previous photo, the rest of the ridge should be well within your comfort zone. The chimney, which looks difficult in other reports I have read, really is like a ladder with all the large ledges and handholds that are present.

This chimney looks difficult, but in my opinion, getting here was harder.

The next couple photos are from the top of the chimney looking back down the ridge and showing Jack and Steve coming up through it.

Steve working his way up to the Chimney
Steve in the Chimney, Jack following
Jack coming up.

After the chimney, there are lots of steep sections, but all if it was very secure and there was always a solid way up not exceeding third class scrambling for a while.

Working up the ridge. Easier than it looked was the theme of the day!

After a while the ridge sort of flattens out and ahead is more of a face than a ridge. At this point it is possible to exit hard to the right, where you will intersect the hourglass trail above the hourglass. There is a large, three foot tall, cairn and an obvious trail. At this point Steve opted to take the trail while Jack and I pressed on with the West Ridge. Steve told us that the trail was obscure at times, but we all reached the summit at about the same time.

Upper West Ridge. Exit to the right is an option.
Last bit of the ridge before we split up.

If you opt to stay on the West Ridge there is one decent obstacle to get over before reaching the summit.

Final Obstacle

Jack pulled straight over the middle and declared it 5.3ish while I looked for an easier way around and found it no harder than 4th class by going up and around to the left.

We all met on the summit at 11:00 and agreed that the West Ridge direct was a very enjoyable route. In summary, this route was a lot of fun and not as difficult as it looks. If you can get yourself past the first crux comfortably you will enjoy the rest of the climb.

Jack and Steve were not tempted by my invite to join on the traverse to Blanca so we split up and they headed back down the hourglass route while I set off for Blanca and Ellingwood.

There have been plenty of reports on the traverse. Not much to add here.

White Cairn = 1/2 way to Blanca

The previous photo is looking back at Little Bear from about 1/2 way across the traverse. I like the distinctive white cairn.

Ellingwood Point

The previous photo is Ellingwood Point from somewhere along the traverse. The distinctive and improbably looking gully which starts just to the left of the summit is the route I took on my descent off Ellingwood. It is the second time I used this gully and I really liked it. More about that in a bit.

Final three towers on the traverse to Blanca

I got to the summit of Blanca at exactly 1:00 p.m. making the traverse in 1hr 45min.

Little Bear from the summit of Blanca.

Just a word about Blanca. When I was topping out I came across a couple hiking the standard route from the saddle with Ellingwood. Somehow they had meandered far from the N Ridge and were wandering up the W Face where the traverse comes across. When I set down off the N Ridge toward Ellingwood I noticed that the social trails down from the summit were very confusing and I could see how the couple were pulled off route. I have read other accounts of people talking about the terrible decent off Blanca. To avoid any unpleasantness, stay as close to the crest of the N Ridge as possible all the way down to the saddle with Ellingwood.

Don't leave the ridge until you see this tower of rock!

From the cairn near the saddle of Blanca and Ellingwood there is a nice trail that takes you over to Ellingwood. I have stayed close to the ridge crest to make this traverse, but it is worth finding the trail, which is well marked with numerous cairns and pretty easy to follow. You lose almost no elevation and using this trail I made it from the Blanca summit to the Ellingwood Point summit in just about an hour.

People heading north off Ellingwood toward Zappata Falls.

From the summit of Ellingwood Point you can head down the West Ridge for a long way and eventually work down a long and not very nice scree field back to the main trail. A few years ago I descended a steep red gully just off the summit to the west and it was sort of amazing that it went without cliffing out. Now, having done it twice, I can say that I really like this descent. It may not be for everyone. It is steep. It is loose. It would not be a good option for a group and I would not consider going up, but for a solo hike after a long day up high, it is a nice shortcut and the most expedient way to get down from Ellingwood. I won't say much more about it, but instead, let the next 5 photos tell the story:

Start of Red Gully Descent
Looking back up after about 1/3 of the way down
Getting into the choke
The rock is more fun than the scree
Looking back up after exiting the gully

Alright, that is the report. Now a word about the various routes on Little Bear.

Hourglass - The standard route because it is the most straightforward. Technically, I would say the difficulties of the hourglass are no more severe than the West Ridge or the North Face, but with the security of the rope that is usually there, it is an obvious crowd favorite.

The North Face - Getting past the Black Hand is fun, but it took me three tries to figure out how to climb up while keeping the difficulties within my comfort range. The difficulties above the Black Hand depend on route finding. I was able to access the ridge without any real trouble. Then, of course, you have to do the crux moves of the LB/B traverse to summit. If this is your first ascent of Little Bear, you will have some work to do getting off as route finding will present a challenge.

SW Ridge - Technically the easiest way to reach the summit of Little Bear. The traverse from Mama Bear to Little Bear is a little tricky, but not up to the difficulties of the other routes.

West Ridge Direct - Maybe the most fun of any of the routes on Little Bear.

Traverse - I have not done it yet, but doing the traverse in reverse from Blanca to LB will be the next time I get up there.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Comments or Questions
Descent gully
09/19/2021 08:24
Fwiw there is a second, better gully another quarter mile down Ellingwood‘s SW ridge. The top of the gully is large stable talus and you can then get onto a fun ledge system to your left (descending) the rest of the way. There‘s a short, flattish talus hop and then you‘re back on trail. There‘s actually a cairn at the top of this gully and then a few along the ledge system. I have pictures from the top of the gully, trying to figure out how to upload them.

Thanks for writing this up. There‘s not much good beta available on this route. I agree the chimney isn‘t difficult, it‘s just very exposed. I thought the hardest climbing, although optional, is above after the ridge opens up. It‘s a good warm up for the traverse.

Ellingwood SW Ridge
09/20/2021 10:30
Is how I descended after doing the cirque. I assumed it was the standard route. Apparently doubling back toward Blanca is considered standard, but regardless... the whole SW ridge went at 3rd class almost entirely ridge proper besides the brief scamper between the ridge and the lake. Worth staying full ridge unless you really enjoy those tight dry gullies.

Descent gully
01/21/2022 15:10
Thanks, Wentzl. I think you described this gully in one of your earlier trip reports and I did use it going down Ellingwood in 2018. It is FAST. My buddy went to camp after we came from Blanca to Blanca-Ellingwood saddle, I ran up Ellingwood and got down this gully. When I got to camp, he only had been there 10 min. There is only one short section of class 4 downclimb near the bottom. If you are alone, or there is no more than two of you, this is by far the speediest way down Ellingwood. Of course, if time is unlimited, taking SW ridge down is more fun.

LB NW face
01/21/2022 15:16
I agree with Wentzl, not many people stress the bad aspect of the first gully up from the lake to the SW ridge (if you are to do hourglass or SW ridge direct). That gully sucks royally! Not difficult but so loose, nothing pleasant about it. That's why i think going up NW face is the best way to go. Yes, getting past the black hand is the crux, or at least the tricky part. I had your trip report so I made it the first time, but i can see that it is not straightforward. Roach recommends going left (east) of the black hand. I did not look that way. One thing I would add, once you get closer to the ridge, there is no need to go left like you did, one can veer right and take class 4+ rock almost to the summit of LB. Of course, if you are about to do the traverse, it does not matter, you will be on that ridge no matter what. I did not, I descended the hourglass.

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