Climbing Little Bear Peak | Actionable Advice for the Deadly Hourglass Gully
With a name like Little Bear Peak, you’d think it was a tame 14er to summit. In reality,this mountain is notorious, one of the most difficult and deadly 14ers in the state. Climbing Little Bear Peak is a serious undertaking. How serious?
The Hourglass Gully that leads to the summit has taken multiple lives due to the loose, rotten rock that lines its sides. It’s a long climb with a long approach best done over multiple days. Wait to tackle this peak until you’re an experienced peak bagger. Before climbing Little Bear Peak plan ahead with my free route guide below.
Climbing Little Bear Peak: Fast Facts
Climbing Little Bear Peak - West Ridge Route
A trip climbing Little Bear Peak begins at Lake Como Road. There’s no real trailhead here besides a sign by the highway. Instead, just drive up the road until you no longer feel comfortable with the terrain. Park at one of a number of pull-outs along the road and start to hike. Follow the road as you switch back your way into the correct gulch. You will pass several rough, rocky sections known as the “Jaws.” Continue until you reach Lake Como where the road ends around 11,750 feet. There are good camping spots around the lake, and this is a good place to spend the night if doing an overnight ascent.
Little Bear rises to the east above you. After hiking around to the far side of the lake and just through the woods, watch for a small cairn marking your spot to leave the trail up to Blanca Peak. Look for a gully up the West Ridge ahead of you that ends in a v-shaped notch at the top. This is your next main objective and the start of the real experience of climbing Little Bear Peak.
Continue through the talus, following cairns, until you reach the bottom of the gully around 12,000 feet. The gully is steep, watch for falling and rolling rocks and leave ahead of you. Follow the trail segments you come across 600 feet up to reach the notch along the ridge.
Turn left (east) at the top of the notch and start climbing the ridge. The rock here is still stable. A short distance into this section, bypass the top of a 12,960-foot ridge point by traversing below it. Descend to a notch in the ridge. From here, the remaining route to the southwest face is clearly visible. Continue to the southwest face. Here you’ll find the base of a gully called the “Hourglass.”
The route gets a lot more difficult from this point onward. It is the most deadly part of climbing Little Bear Peak. Be prepared for dangerous climbing on Class 3 and Class 4 terrain. Many people have died climbing the hourglass. Take time here to check the weather before moving on.
Just above 13,300′, locate the “Hourglass” gully. It’s common to see a fixed rope left by unknown parties hanging down the middle. Significant debate exists about whether it’s safe to use the rope, so don’t plan on it unless you can clearly inspect it. The rock here is notoriously loose. Watch out for rockfall from this point forward at all times. Scramble into the base of the gully and start climbing up towards the summit of Little Bear Peak.
When you reach the narrowest crux, there may be water or ice running down the center. Climb along the side of the couloir if needed to avoid it. Continue up solid, Class 4 rock to reach the top of the fixed rope (if there is one). The rest of the route to the top is loose and dangerous and with no clear line or trail.
From the top of the gully, continue slightly left or right and climb a final 100 feet of steep rock. Then you’ll find easier, more solid terrain. Towards the center of the slope, you may find bits of the trail to take to the top. Take your time through this final section to reach the summit.
At the top, enjoy your accomplishment! Leave plenty of time for your descent down the Hourglass which takes time to stay safe. I hope you enjoyed my Little Bear Peak Route Guide. Safe travels on the trail, and good luck climbing Little Bear Peak!
It is very important to bring a map of the route with you while climbing Little Bear Peak. It will help you stay on track and rejoin the route if you lose it. I recommend you download this copy on your phone and print out a paper backup version in case something happens to your electronics along the way. The 14ers are a dangerous place!
Good weather research is important if you want to try climbing Little Bear Peak. Consider the temp forecast, precipitation odd, wind speeds, and other key details. These two weather sources are a good place to get started with your research.
The lower trailhead is located directly off the main highway but is many miles from Lake Como. I recommend driving along Lake Como Road until you cannot make it any further. This is also a great area for dispersed camping before you begin climbing Little Bear Peak.
DIRECTIONS TO THE LAKE COMO ROAD:
From Colorado 160, east of Alamosa, turn north onto Colorado 150 toward Great Sand Dunes National Park. Drive over 3 miles and turn right onto Lake Como road (aka Blanca Peak road). The type of vehicle you are driving will determine how high you can park on Lake Como road.
Most cars can drive about 1.5 miles up before it gets rough. 4WD SUVs and trucks can slowly make it 3.25 miles to several pull-offs at 8,800′, before the road turns nasty. This is a popular parking spot and gets you within 4 miles of Lake Como. If you have a high-clearance, small, 4WD vehicle you might be able to drive to approximately 10,000′. An ATV or modified jeep/crawler can get to Lake Como but it depends on the driver.
The right gear is important for climbing Little Bear Peak if you want to stay safe and give yourself the best chance for success. This starts with dependable hiking boots that have good traction for handling the rocky slopes found here. These are my top recommendations for footwear.
You always should bring the ten essentials with you while climbing Little Bear Peak and other fourteeners. A backpack will help you store them all during your trip as well. Here are several dependable bags, depending on your needs.
I always use trekking poles for fourteeners. They provide balance on the rocks and during stream crossings and help me use my upper body strength to support my legs and core. These are the best trekking poles for climbing Little Bear Peak and similar peaks.
On a class 3 peak like Little Bear, you should bring a climbing helmet to protect your head from falling rocks. This is an especially big hazard for those climbing Little Bear Peak. I recommend one of these four helmets.
Lastly, if you plan to spend a lot of time in the mountains you should consider a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger device. They can help you call for help if something goes wrong even if you do not have a cell signal. These are some of the best models for those hiking and climbing fourteeners.
Looking for more gear advice? Visit my full Gear Review Page to see all my recommendations for the fourteeners and beyond.
Camping near Little Bear Peak:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along Lake Como Road ideal for those climbing Little Bear Peak. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Little Bear Peak:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Alamosa and the surrounding area, ideal for those climbing Little Bear Peak.
Little Bear Peak’s lower reaches gets a lot of traffic due to the Lake Como Road. This increases the impact on the alpine tundra on this peak. Help preserve this mountain and area while climbing Little Bear Peak by following these Leave No Trace practices:
- Plan ahead, review the route, and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
- Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
- Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
- Urinate off-trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
- Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
- Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Safe travels, and good luck climbing Little Bear Peak! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Little Bear Peak is one of the most dangerous fourteeners in Colorado. The Hourglass is a notorious gully with smooth rock and dangerous rockfall that can come without warning. The traverse from the summit of Little Bear to nearby Blanca Peak is one of the most dangerous and committing in the entire state. Once you begin it there are few opportunities to bail from the ridge if bad weather approaches. It is a serious route for serious climbers only.
While there are easier routes available to reach the summit that is only class 2 and 3, they are on closed private property in the Blanca Basin area. This leaves the dangerous routes above as the only option to reach the summit.
While many people believe the name is a reference to the mountain’s shape, the mountain’s official name was taken from a creek and lake on its west slopes. It was originally known as West Peak because of its location compared to the taller Blanca Peak summit 1 mile away.
Climbing Little Bear Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Climbing Little Bear Peak is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.