| Peak>Needle Traverse
TH: South Colony Lakes 4WD TH
Route: South Face of Peak>Traverse to Needle>Descend South Face of Needle
Start Time: 4 am from 4WD TH
Finish Time: 3:30 pm
Duration: 11.5 hrs
Friday August 4, 2012
The goal of Summer 2012 was 10 14ers as training for our upcoming Kilimanjaro trip to celebrate my wife’s 30th birthday. We left downtown Denver at 5 pm and arrived in South Denver at 6 pm. After picking up our good friend and experienced climber Roger in the Springs, we came to one closed road, 2 county fairs, and 2 detours to make the South Colony 4WD TH at 10 pm. There was some nice thick grass at the TH that made for a great tent spot. Alarms set for 3:30 am with the goal of reaching the bottom of the Red Gully at 7 am.
Saturday August 5, 2012
Leaving the 4WD TH at 4 am, we started hiking up the road under full moon. We walked the 2.6 miles to the old TH and “short cut” turnoff for Humboldt/Arete climbs. After crossing the twin log footbridge we continued 1.5 miles to reach the Lower South Colony Lake at 5:45 am.
The trail up Broken Hand Pass was a pleasant surprise and actually seemed painless and quick. We arrived at the bottom of the Red Gully and this quickly became my new favorite route up a 14er.
Nice solid rock, good pitch and straight shot to the ridge. (Be careful in this gully as a group ahead of us kicked several rocks down and one came within 3-4 feet of a climber below us! The closest call I have yet to witness on a 14er.) I would estimate the boulder/rock was a 1.5 ft in diameter and covered the entire length of the gully in 6-7 seconds. After that scare, quick work of the 1400 ft gully put us on the summit of the Peak at 8:30 am.
We left the summit of the Peak with a close eye on the weather. It had been surprisingly cloudy the entire morning and the last place I wanted to be stuck in a storm was on the traverse with no bail out options. Unusually the clouds were coming in from the south instead of the west, and with a 50 % chance of storms after noon, we elected to go for the traverse. We had planned 2 hours for the traverse, and with an hour decent of the needle, that would put us back on top of Broken Hand Pass at noon. As we descended the red gully the sun actually came out and some clouds started to clear. The turnoff to the traverse from the Red Gully is not marked, but as other TR’s indicated it is approximately 300 ft below the ridge, or 13,800 ft elevation. Once on the traverse, it is nicely cairned all the way to the base of the Black Gendarme. The first half of the traverse is very nice and I would describe it as broken Class II grassy ledges with an occasionally class III move. The route is pretty obvious over the Rib and to the bottom of the BG. Study the remaining route on top of the rib.
Once at the BG we descended “180 feet” to the crack/ledge system. Here is where we pretty much winged it to the crux. I had read 10-15 trip reports in preparation for the climb and we still made a few wrong turns and ended up in the wrong gully twice. At one point we thought we were at the Crux staring up at a 5.6-7 wall and I thought to myself that looks pretty tough! Roger started to climb it and every other hold was loose, and he stated “this is kind of hard for Class 4.” Roger is a pretty experienced climber having climbed very 14er in 90 days, multiple summits of Rainer, and he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 4 months. When he stated that, I knew we were at the wrong face. I descended a little and realized we have turned up the wrong gully again and that was actually a gendarme! We descended 200 ft, turned left up a broken trail, ran into some cairns and then finally found ourselves at the bottom of the crux. The Class 4 Crux has some serious exposure but the holds are very nice and the 100 ft goes relatively quickly.
Climber rappin' the crux
I did think the exposure was more than anything I experienced on Lindsey’s NW Ridge (which I definitely consider Class III now) and Capitol. Could be due to the fatigue factor as well, since we had started the hike over 7 hours ago. We walked up to the summit from the top of the crux and reached it at 11:30 am.
It took us longer than we had planned because of the route finding issues but luckily the weather was great with no wind, warm temps and scattered clouds. After a short break on the summit, we descended down the South Face of the needle. Of course we missed the gully transfer and realized this when we stopped seeing cairns and cottonwood lake was visible below. The terrain in both gullies seemed to be mostly Class II/III though, so no worries. We hiked up to the ridge b/t the gullies and immediately saw the trail to Broken Hand Pass. The hike down Broken Hand Pass seemed to take forever and much worse than the ascent. I am sure because the adrenaline had run out and we were just tired and ready to be done with the Class II descent. We finally reached the Lower Lake.
We walked back down the road cursing the forest service for the next 2.6 miles and decided that that closing road was actually worse not only for my knees and neck sunburn, but also for the lakes. We decided the road closure put more multi night campers at the lake instead of just day use people. Thus more campfires, wood burn, “buried” toilet paper, and overall impact. We’re probably wrong, but that’s our theory.
We reached the newly constructed bridge and parking lot at 3:30 pm. Overall, a great day in the Sangres and the first of the great traverses for my wife and I. We took 96 back to Pueblo and made quick work of I-25 to get back to Denver at 7:30 pm. After some US Thai Café and an Odell’s IPA, I fell asleep on my couch just as Michael Phelps was winning his last Olympic Gold Medal. Great day for America!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):