CMC Trip #30701: Little Bear Peak via West Ridge and Southeast Face

By Uwe Sartori and Sarah Maurer

Lake Como Road

Who’s been on it? Survey says! Worst approach of all the 14ers, in my opinion. As in, hiking hell. OK, a little over the top, but pretty close. It’s not a hiking trail, it’s a class 6 rock crawler trail. Ugly. Walking up Lake Como Road is like walking barefoot on cacti. Ok, that was definitely over the top. You should be getting the general picture of ‘oh what fun it is to hike on the Lake Como Road’. Coming down is not much better than going up. But don’t be discouraged by the griping. Lake Como and the three 14ers are well worth it.

Who Are We?

Parking at 8,600 feet gave us about a five-mile hike to look forward to. Plenty of time to chat. It was a great time to get to know each better. There were seven of us. Two team members, Marti and Mike, were going to meet us at Lake Como. They had come the day prior to do Blanca and Ellingwood.

Sarah, who recently completed the Denver Trip Leader School. She was on this trip to fulfill her Leader-In-Training field requirements. Jayson Crowley and Kaydence Doremus, a father-daughter team who are working to finish up the 14ers together this summer. Andreas Reuger, who leans toward the technical and rock climbing side. He is another who is engaged in CMC education, both as a student and instructor. Marti, a BMS graduate who would be finishing her 14ers with this trip. Mike, who joined CMC in 2011 to participate in the CMC Centennial 14ers Challenge and hasn’t slowed down since. For a CMC Trip Leader, here’s what matters: safety, training, communication, values like Leave No Trace and great teamwork. We had it covered.

Every climber has a story. Jayson talked about his journey.  I am sure many of us can relate to it.

My daughter Kaydence and I started climbing 14ers together in 2004 when she was in high school as a way to connect and build our relationship before she went away to college and grad school out of state. Two years ago, with less than a dozen peaks to finish, we ran into trouble attempting Mount Wilson and decided CMC could help us build the skills and confidence to finish. BMS graduation gave us what we were seeking, but more importantly we found like-minded outdoor enthusiasts to explore new adventures. My favorite moment on Little Bear, like most hikes, was when we finished the first major obstacle ó attaining the top of the gully ó and we were greeted by amazing sunrise colors over the San Luis Valley. I was also thrilled when I realized that my daughter and I used different, but equally effective techniques, learned in BMS, to navigate the hourglass safely. It’s always great when a good plan comes together.

Bear Comes to Camp

Marti and Mike, who were already back from their successful climbs of Blanca and Ellingwood, greeted us as we arrived above Lake Como. We learned a bear was in the camp and had taken down their bear bag.

Our turn. We made camp. Jayson hung his bear bag. Within five minutes, a black bear showed up, climbed up the tree and demonstrated the futility of hanging a bear bag when bears are around. After eating, the bear left. We scratched our heads, working on a plan B to keep food from the bear. We took an inventory of our food and went into share mode.

Sadly, there will be no happy ending for this bear. Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which monitor human-bear interactions, know about the bear. They said it is likely to be classified as habituated and put down. If only the bear never had the first taste of human food. Maybe the bear canister can become part of the recommended gear for multi-days trips.

At any rate, we wound up carrying all our food on our climb day. The end of the bear story: he found the trash bag Jayson hid over 200 yds. from camp, but nothing else. We did not see the bear on Sunday.

Gully at Dawn

Classic pre-dawn morning start. On the trail by 04:00 to climb the gully. The advantage of doing it this way is you do not have to look up at what you are climbing. By day, it is a miserable little gully, both up and down. But at night, it just feels like a steep ascent on sketchy dirt and rock. Crawling along the solid gully wall was the best way. Another reason for an early start is the weather. In our case, weather would be our friend all day long.

By the time we reached the top of the ridge, dawn was breaking. The weather was on our side – partly cloudy high up, comfortable temps and a slight breeze. After a short break, we tackled the hike over to the base of the Hourglass. Getting to there was straightforward. Between keeping an eye on the route and sighting cairns, we moved efficiently into position for the next bit of fun.

