Saying goodbye to Terry Mathews on Crestone Needle
On Monday, August 19th, 2013, nine mountaineers journeyed to the summit of 14,197' high Crestone Needle. They were of different ages and came from vastly different backgrounds. Some of them had never even met one another. They had two things in common, however, their love for the the mountains and their love for a man named Terry Mathews. It had been 37 painful days since we lost our friend Terry, and we now gathered to say goodbye in the best way we knew how: by spreading Terry's ashes on his favorite 14'er.
Nick, Brad and I met up with Bill, Britt and Jerry at the upper 4-wheel drive trailhead. After a brief round of introductions, we set out towards Colony lakes. Britt and Bill quickly set the pace, and soon they were far ahead of the rest of the group. I like to think they were so much faster because they did not each have a six-pack of beer in their pack like the rest of us, but the truth is they are simply very strong hikers. The weather started off absolutely perfect. Terry had sent us a magnificent day. We trekked up the old jeep road, catching up with one another and sharing memories of Terry. About thirty minutes into the hike, a cool drizzle began to fall. It was not unpleasant, but rather served to cool us down and cleanse the air.
Trail junction - Right leads towards the lakes, left goes to the needle
Bill and Britt waited for the rest of us at the junction of the Crestone Needle and “Spur” trails. There are some very modern signs discussing the area and the mountains. Brit said that he knew of a good camping spot near Lower South Colony Lake, so we followed him to the right up the Spur trail. As we spread out across the trail, I got a chance to visit with Bill and learn more about him and his family. He is a super-nice guy. After about another 30 minutes of hiking we reached the crest of a hill that had several dispersed camp sites and a fire ring. It was a beautiful spot, on the edge of the creek that flows out of Colony Lakes.
The Needle looms large as we make our way to camp
We quickly made camp and then relaxed with a cold beer. Britt and Bill went down to the creek to filter water, and they told us that they had seen a large trout at the edge of the pool from which they were drawing water. Nick quickly rigged up his fly rod, made two casts, and BAM! A beautiful little trout on the line. Excited by his success, we decided to walk up to Lower South Colony lake to explore and do some more fishing. We all walked the 10 minutes or so up to the lake, and within a half hour we had landed, and released, three more trout. The wind kicked up, and so we decided to head towards a smaller pond downstream. It was quite shallow, and the group got a kick out of telling me where the fish were at. Alas, as soon as I would cast towards them, they would spook and head to a different area of the pond. Jerry counted, and told us with great certainty that there were 45 fish in the lake. Not 44, not 46, but 45.
Who needs Mountain House when you can catch your dinner?
We decided to head back and have dinner and build a fire. It has been so nice this year to have a campfire after the last couple years of drought and firebans. We scavenged wood and enjoyed a great fire. Most of us had our typical Mountain House meals. Jerry had a Mountain House desert, and it reminded us of how Terry would always have a blueberry crisp dessert that he was always happy to share. We shared some more Terry memories and had some laughs, but as we watched the fire die out and readied for sleep, it was clear that Terry was heavy on everyone’s minds. Meanwhile, down at the lower camp, Susan and Ryan hung out with Terry around the campfire.
We awoke, well the lucky few who were able to sleep awoke, at 3 AM. The plan was for Susan, Ryan and Kiefer to meet us at our camp at 4:00 AM. Susan and Ryan had spent the night camped at the trailhead. They had kept Terry with them, and made sure to include him in their time around the campfire. Kiefer was coming straight from work and was would be doing the hike on no sleep. We arose at 3 AM and had breakfast. Someone had thought to use two-way radios, so we were able to figure out where everyone was at. Bill said the others were a little behind schedule, so we decided to climb back into our tents for about ˝ hour. Britt had marked our campsite with pink ribbons, which sparked a conversation about how that was the most active thread on 14ers.com . Funny how people look so hard for something to complain about…
Susan, Ryan and Kiefer hit our camp around 4:30 AM, and after brief “hellos” we set off up the trail. In my 44 fourteener summits, I had grown accustomed to setting the pace. Sometimes I would have to work to keep up with Terry, but I was usually the fast one. Not so with this group. We moved at a blistering pace, headlamps bobbing up and down as we navigated the darkness. We quickly reached the log crossing over the creek that allowed us to join the needle trail. We moved very quickly for another 20-30 minutes before someone had the sense to suggest that we stop and catch our breath. It was still quite dark, but everyone in the group was quite accustomed to night-hiking. Ryan asked if we wanted to see Terry. I could not bring myself to see him yet, but it was very cool how Ryan and Susan had taken such great care of him.
