Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,041 feet
"South Little Bear" - 14,028 feet
Date Posted:  08/12/2022
Modified:  08/15/2022
Date Climbed:   08/10/2022
Author:  ronbco
 SW ridge to Little Bear - more context   

Okay, I confess up front we did not get to the main peak. But this might help anyone coming up the SW ridge. We made it to the south peak ("mama bear") before I ran out of gas and we ran a bit short of time with some clouds threatening.

My goal here is to just add another perspective to the trip reports we studied before this climb. My son will be adding a more detailed report with pics. Consider this the perspective of the old man with him.

I've been climbing 14 and 13ers for 40 years and have now been on all the 14ers except Capitol. A good friend of mine died on that one long ago leaving a young family and I decided it would be disrespectful to my family to do that one. A few years ago I decided to settle for all but the most risky 5 peaks. But then I found myself going up the bells and pyramid, leaving just LB and Capitol. I heard enough about LB to have firmly decided I would not do it. But then my son spied the trip reports of the SW ridge to avoid the hourglass.

Having done 20+ 13ers and many other high peaks we were not intimidated to not have a trail.

So we took it on this week. And here are some things that may help someone:

  • I am 64 and pretty fit for this age. Yet this one kicked my butt. To give some perspective to that, earlier this summer we did 15 miles all with no trail in RMNP of the Ptarmigan and Andrews Peaks. It kicked my butt too but it was about 15 miles as I recall (albeit only 12ers). And a couple years ago I did McHenry's which is one of the hardest efforts. This LB south was every bit as hard physically if not more so. The relatively short total distance from our camp spot at Tobin Falls (7 miles), and a net of only 4600' vert made it seem like it would not be too bad. Alas, not so. The offtrail ascent of 2.5k (swag here) in less than 2 mil to get to the talus ridge is hard but not too bad. Then you hit the endlessly long talus ridge. Every report has mentioned how hard it is. I suppose one has to experience it to believe it. It's only another 2k in 2 miles or so with no route finding or towers to go around. How hard can it be? I set my mind to "this will be infinitely long" so I was not vulnerable to the false summits. You are told that the "camel humps" will cost you more vert, but it is hard to imagine such relatively short descents being an impact. Indeed they aren't UNTIL you are returning and tired! The camel hump tax works out to be 1k vert in RT. Even that would not be too bad if there was ANY break from talus over 4 miles RT! I realized that I've never in 100 climbs had more than say .5 miles at once of talus. Indeed the Ptarmigan-Taylor circuit was almost all tundra by comparison. You are saying "so what, it's just talus" well if you are 60+ years old the "what" it a heavy toll. For the last 5 years or so, even with no vertigo and pretty good fitness I find myself vulnerable to falling on easy terrain. There is no denying that in your mid 50s you likely will start realizing that your "clock speed" for recognizing a slip or movement of a rock is too slow to make a correction. Okay, enough already. Except one more thing ;-) my son is VERY fit, as in he can RT Longs in like 4 hrs. This RT from Tobin Creek Falls would likely take him 8 and it is many miles shorter and less vert. Staying with me we did it in 13 hrs!!! When almost down off the ridge talus I officially nominated the ridge as "lord of suck". There were no other nominations and so the resolution was passed.
  • Tobin Falls is a good place to camp. It is about 2.5 miles from where one likely will park on Lake Como Rd. It is an easy "bushwhack" albeit you likely will not find the trace dirt roads to go the entire way. But the forest is not thick and there weren't many briars. The falls were running real well even in early August. So here is the necessary water for this route. There is none beyond. There are not places for a tent but we cleared out some fallen timber and had a great layout spot right on the creek. The falls themselves are beautiful! This camp site is my recommendation for an option to knock of some of the distance from the 15 mile RT from Lake Como Rd. However a predawn start up the slope from there would be difficult as it is so steep and you will be route finding around trees and cactus. We didn't hit it until 6am with reasonable light. I am glad we did not start at 5am in the dark even though getting closer to tree line would have made the summit day less terrible.
  • I highly recommend a GPS trackback if you find a good way up. It is easy on the return to get suckered into moving down into the canyon too soon following the lure of the water sound. We had a track from a good ascent but still struggled to find a "good" way down in my exhaustion at that point. It is like 1600' in 1 mile, so it is steep.
  • The "knife edge" was not as exposed on the SE side as I expected. I can't imagine anyone who would take on a route like this on a peak like this would be stopped. It looked quite tame to go below it. I went on it and had just a moment of pause half way as there is a leg swing around with no obvious foot landing spot that was pretty big. But I never felt like a fall would kill me. Still, no place to fall and break a leg. By contrast this is no where near as exposed as say Wetterhorn steps, Eolus sidewalk, or the ridge ledge on Challenger. I really don't know what to compare it to as it is very short but still one where you are going to use your hands on a knife edge to support yourself on the slab. The rock under your feet and for your hand holds is completely solid. My son opted to just cross carefully using mostly friction just below that edge and if there was no exposure he would not even have crouched and gone slow. It is not that steep. Overall, in the entire narrow parts of the ridge walking I think I only experienced 2 medium sized rocks that were surprisingly loose; that's actually below average. I guess that is the mountain's concession for miles of loose talus on the broad part of the ridge.

