Route StatsMountains: 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 http://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.
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…
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.
Looking down the gully
At 9AM we topped out on the West ridge looking across the valley...
Top of the gully
Here’s looking down what we ascended…
Looking 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.
The 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.
Entering 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.
Leading 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…
Unprotected 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.
Anchors 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.
Steep, loose, rocky upper face
We summited at 1:30PM. Here’s looking at the traverse to Blanca…
The Notorious BIG Traverse
Down into the valley…
The beginning of the traverse / end of the NW Face route…
Beginning of the traverse
A closer shot of the traverse…
The Notorious BIG Traverse - A Closeup
Closer… on the Blanca side…
The Notorious BIG Traverse - A Closeup of the Blanca Side
Crampons eager to eat into the descent…
Crampons Hunger for 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.
Descending 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.
Unprotected ice descent (c) doumall
Joe was skiing steep ice with an ice tool in one hand… I never thought I’d see the day.
Skiing 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.
Rappelling 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…
Day'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.