Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Crestone Experience- Part I

Crestone Peak (14,294') by Red Gulley
Crestone Needle (14,197') by traverse

From a Lower South Colony Lakes basecamp

This sign is telling..

“The Peak draws some people like a siren but rejects others. If it draws you, approach with respect and caution”.  - Gerry Roach
When first I set eyes upon the majesty of Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle, I was filled with emotion. Feelings of fear, feelings of awe, feelings of inadequacy. Wondering how such a thing could be safely climbed, and knowing that the path I was on would intersect with these very peaks in the future. These monoliths stand proud in the Sangre De Cristo mountains, causing thousands to dream, to wonder, to explore, to climb. Climbing these mountains has been done so many times and for so long- it's not a complete mystery. The route has been documented, examined, explained, and photographed. And yet, none of these things can totally prepare you for the journey to the summit- your own experience is still required.

(Click on any picture to make it larger)
Crestone Needle (L) and Crestone Peak (R) from Humboldt Peak- July 2011

Crestone Peak is significant for it's rugged rock, it's lofty height, and it's impressive exposure. Like many mountains, it has a weakness, and this weakness can be carefully exploited to allow relatively straightforward passage- not to say it is easy.  Crestone Needle, the nearby neighbor, has the distinction of being one of the steepest mountains in Colorado, meaning the mountain drops off abruptly on all sides with a high degree of steepness. Crestone Needle is generally considered to be one of the top 5 hardest 14ers in Colorado, based on the steepness, exposure, and route finding. Make no mistake- it will challenge you.

We met up with someone from, Matt. I had some exchanges with him on the forum and we met up with him on the road. By the time we reached the upper trailhead, I had 3 people in my truck bed.  We started off from the crowded upper 4WD trailhead about 4:30 PM.

Crestone Needle rises above the forest

Baby Pika?
Marmots are everywhere and they are watching...
Crossing a huge bridge after about 3 miles (Photo by Matt)
Hiking up the road-like trail (photo by Matt)

The weather was cool and overcast as we hiked up to the lakes. The excitement and enthusiasm made the 4 miles go by seemingly quickly, and we arrived about 90 minutes later. This gave us time to scout the trail, play by the lake, and have fun with some impromptu bouldering. Bouldering is something I'd never really tried before, but it's fun!
Trying not to get my boots wet

Super fun bouldering about 100 feet from our campsite (photo by Matt)
Quick note- this bolder was about 7-8 feet high and had a variety of "problems" as I think they are called. This side had bigger holds but was overhanging. There was a nice class 4 route on the other side. It was good to brush up on our relationship with conglomerate rock before the climb that was to come.

Scott on a rock

Panorama of Crestone Needle, lower South Colony Lake, and Humboldt Peak
We started off at 4:30 AM, hiking by headlamp. Hiking up to Broken Hand Pass in the darkness with a little difficult, as there is a little bit of class 3 and routefinding involved. The trail is generally very good and well marked most of the time, but it can be harder to find in the dark. It took us a little over an hour to reach the top of the pass.
The moon in the notch of Broken Hand Pass

Broken Hand Peak from the top of the pass (Photo by Scott)
Looking down from the top of Broken Hand Pass

Near the bottom of the Red Gully (photo by Scott)

About to cross into the Red Gully, we don our helmets (photo by Matt)
Matt Looks up near the base of the Red Gully

Myself and Matt on a steeper section. The climbing was easy (Photo by Scott)
Matt and I on our way up (Photo by Scott)
The climb up the Red Gulley was relatively easy. Route finding is obvious, exposure isn't bad, and the rock isn't generally loose. The biggest danger here is that if a rock does get loose, it could gain incredible velocity being funneled down this narrow gully- I highly recommend a helmet and some awareness. It's mostly class 2 with some class 3 sections. It is overall fairly steep but that allows you to climb quickly.

Getting higher up in the gully
Matt and Scott climbing higher - the route is pretty obvious
Atop East Crestone, with Kit Carson Peak just behind Scott (Photo by Matt)
Panorama- Crestone Peak summit from East Crestone (about 20 feet lower)
Side note- Matt "forced" me to climb East Crestone and I'm glad he did. Not only is the climbing better and more exciting, but it affords excellent views. It takes maybe 5 minutes from the saddle to the summit. It reminds me a little bit of the type of diversion that North Eolus is. Highly worth your time.

Uh, that way to the summit? (photo by Scott)
Just kidding, you drop down and climb some easy ledges to the summit (photo by Scott)
Summit Panorama from Crestone Peak. Colony Baldy, East Crestone, Crestone Needle, Broken Hand Peak (L to R)
People on the summit of Crestone Needle (zoom shot)
Matt on the summit of Crestone Peak (Photo by Matt)
Scott and I on the summit of Crestone Peak (photo by Matt)
Challenger Point, Kit Carson Peak, and Columbia Point (L to R)
The Great Sand Dunes! I finally found where they have been hiding
The Spanish Peaks rising above the clouds
Part II includes the traverse to Crestone Needle...


  1. Thank you for sharing!
    I live in Westcliffe and have been doing mountain rescue and photography on these peaks for many years. Your photos honor these mountains and gave me great pleasure.

  2. Your pictures are awesome Dan, thanks for sharing! I love to look at your adventures.

  3. Thanks for the kind words from both of you. I am glad that as a Westcliffe resident you enjoyed my trip report. You might also like my trip reports from all of the other Sangre De Cristo Mountains including Humbolt, Challenger Point, Kit Carson, Lindsey, Blanca, Ellingwood Point, and Little Bear.