Crestone Needle via the South Couloir
May 3, 2013
Approx 13 miles
Group: Marc Barella, Eric Sangueza, Rob Miller, Mike Bean, Matt Kamper, & me.
We had made a couple attempts in the last few years, turned around three weeks ago when things were less than ideal, and continued to follow the weather in the Sangres on a daily basis. On Friday the weather was perfect, the snow was adequate, and we had a grand time climbing and skiing Crestone Needle.
Regarded as one of the premier lines in the Rockies. I think Frank's photo does a good job of explaining why... Photo taken April 2010 by Frank Konsella
We made it within a mile of the upper trailhead the night before and left camp around 4:15 a.m. By sunrise we neared South Colony Lakes
Rob leading the way, followed by Mike, and our friend Austin Porzak who was headed for Crestone Peak. The couloir in the distant middle was our ascent and descent route to/from the ridge between Broken Hand Pass and the Needle.
Mike, Matt, and Austin headed towards the low point on Broken Hand Pass.
The rest of the group headed up a slightly different route in hopes of keeping the skins on longer. Marc attempting the 30+ degree skin:
Eric climbing what we've been calling the Consolation Prize. We skied it in 2011 when the Needle was too thin, and we would have skied it a few weeks ago but it looked a little loaded.
Enjoying the windless day with a break above the Consolation Prize couloir. Generally, I think a group of 3 for this type of trip is preferred. We made an exception, but it wasn't without careful consideration of the fact that this group knew each other, had experience climbing/skiing together, and had made the decision together to heed to conditions on previous occasions. Having this number also meant we were able to divide the weight of a couple ropes and various other gear, take turns kicking steps, and even with two raps and no sled roundtrip the route in under 11 hours. Rob on the left, Matt standing in the center, Mike in the blue helmet, Marc in the visor, and Eric on the right.
Rob, Eric, and Mike
Rob and Mike, still on the traverse to the start of the Needle's south couloir.
Matt. photo by Eric
Most parties that have skied this line make this descending traverse unroped. This is the point where we turn around a few weeks ago in high winds. Since we knew there was a good anchor for a rope here, and had plenty of people to divide the weight of the 30 meter, we decide to bring it. The traverse didn't look nearly as bad as before, but since it took only a few minutes to work together and set up the rap, we played it conservative. Matt on rappel.
After the very short rappel we dropped a little vert before climbing a couple short ice sections to enter the couloir proper. Bean on the rappel.
And on the ice.
Photo by Eric
After the ice Mike and Eric starting making the boot track towards the summit, the other 3 worked on finding an anchor/setting up the rappel for the descent, and I went for a walk to scout a potential rappel that would drop us into a more convenient spot on the ridge. Marc hollered that they had a good anchor so I grabbed this shot and aborted plan B.
Climbing the couloir. photo by Eric
Eric a few hundred vert below the summit.
As we neared the top Mike hollered back that the rest of us should hang a left instead of following his steps. I communicated this to the rest of the group and, very slowly, traversed to join everyone else. Marc had measured the couloir at 52 degrees. My inclinometer was in my pack which I wasn't about to reach for. Sure felt 10 degrees steeper than anything we climbed below, especially as the snow became thin near the rock.
Photo by Matt
Almost back to the group, just below the summit.
Made the summit a little before 11 a.m. photo by Bean
At this point Marc and I had skied/snowboarded more than 50 different 14ers together. A stat beat only by my skis and skins; which had been with me for 57 of the 58 (on my list) 14ers. The skins I bought used from a 14ers.com member before I had skied my first 14er.
Rob and Matt skiing the top section as Marc watches from above and I from below.
As we climbed the sustained narrow section I wondered how Marc would handle it on the board. We were entertained and impressed with his linked jump turns. If this wasn't the 4th snowboard descent I'm sure it was close.
Me making some turns.
Photo by Matt
Matt skiing down to the rap station.
By the time I skied to him and clicked my skis off he was almost ready to toss the rope.
They let me go first on the rappel.
Photo by Eric.
Eric exiting the couloir.
At this point we were back to the first rappel of the morning. I had tied the rope off earlier and left it as two fixed lines so we could anchor a prussic cord on the climb out.
Able to relax a good bit after 8 hours on the go, we enjoyed our first long break.
Photo by Matt
Mike and Rob traversing towards Broken Hand.
This time we won and still got to enjoy the Consolation Prize.
Matt skiing towards South Colony.
photo by Bean
We enjoyed a group ski down to the lake, quickly found our way through the trees having done it a few times now, and I don't even think anyone complained about the 4 mile ski, pole, hike out on the road. Maybe that's just my perspective since I remembered to wax my skis the day before this time. After a beer we headed to Westcliffe for Pizza and beers.
Sure, there could have been more snow, but the snow that was there warmed up just to that right amount, the sun was shinning, and the winds tempered. We had been intimidated and excited by photos like this for a while and we all felt lucky to have gotten the Needle in such good condition. The neat thing about this particular photo of the south couloir on the Needle is that we're in it. At 27 miles away we'll just have to take Bill's word for it that he shot it at 11:45 a.m. Friday, which happened to be the time we were finishing skiing.
Skiing the 14ers has been an incredible journey. I've certainly enjoyed following this thread with great appreciation for every comment. But since I didn't ski a single peak alone, much credit goes to all the ski partners I've met along the way, who have since become good friends. Brian, Ben, Bill, Caroline, Rob S., Rick, the folks in this TR, the other Carl D., and many others. Thanks! Best of luck to Matt and Marc as they ski and ride the final few 14ers.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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