(Last Updated On: June 23, 2010)
In the wake of another fatal accident on Little Bear Peak, I’ve thought a lot about the current standard route on that peak: The Hourglass couloir. For skiers like Brittany and I, the Hourglass route is straightforward enough; just your standard Colorado couloir, somewhere in the 40-45 degree range, and actually pretty short at less than 1,000′. For summer climbers of the 14ers, Little Bear via the Hourglass may be the most dangerous 14er of them all, although Long’s Peak has been the most deadly by numbers alone. Once free of snow, the Hourglass route becomes a funnel for rockfall from the loose ledges above, and often forms a thin coat of verglas (ice) in the early morning. Having climbed Little Bear and all the other fourteeners in summer, Little Bear is probably the one peak that I would be quite concerned to climb again, mostly because of the danger other climbers would pose as they climbed above, possibly knocking rocks down on me.
Little Bear wasn’t always like this. Through the 60’s, the standard route was on the other side of the mountain from Blanca Basin through private property, and is mentioned in Gerry Roach’s guidebook as the easiest route. Unfortunately access through this area was dependent on one the Sangre’s many HUGE ranches for access, and once they decided to close off access, the Hourglass became the route of choice for peak baggers.
Private property is just that- private- and people are certainly free to choose what to do with their land. In today’s litigious society, many landowners choose to bar access from trails, climbing areas, skiing, etc out of fear from lawsuits when people are injured on their land. So I had a crazy thought after the most recent accident on Little Bear: What if the landowners in Blanca Basin were sued not because somebody was injured on their land, but injured elsewhere avoiding the privately closed safest route. Yeah, I know- it isn’t realistic and it would open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences. But I do think the landowners who have chosen to close access to Blanca Basin should be ashamed and should feel guilty each and every time someone is killed or injured on the dangerous Hourglass route.