Most of this reputation comes from the crux section, the Hourglass, which many regard as the most difficult section of any of Colorado's 14ers. According to Gerry Roach there is an easier way to climb Little Bear from the east, but this route is from private property and thus not accessible to the public. Other alternative routes that try to circumnavigate the dreaded Hourglass find themselves on terrain that is just as difficult and probably more dangerous. Though this easier (class 3) route up this peak was once used and may one day be open again in the future, for now all climbers must deal with the Hourglass or worse.
As with Blanca Peak, an ascent of Little Bear starts at the Lake Como trailhead. Turn onto Hwy 150 about 26 miles east of Alamosa heading towards the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. Just over 3 miles later, follow a sign towards Lake Como. Go as far as your vehicle will allow you, as much as 7 miles all the way to Lake Como (for a burly off-roader).
|photo courtesy: Alethe88 at English Wikipedia
West Ridge (class 4)
The standard route on Little Bear and the easiest since the closing of the peak's east side. The first part of the climb negotiates a steep, blocky gully on class 2 terrain that leads to a ridge crest. Traverse below the ridge to the right at around 13,000' until you reach the Hourglass, the route's crux. The Hourglass is stomach-puckering class 4 with lots of potential for broken rock and gnarly falls. Often there is a tattered rope or two dangling in the center of gully. Once past the hard climbing, it eases off to class 3 but any loose rock you kick free will tumble into the Hourglass into people below you. Be so careful through here!
Southwest Ridge (class 4)
A route with some access issues. The easiest trailhead (Tobin Creek) is not a legal access point, but this route can still be reached from Lake Como. This does, however, make for a long day. On the ridge expect long exposure, difficult climbing and objective hazards equal to or greater than the West Ridge line. En route you will traverse over South Little Bear, a sub-peak.
Northwest Face (class 4)
Another alternative to the Hourglass, but again but as dangerous or more dangerous than the West Ridge. With the Northwest Face there is definitely more class 4 terrain, though perhaps the unique rockfall hazards of the Hourglass route can be avoided. Still, not likely to find a safer journey here.
Blanca-Little Bear Traverse (class 4/low class 5)
A long, classic and insanely exposed traverse that allows you to complete Blanca and Little Bear in one day. Gerry Roach calls this one of the four "classic 14er traverses" and warns that it may be the most difficult. There is no doubt that this ridge is long and exposed and there is no escape until the end. With careful route-finding you may be able to keep it at class 4.
This is a stout and dangerous peak! There have been several deadly accidents on Little Bear, particularly at the Hourglass. This is not a recommended climb for a first 14er or for anyone who is not of excellent physical conditioning and possessing superb balance/decision making skills.
Summitpost page on Little Bear
Mountain Project page on Little Bear
14ers.com on Little Bear
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