| Peak to Needle Traverse
Saturday, July 23, 2011. Having done the traverse from Needle to Peak a few years back, I returned to try the reverse. From S. Colony Lake I planned to try the North Buttress route to avoid what I thought would be lingering ice in the NW Couloir. Turned out that the couloir was dry, but the buttress route sounded interesting.
From the description in the Roach guide I got the impression that the North Buttress was adjacent to the NW Couloir. A photo is worth a thousand words and had I looked at the photo in the guide, or just paid more attention, I would have realized I was wandering up some non- descript wall between the two routes. After a couple false starts, including traversing west past the NW Couloir without realizing my mistake, I finally settled on starting up here.
This turned out to be a pretty sporting route. All the while I have convinced myself that I am on the North Buttress route, except it isn’t really a buttress and it seems to turn quite steep at it’s upper reaches for a class 4 climb. No matter, these exposed moves seem to have pretty good holds. After a particularly committing move I paused to take a look back.
As the headwall steepened above me the severity of the climb eased as I moved left, eventually finding my way to the uppermost reaches of the actual North Buttress from where I topped out on the first of two towers below the summit of Crestone Peak. Here is a view of the east summit on the right and Crestone Peak on left with the last tower on the buttress between.
And a look south to the Needle from the same vantage.
Getting from here to the summit of Crestone Peak turned out to be a little more exacting than I expected. Not sure I did it in the most efficient manner and next time I am on Crestone Peak I will attempt to climb this tower and see what’s there that I missed. But here is a look back from the peak and then a sketch to show roughly how I navigated this section.
Now it was time to turn my attention to the traverse to the Needle. My thought was that now I was on familiar terrain, but the familiarity faded significantly with the passage of time. The Roach guide says descend 300’ down the red gulley between Crestone and the East Summit. I felt it was more than 500’ before I found cairns and I hint of a climbers trail to begin the traverse. Anyway, there was a nice view of the Sand Dune National Park and I was sure there would be no real difficulties ahead.
I made good progress after a few false starts and the Needle looked very imposing ahead. A comfort to know I had been there before because there is no obvious weakness in its façade.
Until you get right up under the Needle most of the traverse looks like this.
When the Needle was right in my face I again got a little confused about the most efficient route. I didn’t remember having any difficulty figuring this out going in the opposite direction, but from here I made many mistakes up and down gullies, ravines and assorted cracks of various sorts. It started to get a bit frustrating because the Needle seemed close enough to touch, but eluded my grasp.
I ended up descending quite far below and west of the summit and traversing back left across steep but generally not difficult ledges. After topping out on the ridge once in the wrong place, I did finally come to this last obstacle, the final and most difficult last couple moves to the Needle summit.
I was pleased when I came upon a rappel anchor, the first confirmation in a while that I was on track. Here is a look back down past the rappel station.
A few steps past that and you are greeting with this warning.
And then rewarded with this satisfying look back at the Peak from the summit of the Needle. Having just come from there, you still wonder how it could be done, it looks so improbable.
Another view from the summit of the Needle
And of Humbolt Peak.
So I got a typical alpine start, hitting the trail around 9:00 a.m. By now it is 3:45 and the storm clouds are only threatening a little. A self portrait of my relief after what was a little more taxing a day than anticipated.
During the descent from the Needle to Broken Hand Pass there was enough rain and hail to make everything slick keeping the edge on the day right to the end. Here is a look back up after getting through one of the steeper sections of the descent.
A final blunder was avoided, but I could see this happening if someone isn’t paying attention, or is descending in a fog. It would be easy to descend the south face of the Needle well below Broken Hand Pass if you just continue down the Couloir from the top. Broken Hand Pass is obscured from view much of the time and a conscious effort must be made to veer left and exit the couloir before you get too low. Here is Broken Hand Pass from above.
This was a great day. If anyone has experience with that N. Buttress route I would like to hear your story.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):