Brit, Kiefer and Brad on the way up BHP
Starting up Broken Hand Pass
We continued up the talus below Broken-Hand Pass, stopping periodically to enjoy the sunrise and take a photo or two. The air quickly warmed, and it was clear that Terry was all about, giving us optimal conditions for our hike. Has we reached the start of Broken Hand Pass, we all shed layers and donned our helmets. Rock fall is a serious concern on this trail, and much like our buddy Terry, we always focus on safety. I had the honor of wearing Terry’s helmet. I could feel his presence all around us.
Alpenglow on the Needle
Humboldt Peak at sunrise
Broken Hand Pass sits about 1,000 feet above lower South Colony Lake. To reach it, we needed to climb nearly straight up a narrow, loose gully. As we began our ascent, the sun broke through and the Alpenglow illuminated Crestone Needle. There is a reason why this was Terry’s favorite 14er and why the great Gerry Roach has it on the cover of his classic guidebook. This pinnacle of rock and stone is simple breathtaking. A silent sentinel, keeping watch over the valleys below. Most of the group had been up this peak at least once, but for Brad, Nick and I, it was our first attempt at scaling this spectacular monarch of the Sangres.
Taking a break on top of BHP
We spread out and steadily gained altitude until we reached the crest of Broken Hand Pass at an elevation of 12,850’. We stopped to snack and stash our hiking poles, as we knew the rest of the trip would consist primarily of hand-over-hand climbing. We traversed around the side of the mountain for several hundred yards before turning back up towards the south face. For some reason, a debate about the greatest rock bands of all time. We were stunned to learn that we had a devoted Rush fan in our group. Apparently, he had seen the Holy Trinity over 40 times. That is the kind of dedication that embodies a fourteener climber. From there, the conversation grew increasingly odd, ending with a discussion about the many things that KMFDM could mean. This is the true fun of hiking with others. You can really get to know someone in the time it takes to climb a peak. As we moved up the mountain, my mind kept returning to the hundreds of odd conversations that Terry and I had shared above tree line. I was missing my friend tremendously.
Well defined trail from BHP to start of the gullies
The face of Crestone.
As we approached 13,300’ in elevation, we reached the start of the east gully. There are two gullies that lead to the summit of Crestone Needle. The “easiest” way to the summit from here is to climb several hundred feet towards the summit and then cross over to the west gully. Bill, Brit, Ryan and Kiefer decided to stay in the east gully and tackle the class 4 terrain, while the rest of us decided to cross over to the east gully. The transition from one gully to the other is the crux of the climb and involves a difficult, exposed class 4 move across a gash in the rock. Terry would have normally led this type of terrain, but Jerry stepped up to fill Terry’s very large shoes and show us the way to cross. We made it across safely, and then climbed a steep face up to a notch in the rock. We passed through the notch and descended into the west gully. Terry really enjoyed climbing Crestone Needle, because it has a lot of challenging climbing, but the rock is very stable conglomerate. Hand and foot holds are easily found.
