| Crestone Needle, Cottonwood Creek
I read "trip reports" about people climbing different mountains in books and on the internet. They talk about enjoyable scrambles, easy walks, invigorating climbs, and things like that. I thought it was time to get my point of view in.
Last weekend, I decided to climb, or at least start up, Crestone Needle, a mountain in Colorado. I climbed Crestone Peak a few years before from the east, so I decided to take the route from the west, Cottonwood Creek, to Crestone Needle. It‘s about 11 miles and 5800 vertical feet. Since I‘m young and stupid I figured that would be no problem.
I was going to stay the night in Salida and drive down in the morning, but I decided I‘d see if there was anywhere to stay in Crestone. I drove down beautiful downtown Crestone, and spotted the Aldace Terrace Inn. The steps went upstairs to an open door, and I asked the lady inside if she was the one to see about a room. Nope. She told me to go down to the corner and ask the girl at the liquor store. So I did. The girl at the liquor store told me to go across the street to the deli and ask Rebecca. Rebecca wasn‘t at the deli. Nobody was at the deli. So I headed back to a place I saw on the way into town, the White Eagle hotel.
There were two cars at the White Eagle, but I didn‘t see anybody inside. It seemed deserted. There was some new-age music playing the lobby, but not a soul to be seen. I had seen something like this before in the Twilight Zone. I finally noticed a sign on the desk next to the "no credit cards" sign that said to call someone for a room. I did. It was busy. I drove around a bit and then came back and called again. She said she‘d be right down.
It turns out the lady was selling the motel. She‘s from Jay, OK and actually knew where Pryor is. She explained that there‘s no smoking. I said OK. She said no smoking anywhere on the property. I said OK. She started to mention it again, and I finally told her I didn‘t smoke. Then she mentioned that there are no phones or TVs in the rooms, because they cater to retreats. I said OK.
I turns out that there are a lot of religious retreat places around Crestone. I gave a ride to a guy with bare feet, flowers behind his ears, and a lot of tattoos who told me that a lady bought a bunch of land there and donated it to religious organizations. There are lots of Buddhist places, and I think a Catholic monastery.
He asked what religion I preferred. I told him Methodist. I suspected this wasn‘t exotic enough to suit him. I was going to mention that I ate breakfast at Yasukuni Shrine a few times, but then I remembered that that is Shinto and not Buddhist, and he might not like 47 Ronin anyway. Just when I was about to tell him that I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance once, he said he wanted to ride with the fellow in front of me. So I stopped and he jumped out, ran up to the car in front of me, and jumped on the bumper as that car took off. I guess he didn‘t like Beethoven‘s 5th Piano Concerto. Or maybe it was my driving. Eventually he got inside the other car.
The next morning I got up early so I could get up the mountain and down to the timberline by 12:00 or so, in case there were storms. I read later about lady and her husband who were climbing nearby Kit Carson Peak 2-3 weeks ago. They got down below the timberline as the storms came up. Even so, she was killed by a lightning strike. Lucky for me, there weren‘t any storms when I climbed. I didn‘t make it up and down by noon.
I decided to take a bicycle up the trail. I walked up the trail a couple of hundred yards, and it looked bikable. It would make it a lot easier coming down. I grabbed the bike and took off at 6:35 a.m. At about 300 yards, the trail became impossible to bike up, or at least impractical. So I pushed, dragged, and carried the bike another 1.5 or 2 miles up the trail, thinking I would be really happy to have it on the way down. It was tiring! There were a lot of big rocks and trees across the trail.
Finally I dumped the bike and started walking. I could go a lot faster that way.
The rock in the Crestone area is a conglomerate called, coincidentally, Crestone Conglomerate. This part has been sheered off by a glacier.
A little farther I crossed the creek. Close to a mile farther I began wondering whether I should be on the other side of the creek, and realized that the trail I was on wasn‘t very good. I gave up and looked at a map. Yep. The mountain I was looking at was not the mountain I was supposed to be looking at. I had taken the wrong creek and was headed to Milwaukee Peak.
Normally I would just go on and climb Milwaukee Peak or whatever is convenient, but if I managed to get to the top of Crestone Needle, it would be number 20 of the 20 highest mountains in Colorado for me. In hiking, as with driving, backtracking was naturally out of the question.
So I followed some animal trails across the creek, then followed the base of some cliffs around Broken Hand Peak, and managed to find the trail to Crestone Needle just below a waterfall. It only took about 4 times the effort that backtracking would have -- pretty good for me.
The trail -- even the proper one -- was not what you‘d call well manicured. There were dozens of trees fallen across it, washouts, etc. Willows and undergrowth hid the trail in some places.
When I got above the timberline again, it was really nice.
For a while.
Not far about 13,000‘, the hiking trail turned into "scrambling," which translates into hand-and-feet climbing.
This is pretty fun. Being the experienced mountaineer that I am, I took several wrong turns and ended up climbing up and down 100-200 feet in a lot of places that I didn‘t need to. This provided a lot of additional exercise value for the dollar. There were a lot of really nice views from these optional detours, too.
Usually, when you climb a mountain, if you keep going up you‘ll eventually get to the top. In the case of Creation Needle, there are a lot of needles like this:
And lots of dead-ends like this:
So if you keep going up without staying on the proper route, you‘ll get to the top of something, but it won‘t be the top of the mountain. I checked quite a few of these places just to be sure. Eventually, trial and error prevailed and I made it to the top about 1:30.
Near the top I met a couple of people headed down the east side. They were the only people I had seen since some campers down miles below.
The weather held -- there were clouds but no storms. As I headed down, my left knee started to complain. It obviously was not paying attention to that "young and stupid" stuff I mentioned earlier. So downhill was slow going. It was really irritating -- I used to run down mountains! When I got to the trees I grabbed a walking stick, which helped. I lost the trail regularly until I got down pretty low, but it was about as easy to walk off the trail as on it.
After walking what seemed like twice the distance to the car, I came upon the bicycle. I was really tired by this point. In addition to a lack of air, I was just plain exhausted. I grabbed the bike and discovered that I even had to push it downhill in a lot of places. That just added insult to injury. But it was nice to ride downhill instead of walk when I could. It almost (but not quite) made dragging the bike up the hill worthwhile.
About a half-mile or so from the car, I met a lady. She was wearing a poncho with a hood, carrying what looked like a food basket. It was Little Red Riding Hood! But I didn‘t harass her about it, and we were polite to each other. I expect she was moderately appalled by my appearance -- I had even ripped the leg of my pants at this point.
I finally made it to the car at 6:25, well under 12 hours. I was dead tired, one knee hurt from overuse and the other hurt where I banged it on a rock, my back was stiff, I whammed myself on the bike seat, and I was scratched up from the willows across the trail and from where I fell a few times. All in all, a great hike! I wonder why nobody went with me?