Peak(s):  Little Bear Peak  -  14,041 feet
"South Little Bear" - 14,028 feet
Date Posted:  07/14/2010
Modified:  01/20/2012
Date Climbed:   07/12/2010
Author:  doggler
 Traverse Trip Day 3 - Little Bear SW Ridge   

Little Bear Peak 14,037' - Southwest Ridge
Date Climbed - 7/10/2010
Climbers - doggler and Patrick

Decisions that aren't really decisions

Sunday, 1:30 PM. Patrick and I left the San Juans feeling a bit meloncholy. We knew we had a hard day ahead of us and a long way to get there - about 300 miles, with stops in Ridgeway and Durango. Furthermore, we had just ended a great morning in a not so great way. Witnessing Chris's accident shook me more than I'd like to admit. Not so much in the "phew, that could have happened to me" way, but we were so close to having a very ugly situation on our hands.

I've made my share of bad decisions. Fifteen years ago, my buddy and I climbed Torrey's from Loveland Pass in the afternoon, in jeans, with no water or backpacks. We didn't know any better...we lived and we learned. Three years ago I left for a summit at 10 AM and consequently felt my axe vibrate on the summit - I would have never been in that situation had I simply honored the simple rule of start early. I lived and I learned. On the north face of Mt. Wilson, I learned that mountaineering isn't like college. You can't get away with making good decisions 90% percent of the time. You are often one mistake away from bad things. I carried this with me as we drove east towards the Sangres.

On our drive, we conferred with our "home base" in Castle Rock. We were given the updated weather reports through,,, and All suggested that moisture would be moving out overnight and it would be warm and dry on Monday. Furthermore, the wind speed would only be 5-10mph down low.

Pulling as high up Lake Como Rd. as the dogglermobile would go, we parked at 9:30 and talked about Monday's plan. We decided we were going to ascend Little Bear via the southwest ridge, traverse across to Blanca Peak, and then descend via the dreaded road. We made the decision to sleep in a little on this one, feeling that an extra hour and a half of sleep would have more benefit than leaving an hour and a half earlier. Additionally, we were concerned about going off-route while bushwacking in the dark while trying to gain the southwest ridge. Looking back, I believe this was the correct decision.

The beatings will continue until morale improves!

Besides the page dedicated to the route on and tmatthews' TR, information on this route is scant. Furthermore, it was my guess that very few people have ever done it from Lake Como Rd. We couldn't in good conscience encroach on the private property and play dumb, so we knew we were adding a good deal of work to an already long day.

Our general route. Although it looks "straight", it consisted of much up-and-over, taking whatever the terrain gav

However, that proved to be part of the allure to it! We knew that without GPS, it would be extremely easy to hop up too early and end up on the wrong ridge. Looking at the topo, it seemed like it would be very easy to do!

one of the more open spots on the bushwack

there were a few very faint "roads", but they weren't very helpful. SLOW GOING!

We kept climbing up and traversing over, trying to find the path of least resistance through the scrub, trees, yuccas, and cacti. We wanted to hit Tobin Creek as high up as possible below the canyon. We ended up getting pretty close!


It took a LONG time just to reach Tobin Creek; just short of two hours, to be exact!

The cliffs on the east side of Tobin Creek

Once we crossed the creek, the plan was simple: go UP!

The usual scenery on the lower ridge

As we began the slog up the ridge, we came across tape. As far as we could tell, it was the closest thing to an old "route" that we could find...every once in a while, you could even see evidence of a trail at one time existing! It was too faint to follow; instead what happened was we continued to give what the terrain gave us, and in turn, we kept running into the trail. This continued for maybe 1,000 vertical feet.


Still on!

The wind was blowing before we hit tree line, but the second we got out in the open, we were blasted pretty good...we figured 30 mph or so. It wasn't bad enough to bail yet, but it slowed our progress to what felt like a crawl.

Looking south at the San Luis Valley

A lot of very old, very cool trees on the ridge

Approaching tree line. There's a reason they don't call it "talus line"...because we were digging through

The ridge undulated quite a bit, so the views alternated between amazing and depressing. Having been to Como Lake three times, seeing LB from this vantage got me jazzed! It was easy to see the remainders of both the SW Ridge and the Hourglass route! Unfortunately, the desire to escape the northerly wind kept us just a little below the ridge line on the south side and therefore unable to appreciate the view.


most of LB's hourglass

Until we reached tmatthews' point 13,182', we found ourselves not just talus-hopping, but talus-HUMPING. The rock sucked...however, the view was great and we weren't on Lake Como Road. The next couple of pictures shows this.



Little Bear Lake(left) and Lake Como(right)

summit of South Little Bear

We got to the summit of South Little Bear five hours after we left the car on Lake Como Road. It was 10:30.


Looking across a mini-ridge to Little Bear's main summit, we could tell the difficulty was about to increase dramatically. The ridge didn't disappoint, and 25 fun-filled minutes later we were atop Little Bear!

The wind was pretty annoying during the traverse from South Little Bear, but the main summit was catching some of the wind, and the rest was coming directly at us instead of from the side. This was doable.

We looked across to Blanca. It looked doable. We started down, but immediately had to deal with strong crosswind gusts. The voice in my head reminded me to bail when things were about to get stupid. Patrick looked at me, and I knew what he was thinking - let's turn around. I agreed. Maybe on a calm day, but it was just too easy to imagine getting swept off the ridge by a monster gust. We turned around at 11:30 - six hours after we started.


