| Crestone Five in a Day
Crestone Group in a Day
8/4/12, Eric J Lee
This summer two big link-ups were on my must do list; the first being Capitol and Snowmass which I accomplished on 7/21/12 (new FKT), the second was the Crestone five peak combo. My last attempt at the Crestone group was foiled by horrible smoke from the fires in June, so on 8/3/12 I drove down to Westcliffe. I reached the new South Colony Lakes TH at 9900ft at 11pm (no problem for my Subaru Forester), just enough time for a little sleep before my 4:30am wakeup call.
When the alarm went off at 4:30am I thought long and hard about going back to sleep for another hour, but was able to rouse myself; eat breakfast, pack my bag, and double check all my beta for the day. I rolled off on the trail toward South Colony Lakes at 5:12am under a near full moon, making hiking without a headlamp possible. I fast hiked/slow jogged up the road, reaching the first of the South Colony lakes at 6:12am, one hour after starting, not bad.
Early morning on Humboldt
From there I continued up the trail toward Humboldt Peak, my first 14er of the day. I’d opted to do the loop counter-clockwise in order to up-climb the most difficult sections of the route. I felt a bit sluggish as the pitch began to steepen and the air grew thinner. In spite of how I felt at 7:15am I crested the top of Humboldt Peak only 2h3min after starting out. While the climb might not be anything spectacular, the views from the summit in all directions are phenomenal. Knowing I had another long day ahead, I didn’t dwell long, and jogged off down the trail back to the saddle at 12600ft.
From the saddle I left the official trail and scrambled up and over point 13290ft, dropping into the ‘Bears Playground’. This broad open tundra bowl marks the connecting points for the ridges from Humboldt, Kit Carson and Crestone Peak. From there I picked up a cairned traverse that skirted around point 13799ft, dumping me out at the 13500ft saddle leading to Kat Carson. The final scramble up to Kat Carson seemed to take forever, and when I summited I was greeted by the final scramble down Kat Carson and back up Kit Carson. I picked my way down the class 3 gulleys to the Kit/Kat saddle, then made a B-line up the final push to Kit Carson.
Kit Carson from Kat Carson
At 9:16am, 4h4min after setting out I reached the broad summit of Kit Carson Mt. The traverse from Humboldt had taken over two hours, much longer than anticipated. I still had three more peaks to go, and was worried that if the weather didn’t hold I might not make it over to the Crestones. From the summit of Kit Carson I back tracked just a little bit then descended down a steep class 4 gulley that dumped me right onto Kit Carson Avenue (not recommended unless you’re comfortable with sustained class 4). I was surprised how broad the Avenue was, seemed more like a class 1 trail than class 2+. I powered my way across the Avenue then up the short stretch to Challenger Point, topping out at 9:48am.
I was feeling much better after the quick trip up Challenger, keeping my hopes up that the weather would hold for the Crestone Traverse. After a short snack break and taking a few photos for another group I jogged off toward Kit Carson and the long traverse back to the Bears Playground. The traverse went fairly uneventfully as I found a much cleaner, quicker line back to the Bears Playground. As I looked over at Crestone Peak, I tried to envision where the North Buttress route ascended, but the muddle of spires, gendarmes, and broad gulleys gave nothing away. As I approached the base of the North Buttress (or where I thought it would start) I glanced up at the myriad of options and decided to make my way into the NW couloir. While the climbing in the NW couloir wasn’t as superb as what the North Buttress is supposed to be, I felt more comfortable knowing exactly where I was supposed to go.
I stayed toward the sides of the NW couloir (now snow free) and found some decent rock, avoiding most of the loose stuff in the middle. I even found a slow trickle of water from which I was able to fill my water bottle. As I neared the peak the massive walls of the East summit loomed overhead. Just before the top of the NW couloir I swung right up a fun class 3/4 rib which deposited me within 30ft of the Crestone Peak’s summit. At 11:44am I was at my highest point of the day, it was all (mostly) downhill from here. I looked over at the several parties standing atop the Needle, reviewed the notes I had made on the Traverse, and began my descent down Crestone Peak’s SE gulley.
Crestone Peak East summit and the top of the NW couloir
The footing was loose, so I tried to stay on the solid rock to the East of the gulley, but ended up cliffing myself out, doh. I gave in and carefully tiptoed down the nasty chute until I saw a cairn around 13600ft at which point I hung a hard left and off I went on the Traverse. I followed the cairned ledges to the best of my ability, but more than once found myself staring at a 50ft vertical drop into a deep gulley, only to notice the cairn below me pointing to easier terrain. Finally I dropped below the final set of buttresses to 13400ft and began my ascent back toward the saddle and Crestone Needle. The grassy ledges on this final section provided some nice easy terrain, a welcome relief from all the rock and talus.
Black Gendarme and the final push to Crestone Needle. Note the yellow and orange specks in the middle.
As I neared Crestone Needle I watched a large group of climbers descending the final class 4 pitch from the summit, good to see the home stretch so near. I noted two of the climbers wearing neon orange and yellow, and wondered if it was my two friends who were on Ellingwood Arete that day. As I approached the group I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was my two friends, who had just finished Ellingwood and were now headed off to Crestone Peak. After a short bit of chatter we parted ways and I began the final push up the fun knobby class 4 to the summit of Crestone Needle.
I took a direct line up the final crux pitch to Crestone Needle, thoroughly enjoying the knobby conglomerate rock. Soon I was taking the last few steps onto the summit of Crestone Needle, 12:58pm, 7h46min after starting out. The traverse had felt really good and I was very happy with how I’d rallied after a sluggish morning. I had the summit all to myself, so sat for a few minutes to take it all in. All that was left was a descent down the South Ridge to Broken Hand Pass and a jog down to the trailhead.
Looking back at Crestone Peak
As I began to descend the South Ridge I quickly realized this would not be a walk in the park. The terrain was steep, with a mix of knobby scrambling and loose boulder hopping. I zig zagged my way down the ridge, finally dropping into the eastern most gulley. Having not climbed up the route I had to stop about half dozen times to scout out the best way down. Finally I was able to work my way down to the trail to Broken Hand Pass, ahhhhh trail how I’ve missed thee. I was finally able to jog my way down to the pass where I was somewhat dismayed to see several hundred feet of loose scree and gravel descending from the pass. I gently picked my way down the hill to the traverse where the trail picked back up again. I set out at a full gallop down the trail, reaching the lower South Colony Lake at 1:53pm. As I jogged down I noticed that I had been deposited on the round about traverse to South Colony Creek rather than the direct shortcut from roads end. Oh well, an extra mile and a little more time on the trail. I cruised on down the trail and road finishing off my day at 2:29pm, 9h17min after I’d left that morning!
I was tired, but surprisingly not sore or in any pain. My time of 9h17min TH->TH and 7h41min round trip from South Colony Lakes had set a new FKT (as far as I can tell), breaking the old South Colony Lakes RT of 9h44min. Once again I had been blessed with fantastic weather, mostly good route finding and some phenomenal climbing/scrambling/views. I couldn’t have asked for much more out of the day; capped off with some salty chips, a beer and some peanut butter cookies. What a way to tick off the five Crestone 14ers.
1:00:20 to Lower South Colony Lake
2:03:22 (1:03:22) Humboldt Mt
4:04:12 (2:00:49) Kit Carson Mt
4:32:22 (0:28:10) Challenger Point
6:31:45 (1:59:22) Crestone Peak
7:46:25 (1:14:40) Crestone Needle
8:41:16 (0:54:50) Lower South Colony Lake
9:17:05 (0:35:49) South Colony TH
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):