Date: April 15, 2010
Partners: Matt Kamper, Brittany Walker, Frank Konsella, Pam Rice
Route: Ascent of West Ridge, summit ski descent of Hourglass Gully to “Baby Thunder”
Stats: ~5,100′ climbed, ~4,500′ skied, ~12 miles, 10.5 hours
Originally Matt and I planned on hitting Kit Carson and Challenger on Thursday, a long but doable day which would have included two classic ski lines on two spectacular peaks. Needless to say Matt and I were pretty stoked, then an email came in from Brittany on Tuesday which was enough to convince us the South Face of Kit wasn`t skiable. Matt and I began looking at other plans and remembered Little Bear was in (beta courtesy of Kansasboarder and Easy Rider on 14ers.com), and that Frank and Brittany were going for it Thursday. The decision was easy at that point; Little Bear it was.
I met Matt at the bottom of the Lake Como Road at 4:30am. We saddled up into his 4 Runner and made an elevation of 9,200` before deciding enough was enough. Matt is still getting to know his new truck and didn`t feel like pushing it on one of the nation`s worst roads. Understandable. We geared up and began hiking up the road in tennis shoes around 5:30am.
Matt and I felt the need to push it early on because I was a little late meeting him and we knew timing could be an important factor on this one. Despite skiing Shavano the day before and Columbia the day before that, Matt hadn`t lost a step and we were able to make up for the lost time. Skis went on above 10,000`, by 6:30 we were skinning up a supportive crust towards Lake Como. Upon reaching the lake, we spotted a party of three in the north facing ascent couloir about half way to the West Ridge. We skinned over to the base of the couloir, strapped on crampons, and began the ascent up a staircase that had just been installed by mtnbikerskierchick and company. Thanks again guys!
We topped out on the ridge and introduced ourselves to Brittany, Pam, and Frank who were taking a break in the sun at the top of the couloir. We would end up sticking together as a group for the remainder of the day.
Once in Little Bear`s shadow the snow transitioned from mush to a perfect crampon surface, Frank and Matt took the lead.
The climbing was a ton of fun, it felt really good to get back into some technical terrain on good snow after a winter of low-angled slopes and breakable crust. Spring in the Rockies is such a blast! Once above the Hourglass the route turns climber`s left for the pitch to the summit. It was clear that we were all in for some icy skiing through this section, once back in the sun however the snow was getting good. We cramponed up the final few hundred feet to the top and summited at 11:00am.
I`ve always enjoyed Little Bear`s summit; the relief on this one is among the largest in Colorado. The tiny town of Blanca could be seen 6,200` below our position, and looking the other direction provided equally spectacular views.
Some good conversation ensued on the summit as we waited a bit for the snow to soften, I took the opportunity to scarf down a homemade sandwich. Real food is rarely a delicacy I get to enjoy on 14ers, mainly because I always forget about how nice it would be until I`m on the mountain.
Finally we started gearing up for the ski, I was happy to be getting down to business as the anticipation of this line was slowly getting to me. We took turns clicking in at the high point, stepping over a few rocks, and skiing out and over the drop off. The snow was great for landing jump turns down the gully. After a few turns my confidence grew and I was having a blast.
The upper portion of this route is steep, precise skiing is mandatory. I couldn`t help recalling that a member of Davenport`s crew took a slide for life in this gully. Ski shots below.
A bit lower the angle of the terrain eases up a bit, then steepens again above the Hourglass.
We all did a little bit of side sliding through the ice section I mentioned earlier, though Frank came through and managed to find some better snow on a more southern aspect. A few turns through the Hourglass and we shot out the bottom one by one for a few wide open corn turns.
Once out of the gully our attention turned to getting off of the rapidly warming snow.
The snow in Baby Thunder was probably the best of the day. This was an incredibly fun chute to explore on skis.
At this point we all tore off a few layers and downed some food and fluids, it was absolutely SCORCHING out. We talked about how good Ellingwood looked for a ski descent, and how BAD Blanca looked at the same time. The ski out past Lake Como was relatively straightforward given what it could have been. Once on the road we were able to take it slow and ski to the end of the snow where everyone but Pam had shoes stashed, she was bummed about this but ended up beating the rest of us back to the car anyway. 4:30pm and we were enjoying the luxury of beer and Pam`s fold out lawn chairs. Some shots of the ski out:
I believe both Pam and Brittany have less than ten ski descents remaining, best of luck to you both! It was great meeting and skiing with you all, thanks for an awesome day.
Here`s a link to Brittany`s TR at 14erskiers.com.
Thanks for reading!