SW Ridge South Little Bear & Little Bear Blanca Traverse
Friday evening we had alarms set for 10 pm to be on the road for a 3.5 hour long car ride to the trailhead at Lake Como road. We were doing a big car-to-car push the next morning. On the road at 11 pm we headed south towards Colorado Springs to make our way to the trailhead just outside of Blanca Colorado.
We pulled into the popular Como road a little after 2 am with a lot of activity happening at the lower trailhead including a group partying with a full on rave show that raged on until we returned the next evening!
In car-to-car fashion we wouldn’t be backpacking into camp as many people do. Instead we parked around 8,000 feet low on the road. This way we could catch the cutoff to the Southwest ridge route instead of the standard lake como approach. I will say looking back the only flaw to this plan was the slog back down the entirety of Como road.
There are a number of resources online and in Gerry Roach’s books about the SW ridge to South Little Bear peak. Multiple options on starting along different areas of the road, but we opted for a little more misery in our slog excursion.
The bushwack across desert-like terrain was quick. Tons of cactus so the trip reports were accurate! We didn’t output much effort during the initial approach, though care should be taken in route finding with no distinguished trail. After cutting across the base our next challenge was to cross Tobins Creek. We leveraged GPS, but it wasn’t terrible in terms of bushwhacking. We dropped down a bit and crossed a spot nearby. Then bushwhacked our way back up through vegetation and overgrowth.
The climb up the other side of the creek was loose dirt with a lot of dead wood and trees that didn’t serve as reliable handrails, especially bearing weight. We made quick work of it, though, and were on the ridge crest shortly after. From there the talus increased in boulder size and coverage above the treeline.
The ridge was pleasant from here until the camel backs as coined in a trip report I read. The talus is easy walking and I welcomed the immediate elevation gain knowing most of the day would be scrambling up and down false summits, towers and catwalks.
The knife edges on the Southwest ridge are near the base of the final summit push up South Little Bear. They were not as knifey as I envisioned, but certainly exposed which gets the heart pumping. The ridge proper was quality scrambling and much fun was had!
Ascending the camelbacks we enjoyed views of Little Bear and all the crowds of people on the summit hollering after their achievement. It was a fun perspective and a perk of avoiding the standard route, the bowling alley that is the hourglass during peak season.
On the top of South Little Bear we studied our spicy scramble to traverse over to Little Bear peak. Two ways were well documented, one being a ridge proper with some class 5 moves and the other a class 3 option navigating exposed ledges just below the ridge. I thought some of the ledges resembled the Bells traverse, highly exposed and loose in some areas.
We chose the class 3 route over the ridge direct route although we did take the ridge proper in sections and it was just as spicy as advertised! There were some airy moves along the ledges too and after this hike we decided some sections had more exposure than the Little Bear Blanca traverse.
Just below the summit of Little Bear before crossing above the hourglass couloir we encountered a group of three ascending a variation of the standard route. We sat down to enjoy a snack and the views of our next objective on the summit of Little Bear.
Our goal was a full lollipop loop up the Southwest ridge over to Little Bear across the traverse to Blanca and then over to Ellingwood Point before descending the standard Lake Como road back to 8,000 where we parked the car.
The weather was holding for now, but storms were projected for later that day and overnight into the following day. We decided we at least had time to skirt over to Blanca, we would be committed until then. We decided to go for it! We dropped down the ridge of Little Bear to a spicy infamous downclimb that puts you directly on the traverse route.
I had studied this route for years and I can still say with confidence we underestimated the amount of time it would take us on that mile long traverse. We spent some extra time cautiously route finding and moving methodically over difficulties and past obstructions along the ridge.
Navigating around the first tower wasn’t super difficult. We went left but didn’t see any obvious cairns. Beyond the first two towers we cruised pretty quickly and mostly climbed up and over the towers instead of around. At the last hump before the three Blanca towers we slowed considerably due to the sketchy gully crossing and ankle busting talus. Probably the section I enjoyed the least looking for cairns on heaps of shitty rock.
Once back on the ridge below the second Blanca tower it was a little soul crushing to see how much further we still had to go, but looking back we moved quickly up the last two towers and the final catwalk.
At this point clouds were consolidating and the storms appeared to be moving in early so we had to pick up the pace. We flew up the second Blanca tower and then traversed over to start the third. I was nervous about the homestretch catwalk that is hyped up about this route. Despite this I found the catwalk to be relatively easy, although slabby, and we cruised up quicker than expected.
From there we hopped up the remaining talus boulders below the summit of Blanca peak. We had enjoyed the entire traverse all to ourselves and now the summit of Blanca to ourselves as well. We gobbled a quick snack and some water as a celebration before the weather started to turn. We had finished the traverse just in time as some graupel started coming down during our descent off Blanca!
Unfortunately given the weather the full lollipop loop to Ellingwood would not be happening that day, but we were still stoked about getting through the Little Bear Blanca traverse. We just dreaded the thought of our slog to return to the car down Como road.
The walk out on the road was by far the low to end all the highs of the day, but the route otherwise was superb and a quality day of scrambling. It’s going to take some time for me to burn the memory of Lake Como road from my mind, but I’m sure the mountaineer's menu will take care of that!