| Crestone Needle south face
Mileage: approx. 9 mi RT from camp at the gate, up the Needle and Humboldt, and back to camp
Elevation gain (from camp up peaks): approx. 6000 ft
Time: 10 hrs (but I hiked like a slug)
Started the trip by driving up the road to South Colony Lakes in my little Honda Civic. I made it past the parking lot and marked "4WD only" sign about 2.0 mi before encountering a steep section that proved too much for my little Civic. I think I could have gone another 0.5 mi if I had cleared that hill. I would imagine this would be the case for most 2WD vehicles that aren't too low-slung.
From parking the car, I backpacked about 3.0 mi under an almost-full moon to the gate at the end of the road. There were plenty of good campsites up the road to this point and at the gate. Luckily the skies were clear that night and there was no precipitation (or hungry marmots).
I begun the climb shortly before 7AM and made my way to South Colony Lakes (see )where I encountered a group of about 12 college students taking part in the Rocky Mountain Field Initiative trail building program, supervised by Bryan Becker. I met these folks and ended up joining them for the climb up the Needle. The climber's trail up to Broken Hand Pass is in quite good shape thanks to the good folks at RMFI. From here, the good trail continued for about 0.5 mi where it traversed gently around the S side of the Needle. Right before starting to ascend the gulleys, we made a 50ft descent on the trail, which folks should remember on the way back - according to Bryan, this is where many parties get sidetracked and descend unwittingly into Cottonwood Creek, as they don't think to do a 50ft climb on the way down. We ascended the first of the two gulleys and stayed in the gulley the whole way (rather than switching over to the LH gulley, as the guidebook suggested). The rock was solid and very fun, solid 3+ class climbing. Weather at the summit was strange, with mostly blue skies and some very low clouds that didn't seem to grow (see ). You couldn't even see Crestone Peak because of the clouds.
The descent down was fine (with a suprise finding of a pair of Victoria's Secret panties tied on to some slings...), remembering to ascend 50ft to the SE back up to the pass. After this, I descended back down to the lakes and then up Humboldt (see ). It looks like you might be able to avoid some elevation loss by traversing along the E side of the Needle, but the bushwacking is probably more time consuming than just staying on the trail. The route up Humboldt is well-built and well-cairned. Even though this climb is a lark, my sea-level lungs and out-of-shape legs made this ascent a huge mental and physical challenge. I reached the summit with grey clouds that weren't threatening. I took my time at the summit and getting down. Then, when I was 10ft from my tent all hell broke loose and a HUGE hailstorm/thunderstorm ensued for the next 2 hours. I've never seen anything like it.
Anyhow, it was a great trip with surprisingly good weather for the climb. Props to RMFI for making terrific trails and providing a great opportunity for college students to earn college credit, a small stipend, gain trail building experience, and learn about the alpine environment.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):