A Bear of a Winter Ascent – Little Bear 03/01/09

A Bear of a Winter Ascent – Little Bear 03/01/09

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Mar 1, 2009
Activities Activities: Mountaineering, Ice Climbing, Mixed, Scrambling, Skiing
Seasons Season: Winter

Route Stats

Mountains: Little Bear (14,037’)
Route: Started skinning at 7:30AM to the base of the gully from the shack by Lake Como. Climbed the West Ridge and SW Face / Hourglass to summit.
Elevation Gain - 2400’ (approx)


Continued from https://www.summitpost.org/trip-report/494965/Ellingwood-Point-South-Face-Winter-Ascent-02-28-09.html

We’d had a successful day on Ellingwood Point and our campfire had warmed our extremities satisfactorily. We sat for a little while with our Mountain House meals, tea and hot chocolate, discussing plans for Little Bear the next day. We were tired and put off packing until the next morning. After flirting with the snooze button for a while, we arose, ate, packed and left the shack at 7:30AM. Debbie planned to pack and head back down to the truck and wait for us there. Doumall and I packed both of our 30m rando ropes, harnesses, mountaineering crampons, beacon, ice tools, pro, ski gear, and prepared for a harsh day. I was a little warmer in my sleeping bag this night (Note to self: Bring down jacket and less food on next winter camping expedition). We skinned to the base of the gully leading to the West ridge.

The Gully

At the base of the gully I left my skis. Neither skill nor intention would allow me to ski this mountain this day. We both put crampons on and began climbing up the gully…

001The gully

A nice re-freeze had made the snow in the gully pretty good for cramponing. This part of the climb is so much better in winter than in summer.

004Looking down the gully

At 9AM we topped out on the West ridge looking across the valley...

012Top of the gully

Here’s looking down what we ascended…

014Looking down the gully from the top

The West Ridge

The ridge had mixed rock / snow sections throughout. It was a fun albeit slightly painful scramble in ski boots. For most of the way we stayed on the ridge crest as opposed to staying lower and following the cairned trail.

018The West Ridge

Towards the latter half of the ridge we had to make a series of traverses across steep snow to the base of the hourglass. The snow was great for cramponing... Nice and frozen with just the occasional posthole. We’d made good time until this point. The sun began to hit us pretty soon and it started getting fairly warm as we approached the base of the hourglass gully. We were a little concerned about melting snow sending rocks hurtling down at us for no good reason.

025Entering the Hourglass Gully

The Hourglass Gully

We soon entered the ice pitch and Joe fished out his gear and led beautifully without hesitation… one screw and one 30m rope was all that was needed.

030Leading ice in the Hourglass Gully

The ice was unpredictable but had nice contours that I was able to plant my tool / axe points with soft hands. I used one alpine axe and one tool. Joe led with whippet and tool. The screw Joe had placed was a pleasure to clean. The ice was positively orgasmic and I quite frankly did not want the pitch to end. At the top of the pitch Joe decided to use both our ropes to set up a rappel for the descent while I continued on ahead. Not too far above Joe I found myself free soloing more of the same ice, only in unpredictable patches interspersed with or underlying more innocuous looking snow…

038Unprotected ice climbing

The tool worked famously through this section. I’ve heard some grubbing about the Trango Madame Hooks but I like them… at least out on low angle alpine ice. I came across a sling potentially used by a climbing team from the previous day.

040Anchors above ice pitches

A little while later I found a second sling. It might have been handy to have brought our ropes up higher. Soon I was out of continuous snow / ice and found rock interspersed with snow leading to the summit. I went on tip toe to keep from knocking rock on Joe below. Melting snow and ice dislodged rock from time to time though, sending bullets screaming down the hour glass.

SteepSteep, loose, rocky upper face


We summited at 1:30PM. Here’s looking at the traverse to Blanca…

042The Notorious BIG Traverse

Down into the valley…

045The Valley

The beginning of the traverse / end of the NW Face route…

059Beginning of the traverse

A closer shot of the traverse…

060The Notorious BIG Traverse - A Closeup

Closer… on the Blanca side…

061The Notorious BIG Traverse - A Closeup of the Blanca Side

Crampons eager to eat into the descent…

054Crampons Hunger for Descent

The Descent

The descent was pretty nerve wracking. We had to go painfully slow since we didn’t have the luxury of rappelling until we were at the top of the hourglass. I began down-climbing snow on the upper face… down-climbing Joe’s ski route as opposed to our ascent route which was steep, wet loose rock. The snow was increasingly crappy now from the warmth of the day.

Davshot1Descending the Steep Upper Face (c) doumall

I moved down at snail’s pace because I had to think at every step and three-point descend the entire face. We reached the section of ice we had free soloed on the way up. Descending it was absolutely exhilarating.

UpperIceDownclimb-1Unprotected ice descent (c) doumall

Joe was skiing steep ice with an ice tool in one hand… I never thought I’d see the day.

075Skiing with an Ice Tool

Finding a descent route that minimized exposure on ice and maximized snow work took quite a bit of time and thought. It took a little over an hour of nerve wracking work to get from the summit to the top of the rappel. I descended first with wet mittens and crampons on. It was mildly sketchy. Joe followed with skis on.

093Rappelling with Skis on

We wrapped our ropes up at the bottom and began heading down. The snow below the gully was equally bad… I decided to keep my crampons on for a while during the descent. My mountaineering crampons don’t have anti-balling plates and that compounded matters. To be brief, the snow was not great for glissading. I took one fall and had to lash into the snow a few times before I was able to self-arrest . Joe skied along in the vicinity. Soon we were out of the couloir and back to the more stable traverses below the face. We were shortly back to the ridge and safe ground…

Completing the dayDay's End (c) doumall

The day ended magically. A great climb with great views and a great climbing partner. Good times overall. The descent down the couloir went quickly. We grabbed my skis and skied back down to the shack by 7PM. Packing our belongings and leaving sounded fairly undesirable at the moment as did the 4.5 hour drive back home, but the memories of a fine, full successful day of climbing kept us going. For more pictures of Joe’s ski refer to his report on the local forum at http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=5689&cpgm=tripmain.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-4 of 4

doumall - Mar 5, 2009 1:09 pm - Voted 10/10

Great day buddy!

Thanks for holding the other end of the rope man, this one was fun!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Mar 9, 2009 4:26 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice Report

I could sense your feeling on that down climb down the steep pitch. Rapping on skis--was it hard to maintain traction on the terrain with your skis as you went descended?


maverick - Mar 9, 2009 5:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice Report

Thanks! Yeah, the downclimb needed some concentration for sure. I'm sure the rapping (with skis) was harder than it looked, mainly because I thought the pitch wasn't steep enough to descend with minimal foot / ski placement... if that makes sense. Maybe Joe can comment.


doumall - Apr 30, 2010 1:10 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Nice Report

The rapping with skis can be pretty awkward at first, although after a bit it can also feel pretty natural. Set your edges just like your making a turn skiing backwards when moving diagonally and stay flat based when moving straight down from the anchor. Maintaining a steady descent with your brake hand is huge. This is what I have found so far anyway.

Viewing: 1-4 of 4