| "Crestolita" (13,270') and Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle (14,197')
Route: North ledges on Crestolita and Ellingwood Arete (5.7) on Crestone Needle
Trailhead: South Colony TH at 11,060'
Partners: Aron Ralston
Distance/Vertical/Time (RT): ~10 miles, ~6,000 vertical feet, 13:20 hours
Additional Stuff: Picasa Web Album and Gmaps Pedometer Route Map
Friday, July 27
After getting back from our climb of the Ormes Buttress on Blanca Peak earlier in the day, Aron and I drove out back to CO highway 69 and then north to drive up to the South Colony Lakes TH. We parked my CR-V at the passenger vehicle parking area way down low on the road just before it gets rough and then took about an hour to drive the rest of the gnarly road in Aron's Toyota Tacoma truck to the 4WD parking area. The parking lot just before the major stream crossing at the end of the road was pretty much empty but the area just beyond the stream crossing was packed. Aron found a level spot to park his truck so he could sleep in the back and I spotted a nice flat area for my tent. We heated up a couple cans of some Hormel chili (sadly not chile) and had frito pie and green chile bagel dipped in chili for dinner. Just as we finished up eating around 10:00pm the rain started so I quickly pitched my tent and jumped inside for a great night's sleep. We were pretty wasted after the Ormes/Blanca/Hamilton action. I set the alarm for 4:30am and we were out to the sound of rain.
Saturday, July 28
4:30am was too early! I contemplated rolling over and going back to sleep but got up and went to Aron's truck and opened the shell's window. We discussed the options and decided that another 90 minutes of sleep would be sweet. I went back to the tent, reset the alarm to 6:00am and fell back asleep to the sound of hikers passing by the tent on their way up into the basin.
We got up again around 6:00am, ate some more green chile bagels for breakfast and headed up the road/trail just a bit before 7:00am. We were both dragging a bit still and not super motivated given the rain overnight and the cloudy morning. But we pressed on and followed the great trail past lower South Colony Lake and to the upper lake. We left the trail and crossed over to the loose talus and scraped our way up the loose stuff to the base of the Ellingwood Arete's direct start. A fixed sling and biner about 12 feet up clearly marked the start of the route.
To our dismay, a light rain started just as we reached the base of the route. We looked west towards Obstruction Peak and could see more rain on the way. We sat at the base of the route for 45 minutes hoping the weather would clear but it looked like one of those days where the rain would just sit and drizzle all day. We bailed.
As a consolation we opted to contour over to the trail up to Broken Hand Pass and go over to "Crestolita", an enjoyable unnamed peak topping out at 13,270' south of the Crestone Needle. Bill Geist and I had gone up this peak last summer via a fun route we called "Analemma" and I was anxious to point it out to Aron. However, with the rock being wet, we opted to skip the borderline-fifth-class "Analemma" route and work our way up grassy ledges and rocky sections just to the east of the standard North Couloir route. As we climbed "Crestolita" the weather got significantly better making for nice, warm conditions but also forcing us question our decision to bail on the Ellingwood Arete. But as the cliché goes, hindsight is fifty-fifty, yo.
Fun scrambling up Crestolita.
We first went to the lower, eastern summit of Crestolita and then over to the true summit to the west around noon. The view of the Crestone Needle was stunning from this vantage! With the sun now out we laid down and napped on the summit for about 15 minutes before it got cloudy and cool again. It was time to leave.
We descended the loose North Couloir which wasn't nearly as bad as it looked. Hiking back up and over Broken Hand Pass to the truck we began chatting about our next opportunity to climb the Ellingwood Arete route. Given our schedules, it wouldn't be until next spring at the earliest. This was saddening as we had both been looking forward to this climb for quite a while. I had climbed the route five years ago in a party of four on a weekend in May where we ended up getting snowed on and the day turned into an epic of sorts. During that previous climb in 2002, with the snow plastering the rock, we were forced to aid through the 5.7 crux on the route's final technical pitch and I really wanted to climb it again in better conditions.
As we descended down from Broken Hand Pass we noted the weather had improved again. We stopped on the trail. We could climb it now? Sure. It was 1:40pm. We could contour on the grassy ledges to the standard start of the route by 2:45pm. Neither of us had our headlamps but we calculate we could reach the summit between 6:00 and 7:00pm. That would give us enough time to get down the 3rd class south face route and down to the good trail again before it got dark. Aron said, "You want to do something silly?" I said, "Let's do it!"
On the contour across the basin towards the grassy ledges we stopped to refill our water bladders in a small stream. We made good time up the grassy ledges and reached the start of the climbing section by 2:45pm. Time to put on the harnesses and climbing shoes. Aron would climb in his La Sportiva Cliff climbing shoes and I'd stay with Montrail D7 approach shoes.
