Little Bear Peak
Descent Route: Southwest Face To West Ridge

Elev. 14, 037?
January 10, 2007
Ski Descent #50

I?ll be the first to admit I am really excited about hitting peak #50 of my project. Even though it is just a number, it feels good to hit that milestone. Little Bear Peak is a steep, loose pyramid of rock. In summer it is a dangerous endeavor to climb this mountain and falling rocks have hit many a climber over the years. In the winter and spring the mountain becomes cemented by firm snow, greatly diminishing the potential of rock fall. Last season I was not able to ski Little Bear due to a complete lack of snow, but now, with the potent low-pressure systems that have rolled across the southwest over the last few weeks, the mountain finally offered herself up for a clean ski descent.

John Hagman, Danny Brown, Phillip Armour, Christian Pondella, and I hiked in to Como Lake on Monday and set up camp along the shore of the frozen lake. (Actually Danny and John camped on the lake, listening the ice moan all night) That evening we skinned up towards Crater Lake for a look at Blanca Peak, which I still have to ski. The strong winds earlier this week stripped Blanca bare, leaving it looking remarkably similar to last spring. Looks like I?ll have to come back and try that in the next week?pray for snow! After a cozy night camping at 11,750?, we awoke to crystal clear skies and a promising day. Feeling confident in the conditions, we left a little later than normal, at 8:30 a.m. and skinned up to the big couloir that splits the West Ridge. The couloir was an easy climb, straight up, and on various forms of wind crust and firm slab. Cresting the West Ridge we got our first close up glimpse of our ski route, and excitedly made our way across the summer traverse towards the Southwest Face.
Once at the bottom of the face we swapped skins for crampons and began front-pointing up styrofoam snow towards an obvious hourglass gully that funnels any and all rock fall, avalanches, ice, and falling climbers directly onto anyone in the gully. There are some fixed ropes in this gully used by summer climbers that were all ice covered. We made quick progress through the gully, up the face, and angled left towards the summit. Danny and John charged ahead to the top while Christian and I followed up the steep face. Philip was on telemark skis and didn?t like the looks of the descent route so he stayed down below the hourglass, alone with his thoughts and the view.

We summated at 12:30 p.m. and enjoyed a moment of relaxation before the stress level rises as the skis get attached. Danny built his requisite rock sculpture, and Christian, John, and I shot film and photos of the surroundings. The summit of Little Bear reminded me of skiing off the summit of Crestone Peak last spring, as I had to step off a similar boulder down onto the snow. Once on the ski route we group skied the firm and slightly crusty descent. Arriving several hundred feet above the hourglass, we all had to make a committing turn around some water ice that bulged in to the line. I went first and stopped to look back and take a photo of Christian. When he made the move however, his heavy pack combined with the fact the he hadn?t snapped his ski mode levers on his boots into place pulled him over backwards and he began to fall. Christian quickly accelerated on his back, all the while trying desperately to self-arrest. When he finally got his skis under him he was out of control and he shot sideways into the rocks, and then spun around back wards, airing ten feet off one cliff and landing hard on another. He then back-flipped twice off of that cliff and finally self-arrested in some softer snow a hundred feet below the hourglass and three hundred feet below us. I was astounded when he put his hand up and shouted to us that he was OK. In fifty peaks on this project that was the first fall and also one of the scariest falls I have ever seen. He came away with a laceration to one finger and some bumps and bruises, but most importantly a very humbling learning experience about control in a no-fall-zone.

We bandaged Christian?s hand and made our way back across the West Ridge and down the big couloir to Como Lake and our camp. My plan was to drive to the east side of the Sangre?s and try Crestone Needle tomorrow, but after hiking out and taking Christian to the hospital for some stitches, it was 10:00 p.m. and we were tired. We spent the night in Alamosa, not sure what we would do the next day. Would we be able to make it to Crestone Needle? Or go try and look at Shavano? Four peaks left to go, and less than two weeks to do them?.. This is getting fun!

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