Susan navigating the transition from the east gully to the west
The wall from the east gully to the west
We made our way carefully up the west gully. About halfway up the gully is split by a large rib of rock. Brad elected to go east of the rib, and I followed him. Susan, Jerry and Nick stayed in the west gully proper. As Brad and I neared the top of the east gully, we spotted Britt, Bill, Kiefer and Ryan topping out of the east gully. Brit hollered over and pointed out a wide rock “ramp” that Brad and I could follow to the summit ridge. We took his advice, and scrambled our way to the summit ridge. The group from the east gully hit the ridge at about the same time. Bill advised to us to stay atop the ridge. We followed him across an exposed, but stable section of rock to the summit. Standing 14,197’ above the sea, one cannot help but be humbled. To think, God made all of this and still found time to make an insignificant speck like me. Looking back, we could see Nick, Susan and Jerry near the top of the west gully. After a few minutes, they joined us on the summit of Crestone Needle. Looking back, we could tell that each of the three groups had tackled the face of the Needle in a different way. That is part of the fun of these peaks; it is ok to color outside the lines sometimes.
Brian and Brad in the gully
Ryan atop a fun climbing section
The dihedral near the top of the East gully
Brit and Ryan atop the dihedral
We had the summit to ourselves, and after a few minutes to catch our breath and nourish ourselves, Brit said he wanted to say a few words to begin our goodbye to our friend Terry. We gathered around, each of us absorbing the beauty of our surroundings and the sadness of our errand in our own way. We each took time visiting with Terry’s remains. We placed him atop the very highest point of the Needle. This is where Terry was most happy, and where he is now at peace.
Group summit shot
Ryan, Kiefer and Jerry summit
Jerry and Kiefer
Terry had a poem that he would post on 14ers.com when a friend of his died, which unfortunately happened way too often. As we gathered around Terry’s remains, Nick had the honor of reading the poem:
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sun on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quite birds in circling flight
I am the soft starlight at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die.
Solitary climbers on Crestone Peak and East Crestone
We shared some more stories about Terry. Susan in particular described some touching memories that exemplified Terry’s tremendous loyalty to his friends. It was now time to say goodbye to Terry. We each took a handful of Terry’s ashes and released them into the wind. As I watched them drift across the valley, I knew that Terry was finally at peace. The next time you hear the wind ripple through the trees, see the glint of the snow, smell the rain in the air or feel the sun upon your face; think of Terry, for he is there.
Terry's last summit
Terry with Crestone Peak in the background
Jerry and Ryan spread the rest of Terry’s remains on the class 4 traverse, and we prepared to begin our descent. As the tears dried on my face, I felt the hollow sadness of saying goodbye to Terry, but then smiled into the sunshine as I thought about the joy and adventure he had brought into my life. Terry touched each of us in a different way, but he had a profound impact on each of us as well as the Colorado climbing community. The length of one’s life is not measured in years, but rather in actions and deeds. In this respect, Terry lived longer than most.
Ryan and Jerry spreading ashes on the traverse
We carefully descended off of the summit. From the top, I could see that there was a well-defined trail from the top of the gully to the summit that we had missed on the way up. We descended safely down the west gully and had fun tackling the transition back to the east gully. It is a much easier move on the way down, but involves a mandatory leap of faith. Terry would have been proud to see how everyone worked together to navigate the challenging areas safely. To see a group that are more or less strangers to one another work together to achieve such a challenging task speaks to the power these mountains possess. As Terry once said: “Hikers are hikers; we are all one and the same. The color of our skin doesn’t matter. What matters most is we all have the mountains in our blood. The mountains are food for our souls.”
Our descent back to camp was uneventful. There was a lot of talk of Terry and the many great times we had all enjoyed with him. We made it back to camp and enjoyed a delicious cold beer and Britt’s hammock. It was a spectacular day. The skies were blue, the air was fresh. After managing to catch another fish out of the creek, we packed up camp and headed towards the car.
Final GPS stats
We met at our cars and proceeded to caravan down to the lower trailhead. Once there, we were honored with the presence of Terry’s mom, dad and brother. They offered us cold water, which I gratefully accepted. We filled them in on the details of our journey. It was an incredible honor for the Mathews family to select us to deliver Terry to his final summit. After hugs and handshakes, we all bid each other farewell. As we rolled on down the road, Terry said goodbye to us with a spectacular sunset.
Honored by the prescense of the Mathews family
Terry saying goodbye to us
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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