Hourglass beta

Looooooong ridge

Once past the difficulties of the LB - South LB ridge, I had a lot of time to process. I kept thinking about the difference how "runner doggler" has to make totally different types of decisions as "mountaineer doggler". In races, you can push yourself to your limits. Just doing so is why many people run. However, if you push too hard, what are the consequences? You pull out of the race, you run a slow time. You live to race another day. In mountaineering, one must exercise so much more caution. If you try to push yourself to your limits and you're wrong...well, the consequences are a little more dire. Watching Chris shoot down that snowfield on Sunday was a reminder that bad things can happen.

Oh look, more trees and talus!

This tree got zapped pretty good

A gorgeous waterfall on Tobin Creek

Abandoned aluminum cans, circa not 2010

My mind wandered during our return to Lake Como Rd. I felt good about our decision to turn back. It was an easy decision. I thought about the past three days and all that Patrick and I had done - the climbing, the driving, the talking...I was pretty stoked. Even though we didn't complete the traverse, we had gotten a chance to summit Little Bear from a rarely climbed route. We wondered who else has been stupid enough to have bushwacked from Lake Como Rd.

Although he wouldn't admit it, Patrick was having some pretty painful knee issues. (he tore his ACL a year and a half ago. Jumping downhill on talus for miles upon miles will jar it around a little bit!) I decided we were done for the trip. Although we didn't accomplish our goal, I know I learned a bit more about this craft. Additionally, I now have to only visit Longs, Wilson Peak, and Bierstadt in order to "finish" and just do whatever I feel like doing.

At 4:30PM, we got back to the car. We had been out for almost 11 hours, which is one of the longer days I've ever had. We were both quite tired and ready to celebrate.

Cheers - what a trip!

What can I say? This climb was long. If the access issues near Tobin Creek ever get worked out and some trail work on the lower sections is done, this should be the standard route of Little Bear. If you're fit and savvy and curious, I highly recommend this route. It truly was a unique experience!

Nearly all of the route

Little Bear's southwest ridge

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Highly enjoyable reads
07/14/2010 07:01
Thanks for detailing your quest. I was thinking of you over the weekend, hoping for the best and curious to hear the outcome.

Love your report style and the wisdom you depart with us all. Despite the early finish to your quest, i still feel very inspired.

07/14/2010 13:31
Great job on that long route, Sean! It seems that you were quite a bit faster than we were! Sorry you didn‘t get the LB/Blanca traverse, but I applaud your decision not to continue on. I‘m sure if you did, you probably would have had an almost 15-hour day like we did!

I hope our report helped as well!


07/14/2010 14:33
”We wondered who else has been stupid enough to have bushwacked from Lake Como Rd.” When I headed up there last year with DHatfield, that was *exactly* what we planned on doing - originally! It‘s tough to avoid the private property up there without turning this into an even more arduous route. Nice work on the Bells, Wilson traverse, and the Southwest ridge. You guys made a good run of it, and knew when to quit. No shame in that :-) It really is about knowing when to turn around, even when you know you can push on... you still have to get down, at some point.

Great job
07/14/2010 15:36
Sometimes it takes being truly pushed to yield true insight. Your TRs did not disappoint. Hopefully you are very proud of your past days‘ accomplishments.

The Bear!
07/15/2010 00:48
Nice work - solid planning, persistence balanced with caution, and a successful day! Congrats also on being one summit closer to ”finishing” the 14ers!

07/15/2010 01:14
Not an easy few days!

James Scott
07/15/2010 04:20
I really like how you describe the difference between pushing yourself during a run and pushing yourself on a mountain. I‘ve had similar thoughts at times. I felt a small part of your frustration at turning around- I was really rooting for you- but surely you did the wise thing. Well done physically, then well done mentally. I enjoyed watching from afar.

07/15/2010 13:58
slagg - although I‘ve never heard my name associated with ‘wise‘, I appreciate the comment.

Terry - your TR was critical to our success. Fun route! However, we knew that turning around was going to make our day MUCH longer than simply finishing the traverse and scooting down Lake Como Rd. Our descent took about as long as the climb.

niner - I did think one of those couliors may be doable, but I certainly wouldn‘t want to go up the west ridge, down the other side, then up the SW ridge. Probably more hassle than just grunting out the SW ridge in entirety. In a perfect world, some agreement with the landowners on the massif‘s south side would open up access. A little bit of trail work would make the ridge much more pleasant.

Joseph - you got it. We both ”learned” a lot from our trip, and much of it is intangible.

James - no worries. Honestly, there was no frustration. The decision to turn around was simple and we have no regrets.

Thanks all for the kind words. Happy trails!

07/16/2010 22:27
Yes...your decision to turn around and not become a victim of the wind gusts was wise! You are still with us as a result. I prayed for your safety. Glad to hear the prayers were answered.

Great report on a seldom used route and great effort over the past 3 days!!!

05/02/2011 14:23
That is one heck of an impressive 3 day trip. Thanks for trip reports.

07/29/2013 18:29
I‘ve been in awe of your accomplishments the past few days. Great reads! Did you happen to get a chance to look down any of the couloirs around ”point 13,182” and around 13,400 or so? As far as a new standard route goes, I‘m wondering if any of those couloirs would be more desirable to get up to the southwest ridge (start from Lake como, go over that ridge, and then across the drainage to one of those couloirs). than the massive talus hop/bushwhack that is mandatory from Lake Como road.

Thanks for the report!

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