Sunday, May 23, 2010

Da Bear...

Nope, Mike Ditka was not on Little Bear Peak (14,037') on May 22, 2010 but there were at least 8 climbers that were on summit.  My regular climbing partner, Patrick Vall, and I have been studying this mountain for a while now and came to the conclusion that the safest time to climb this mountain was when there was snow on the crux...otherwise known as the "hourglass."  The hourglass is a rock formation that has a lot in common with a traditional hourglass - wide at the top/bottom and pinch point in the middle.  In this case, the pinch point funnels a cascade of rocks onto water slicked cliff bands that climbers are attempting to ascend.  Not wanting to be a clay pigeon in this shooting gallery, we decided to try the "bear" when the snow has consolidated into solid climbing conditions.

I left Denver Friday AM to pick up Patrick in Colorado Springs on way to the town of Blanca, CO.  Not much in Blanca these days but they had big plans once.  If you ever pull up Google Earth, you'll understand my comment.  We drove about 3 miles up Lake Como Road until the 4Runner could no longer go up due to huge rock bands across the path.  From there it was a 2-2.5 mile hike to Lake Como at 11,900'.  As we were the first folks up to Lake Como, we selected a small 10x12 cabin that's been modified over the years for climbers and 4x4'ers alike.  This was a good thing as winter still has a grasp on the high country at around 12,000'.  After a dinner of Top Raman and tuna, we called it a night.

The alarm went off at 4 AM - we started to boil water for oatmeal and hot Starbucks coffee - thank God for Via!  By 5 AM, we were geared and working our way to the first crux - a 600' snow filled 30-35 degree sloped gully.  After some crampon maintenance, we were at the top of the gully and traversing across the west ridge to the base of the hourglass.  At Point 12,980' Patrick called his climb due to not feeling 100% for the hourglass and encouraged me to continue...I did after knowing that Patrick would be watching my ascent for safety.  Seeing 4 climbers ahead of me, I attempted to catch up with them to tag the summit.

The crux of the climb had arrived...the hourglass...something I've read about for a year now and I was nervous.  Seeing good snow positioned at a 45 degree angle to the summit, I ascended.  I caught the first of the 4-person party above the pinch point of the hourglass and took some pics for 14er partner's (Alan Arnette) attempt next weekend.  Above the pinch point, the ascent went climber's left to the summit - a 50-55 degree snow slope.  Since many parties has summited Friday and Saturday AM, there was a great set of "steps" in the snow.  Within minutes, I'm on top of Little Bear Peak - #40 out of 54 summits complete.  I called Patrick on the walkie-talkie - "I'm on summit!"

I spent the next 10-15 minutes talking to fellow climbers, taking pictures, and eating/drinking.  My climb was half I had to descend the hourglass.  It took about 2 hours to get back to the base of the gully but I had made it.  The "bear" is a tough is to be respected.  My BMS training this year and last was a major factor in my summiting and the training paid off.

Next on the schedule - Dead Dog Couloir on Torrey's Peak next Monday.

Climb On my friends...

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