The Sangre de Cristo’s, Part 3
After a good nights sleep Thursday, June 30th was going to be a relatively easy day. All I had to do was walk 4.2 miles and gain 1750 vertical feet with a big pack. I started at the new South Colony Trailhead and hiked up to South Colony Lake. I noticed right away that things were different weather wise. It was much cooler, cloudier, and windier. What happened to the perfect weather I had been having? At the end of the hike I was almost running to beat the storm and set up my camp.
South Colony Lake This afternoon was going to be different. I would not be sitting in front of my tent in a tee shirt and shorts. Instead I would be buttoned up inside reading with a down jacket on!
As I fell asleep I wondered if my luck had run out. The wind howled most of the night but when I awoke it had died down and the night sky was clear and full of stars. It was still, however, much colder. I started hiking at 5:15 am and as I approached the snow fields going up to Broken Hand Pass I could see right away that this was to be a crampons and ice axe day.
Broken Hand Pass
A closer look The snow was very frozen and there was no question about continuing without the hardware. As soon as I got to the top of the pass things were immediately different. There was no snow whatsoever on the south facing side and I cruised 660 vertical feet down to Cottonwood Lake.
Cottonwood Lake Here I headed up to the Red Gully on the South side of Crestone Peak.
The Red Gully I was so involved in the rock climbing on the great conglomerate rock that I was almost surprised to bump into the first snowfield.
Red Gully snow fields The snow was still hard and I had to transition to crampons again. I passed the snow and changed back to boots and went another couple of hundred vertical feet on rock when I hit the second snow field. Again another transition up to the harder rock climbing at the top. There was snow at the notch between East and West Crestone but this could be easily avoided and I was on top at 10 am .
View from the top The transitions had cost me a lot of time but the new day, July 1st, was glorious. As I rested on the summit I could not help but be surprised that Crestone Peak was rated class 3.
Kit Carson It just keeps coming at you for 1700 vertical feet with no let up! By the time I started heading back to camp the sun had hit the Red Gully snow fields and softened them up quite a bit. Crampons were not necessary until I got to Broken Hand Pass where I put them on again to get over the north facing snow fields. When I got back to camp I did lay out in the sun in t-shirt and shorts and enjoy a great Rahmen soup.
Back at the Lake
Farewell to my camp mates
On the 2nd I left camp at 4:50 to head up to Crestone Needle for my last climb of what had been a great trip in the Sangre’s. Things were much different than the day before. It was much warmer with more wind. When I got to the snowfields under Broken Hand Pass I did not put my crampons on until the final pitch. I took them off at the pass and put them away for the rest of the day. The Needle is another intense rock climb but not as long and sustained as the Peak.
Crestone Needle gendarme My plan had been to do the class 4 route all the way up the east gully as I had done the first time I climbed the Needle two years ago. When I came to the Dihedral though I could see the lower half was filled with Snirt (a combination of snow and dirt).
Rock climbing in the Needle This would have been unpleasant at best so I crossed over to the West Gully which I had never done. Getting up to the notch separating the gullies was a great little rock climb and I’m glad I got to do it. From there it was pretty straight forward going up. I was on top at 8:15 on another glorious day and back in my camp a couple of hours later.
Humboldt No crampons were necessary on the way down. I broke camp and headed back to the trailhead for the long drive home. As it was 4th of July week end there were scores of people coming up to climb, fish or just hang out.
My “Tour de Sangre” had been a great trip for me. I had climbed 8 spectacular mountains with almost perfect weather. For the community in general it had been a disastrous week.. As I came down and got an internet connection I learned that 4 climbers had died in Colorado in a series of accidents. I don’t yet know enough about the accidents to speculate on exactly what was happening. I do know that there have been 5 fatalities to date this year which seems to be competing with the 10 fatalities from last year which was the worst year on record. This is very distressing.