Rope in the Hourglass

Yes, there was a rope, actually two ropes tied together. The one through the Class 4 section was orange with several alpine butterfly knots to take out (some of) the nicked sections. There was a second (blue) rope tied to the bottom of it. If they keep adding rope, they can run it right down to the bottom of the gully by Lake Como.

There was a rumor going around that a new rope had been placed by the Forest Service. This was definitely not true of the rope in the steep section of the Hourglass. In fact, I’m pretty confident that it’s the same rope I saw here last season.

You can move through the Hourglass without the rope. Some say that is best to have no rope stationed in the Hourglass as it keeps away folks with poor scrambling skills. Others say a rope can be used to mitigate risk, giving a greater range of people an opportunity to realize a dream. In such cases, you would do well to bring your own rope to set in the Hourglass.

We all moved though the Hourglass just fine. With this climb, the mantra was, “No Rock Fall”, both in the gully and through the Hourglass and summit block. A careful scramble with good route finding brought us to the summit in short order. Andreas remarked at the end of the trip how pleased he was with our success in not generating rock fall.

Marti Finishes Her 14ers 

In her words:

I love being in the mountains ó it makes me feel Zen. And I love the fun and challenge of completing the climb. To gain some skills, I joined CMC and took WTS and then BMS. Both courses were great! I learned a ton and met really interesting people. We had the BEST crew on this trip – super fun, skilled, generous and laid back. We worked as a team and helped each other. My favorite memories of the trip are (1) getting back to camp safely and toasting, (2) having a PB&J (thanks Uwe) with the crew after tackling the return down the Hourglass, and (3) the never-ending but hilarious march back to the car. I will never forget this trip and am super grateful to everyone for helping me achieve my goal.”

Yes to Zen. Yes to success.

Not My Baby

The slightly overcast sky was giving way to sun as we began our descent back to camp. Happy times.

Back at camp, we celebrated Martiís 14er finish. Then we packed up and headed down my favorite road to whine about. Overcast skies came and went, making our decent pleasant. Well, almost. The feet took another beating from the Lake Como Road.

The road is shared with rock crawlers, one of whom we encountered at Jaws III. Jaws III is the name given to a short section of rocky road only suitable for rock crawlers.  There is a memorial plaque for a driver who died here.  Serious business. Anyway, the fellow stopped. His wife got out with her toddler, leaving the husband cradling another toddler in his arms as he sat behind the wheel.

So,” we asked, “he stays in the truck?

“It’s ok,” the driver answered. “He’s not my baby

Not the answer we expected. The fellow then attempted to call the toddler’s mom to see “if it’s ok he stays in the truck.”  We continued walking. Later they passed us, with happy toddlers in tow. Whew!  We made quick time getting down the road and reached Jayson’s Suburban after 8:00 p.m., just as the mosquitos were moving into feast mode.

Chicken On The Bone

It was definitely time to eat. We drove all the way to Walsenberg before finding an open restaurant – a combination Taco Bell/KFC fast food restaurant. We weren’t thrilled, but agreed it was better than nothing. We tried to walk in, and the door was locked. However, the drive through was open. Here’s a bit of that exchange between Jayson and the clerk.

Jayson: I’d like a burrito supreme.

Clerk: The Taco Bell is closed.

Jayson (dumbfounded): So what do you have?

Clerk: Chicken.

Jayson: What, like chicken nuggets?

Clerk: No, we only got chicken on the bone.

Everyone in our car had a bad feeling, so we declined chicken (on the bone) to press on towards Pueblo. Heading out, we found Marti and Mike in their car waiting at the drive-thru window. They told us that the KFC was apparently out of everything except one order of popcorn chicken, a biscuit and a side of mashed potatoes. But they were so hungry, they were going for it.

We arrived in Pueblo stopping at McDonalds, (the only place still open at 11 p.m.). On the way to Pueblo, we received the following text from Marti:

FYI, the [KFC] lady never came back to the window. They were mopping and I saw her go to the bathroom. We had paid but still drove off. You made the right call.

Undaunted, Marti and Mike took off and actually beat us to the Pueblo McDonalds where we enjoyed a surprise reunion in the parking lot. Finally fed and happy, we headed back to Denver, savoring our memories of Little Bear. And real bears.

Sarah, you nailed your LIT. Congratulations!!

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