I thought I'd just add a quick report on the Cottonwood Creek approach and some route finding on the Traverse.
Cottonwood Creek TH Approach
Cottonwood Creek trail starts flat, but after a couple of miles it will get steep. According to Roach, this approach requires a 9.2 miles roundtrip with 3,910 elevation gain on Class 2+ trail, which can be pretty taxing with a heavy(ish) backpack as we planned on camping near Cottonwood lake.
Trail wades through the forest. There are a lot of downed trees which may complicate route finding a bit, but it is not too difficult.
Imagine crawling on those ledges in the rain with a backpack (happened to us on the way back). Not fun.
The trail on the ledges tends to be well marked by cairns so no major issues with route finding.
And here comes the *steep steep* part. This headwall needs to be climbed over. With a backpack. There is a faint trail to the left, which is easy to miss. Expect some bushwhacking through willows, and if not lucky with route finding - climbing near the waterfall.
Looking down on the "waterfall climb".
Crestones come into view. But the approach hike is not over yet. More elevation gain before reaching the lake is yet to come.
Having finally arrived at the Cottonwood lakes after 5 hours of backpacking, we collapsed in our tents. We were woken up about an hour later from our afternoon slumber by those guys who came to check out their new neighbors.
Starting on the Red Gully next morning @5am - standard approach.
Made the summit of Crestone Peak by 7am. Weather seems to hold up so far.
Peak to Needle Traverse
Starting on the traverse. The key is to go low. Way low. Unexpectedly low.
Cairns are generally easy to spot, and the climbing is not difficult.
Reaching the 2nd Red Gully (there are actually 2 on the Crestone peak face). The 2nd one is much narrower.
After crossing the 2nd red gully (a fine bailout route if necessary due to weather), the route starts to go up.
The goal is to traverse to the right side of the Black Gendarme (sorry for the photo quality, my camera was having an off day, unfortunately). The climbing was generally easy and straightforward up to this point.
Approaching the base of the Black Gendarme. A side note - do not attempt to descend the BG gully (as one of our party found out). It is miserable.
Looking down from the 5.2 buldge (step). There is currently a thin rope there, but we did not use it.
Topping out on the Black Gendarme gully. The route turns sharply to the right and up.
There is a small knife edge section (no more than 10 feet) that needs to be crossed over. Climber is seen approaching it.
After climbing to the top of the ridge, there are several options. We chose to stay away from the ridge crest, and picked the line across ledges aiming for the gully directly ahead of us. We then turned sharply left and ascended the gully that took us precisely to the starting point of the final pitch up the Needle.
Looking up the final pitch. We brought the rope, harnesses, biners and rock climbing shoes just in case, but did not use any of it. At least the first half of the route has great holds, so it felt doable.
Looking down on the route. I must have found some nice perch to secure myself on.
Climbing gets a bit more difficult the higher you go. Supposedly, there are more holds on the ridge crest, but then there is exposure. So that's a trade-off. There is a rappelling station immediately below the ridge.
Topping out on the ridge. Summit comes into view. From here, it is just a short walk over.
After 2.5 hours on the traverse, we reached the Needle summit by 10am.
Weather really cooperated with us that day. Needle and Humboldt summits were in the sun, while Peak is already engulfed in clouds.
After half an hour on the summit, we headed down the standard route, trying to outrun the clouds.
Descent the West Gully was uneventful (watch out for some loose rock though) and the turn off was easy enough to spot. There is currently a pink tape on the small cairn marking the turn off to the East Gully.
Back to camp at 12.30pm.
Getting drizzled on the way back. It is possible to skirt the ledges on the left side, but be prepared to crawl over downed trees with a backpack. Back at the car by 5pm with some daylight to spare.
An update as of July 2013:
The Cottonwood trail seemed to be even easier to follow with plenty of cairns, at least in the lower section. Past the "turnoff" into the upper basin the trail gets more difficult to navigate. Last time we went to the left of the waterfall, this time we went right. On the day of the traverse we added SE Crestone and Broken Hand Peak and were down by the lake around noon. The Cottonwood creek approach/deproach felt easier the second time.
A word of caution on the descent from Crestone Needle: I believe we used the East gully for the descent and didn't do a crossover to the West gully, which is the standard route. The difficulty seemed about the same, maybe just a bit steeper, but it is pretty subjective, so use your own discretion.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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