Should I Use the Fixed Ropes Found in the Hourglass on Little Bear Peak?

To not bury the lede and to respect the intelligence of my readers, here are the take home points:

  • If you decide to climb Little Bear via the West Ridge and Southwest Face route (aka The Standard Route), you’ll encounter the Hourglass Couloir. There are a lot of objective hazards not found on most other 14er routes, including plenty of rockfall and wet/icy conditions (even in summer).
  • Rockfall, particularly coming from those above you that are inadvertently kicking projectiles down may very well be your main objective danger.
  • There are often times fixed ropes on the route, put there anonymously. The ropes are utilized sometimes by people to ascend and descend the route.
  • The ropes may not be safe to use. They could be damaged from rockfall and general exposure to the elements, UV damage, and damage from animals gnawing on the rope.
  • It’s questionable if one can assess the health of the rope/anchor for use to aid ascending, no matter how well experienced a climber is, since the anchor in the system cannot be easily seen from the bottom of the route. Sometimes, it’s hard enough to see the ropes themselves, due to atmospheric conditions (fog).
  • The route can be done without these fixed ropes.
  • Damaged ropes – even a very damaged rope with the sheath completely cut away and only a few strands still held together, may be able hold enough weight to support a climber. There is no way to calculate how much weight can be supported.
  • It’s much easier for a skilled mountaineer to assess the quality and condition of the fixed gear (rope + anchor) from the top anchor when wanting to use the ropes to descend and make a judgement of their safety and utility – far more than assessing it from below for utilizing the rope for ascending.
  • If you do decide to do this route, realize the objective dangers, as well as the questionable conditions of these fixed ropes. Big takeaway: the ropes may not be in a condition to safely use. It will be up to you to decide if they are safe enough for you.

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Fastpacks From Hell: The Colorado Sierra Blanca Centennial Enchainment!

Stats:

  • 33.1 Miles
  • 15,085’+ elevation

Total time:

  • 2 days 25min

Six Centennials summited:

  • Ellingwood Point
  • Little Bear Peak
  • Blanca Peak
  • “Huerfano Peak”
  • Mt. Lindsey
  • California Peak

To make the Tour of the Highest Hundred work, my general strategy was to keep the number of separate trailheads I needed to visit by bike as low as possible, while designing my route on foot to tag as many mountains in an area as possible. Transitioning to/from bike-mode/hike-mode and superfluous riding are big time sucks.

One of the largest puzzles is the Sierra Blancas. Even enthusiastic peak baggers will separate this group of mountains into >= two trips:

  • Approaching from the east for Mt. Lindsey and “Huerfano Peak” via the Huerfano/Lily Lake Trailhead
  • Approaching from the west to access Ellingwood Point, Little Bear, and Blanca via Lake Como Road
  • And well, also approaching from the west for California Peak (if the Centennials are part of your goal), which is accessed from an altogether trail head: Zapata Falls.

Three different trips to three different trailheads is a lot of bike riding for six mountains that sit close together. Visiting the eastern trailhead, then the western ones means either crossing a northern mountain pass (Mosca Pass), or going around the entire southern end of the Sierra Blancas (La Veta Pass) – I was willing and needed to do one, but not both.

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