Putting on harness and shoes at the start of the real climbing.
We climbed unroped at first for a short bit but after a tough little chimney section we flaked the rope and shortened it to about 100' so we could simul-climb most of the route. I led off up the 4th class/easy 5th class climbing for a few hundred feet. We made sure there was always at least one piece of pro set between us and made great time on this awesomely fun conglomerate climbing! The climbing was sweet and I was quickly reminded just how much fun climbing on this Crestone Conglomerate is!
Good weather, good times!
We were climbing pretty much right on the ridge crest and having a blast. The weather, while looking dubious to the east now, was holding and the climbing was smooth. When I reached the base of a short, overhanging wall section I stopped to bring Aron in. The overhanging wall was short, maybe 10 feet, and it looked reasonable. As I started up it, I found it not so easy and quite strenuous. Nevertheless, I pulled up and over it and felt it was certainly a 5.9 move or two. I apologized for Aron for making him do that and continued on up to setup a belay. I assumed it would give him a challenge and I wanted a good belay anchor. He made quick work of it despite needing to hang on the rope a bit through that section and we carried on.
As we reached the "5.4 moves" section as labeled on Gary Clark's fantastic topo of this route, the cloud and rain rolled in. They were followed by a flash or two of lightning and the guttural roll of thunder reverberating through the valley. We were in it now and as it rained harder I knew I wouldn't be leading through the 5.7 crux pitch in good conditions yet again. Damn it.
I continued up to the 5.5 pitch passing a couple of pitons and setting up an intermediate belay in the middle of the pitch at a point where two pitons are within two feet of each other. We had still been simul-climbing with the shortened rope to this point and I knew I'd want the rest of the rope for the final ~250' of technical climbing and this seemed like a good place to get that rope. I brought Aron up to the belay and we uncoiled and flipped the rope. Just before he arrived at the belay there as a seriously close flash/boom that roared up the South Colony Lakes valley for what seemed like 30 seconds. Whoah! But nevertheless, our spirits were high and despite the wet conditions we were having a good time.
Not so good weather, still good times!
I finished leading the remainder of the 5.5 pitch passing by an old button-head bolt and cruised through the short bit of 3rd class climbing to the base of the last technical pitch. By the time Aron arrived up at the belay things were soaked and getting wetter. It had been raining for nearly an hour now and the conglomerate rock was soaking wet. Nothing on us, or around us, was dry. We were standing in mud and grass at the base of the 5.7 crux pitch. We re-racked and I headed up into the crack/dihedral section recalling how I had climbed this pitch 5 years ago in the snow. On that trip I had taken numerous falls at the crux on a #10 wired nut before we finally aided up the section off that nut and the piton above the crux.
This time, as I placed my hands in the crack, water draining down the crack rolled down my sleeves and soaking me even more than I thought possible. I couldn't decide what was worse—snow or rain? I protected the crux again with a #10 wired nut and a red OP link cam and made the moves. This time they went! But by now my hands were completely numb and the holds that looked like awesomely positive incuts didn't work well because I couldn't feel my fingers. I moved up a bit more and clipped the piton above the crux. I clipped my rope into the runner. Then, realizing my fingers would serve me better if I could feel them, I clipped another runner into the piton and clipped it to my belay loop so I could hang on the piton and warm my hands. Ah! So I'll have to go back a third time to get this section clean!
Full on raining now. This photo is looking down the from right above the 5.7 crux on the final 5th class pitch. The rock is significantly wetter than it appears here.
After warming my hands in my armpits for five minutes, I unclipped from the piton and finished the pitch placing only a .75 BD camalot in the upper section as the climbing got easier. I setup a belay just below the final ~90' of third class terrain to the top and brought Aron up. Aron did awesome through the crux and climbed it cleanly. He later commented that the positive incuts were fantastic with his prosthetic climbing hand. We re-racked, coiled the rope and scrambled the final bit to the top at 6:10pm as it continued to rain. Once we reached the top and started down the south side we felt a chilling wind and were thankful we didn't have that wind on the route. Now that would have been miserable.
During our descent we realized just how much water was draining down off the needle as the standard south gully was a raging stream (movie). It was very impressive how much water was flowing down! We managed to stay left of the stream for the entire descent and made surprisingly good time descending the wet, slick conglomerate rock. When we finally exited the gully onto the good trail back to BHP, the lack of the stream noise was extremely noticeable!
Descending the south face route next to the mini-stream.
By 7:15pm we reached BHP for the third time of the day and made quick work descending the great trail down to the lower South Colony Lake. It continued to drizzle on us as we hiked back to the truck. We got back to the truck by 8:20pm, just before it was dark enough to require headlamps. Perfect!