Okay one final point to make here. I have taken to advising anyone who is interested in 14ers to NOT get wrapped up in finishing all of them. Just pick the ones that seem most fun and beautiful and spend the rest of your energy on beautiful, uncrowded, less effort (drive and hike) 13ers. For example, don't waste your energy on Tabeguache and instead consider Isolation Peak. Why are we obsessing over a threshold based on a base-10 increment of FEET! And why are we not calling climbing South Little Bear a 14er when it is a 1 hr ridge RT from the main peak that is like 13' higher?

Addendum on Risk: While on, the summit we had the somewhat typical discussion of what is riskier; driving on the freeway or climbing with exposure. At one point my son made the comment "nothing really could have happened to you on the knife edge". He was right. The rock was dry and solid. There were foot placements with leverage and traction, the hand holds on the knife edge rock were 100% solid and I had good gloves. There was no weather. It's just the psychological effect of exposure. On the way home, on E470, in the fast lane, with heavy volume, going 70+ the front tire dramatically failed. In a moment of instinct, and given the surrounding traffic, we pulled over on the very narrow margin on the left. We had perhaps 4' from the path of the cars in the fast lane. It was terror. Especially as we saw in the rear view that some drivers were texting and did not see us from a distance and they had to adjust at the last moment. We then had to find a gap to drive on the flat tire across 3 lanes to the shoulder on the right to safely change the tire. Now THAT is real exposure with many more out of control factors!





Comments or Questions
ndomke
User
Good work
08/12/2022 18:57
Sounds like a big, tough day out there and I appreciate your candor on the route.


CaptainSuburbia
User
Nice!
08/12/2022 19:12
Great report! Makes me want to climb it again. South Little Bear should be the 59th 14er.


SnowAlien
User
Terrible route
08/12/2022 22:46
I concur. Hourglass is way more fun


Gulf_Coast_Hiker
This!
08/13/2022 18:08
Congrats on all that you've accomplished and love your quote:

"Okay one final point to make here. I have taken to advising anyone who is interested in 14ers to NOT get wrapped up in finishing all of them. Just pick the ones that seem most fun and beautiful and spend the rest of your energy on beautiful, uncrowded, less effort (drive and hike) 13ers. For example, don't waste your energy on Tabeguache and instead consider Isolation Peak. Why are we obsessing over a threshold based on a base-10 increment of FEET! And why are we not calling climbing South Little Bear a 14er when it is a 1 hr ridge RT from the main peak that is like 13' higher?"

From a different perspective, those of us who do not have the pleasure of living in CO have to make tough choices as to how we spend our limited time when hiking. I would love to hike Isolation Peak. But I've only done nine 14'ers (I've run more ultras in CO than 14ers). It's frustrating to put together an itinerary but all I know is that I can't wait to be out there next week! And yes I may attempt Shavano and Tabequache and it may be busy and crowded but that's okay with me. :-)


turbocat
User
Good info.
08/15/2022 07:50
Thanks for the information. I have been considering checking out this route for quite some time. Appreciate you taking the time to write about it.



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