| Crestone Peak - Like scenes from The Lord of the Rings
The rain beat against the tent incessantly for four hours, punctuated with enough thunderclaps to remind us that we're there on nature's terms, not ours. It didn't bode particularly well for our little group's three-and-a-half day trek into the spectacular Sangre de Cristos to climb Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle, and Humboldt Peak.
Not that we didn't have fair warning. That evening as we camped beside lower South Colony Lake, we sat enthralled as a massive thunderhead in the east lit up the night. To try and capture it, I used a mini tripod perched on a rock, using 15-20 second exposures.
We had driven from Denver that day and hiked the South Colony Road, with the merciful aid of an ATV to carry most of our gear. Thankfully, the storm subsided, and as we headed toward Crestone Peak via Broken Hand Pass at 5:40 a.m. the next morning, the darkness gave way to a lovely sunrise behind Humboldt Peak.
I had been a little tense about these climbs for some time. While I've summitted thirty 14ers including Capitol Peak, El Diente, Mt. Wilson, and a challenging Longs Peak/Mt. Meeker combo, these two seemed different. I occasionally have a difficult time with exposure, and then there was that talk in the "Roach Coach" about this mountain at one time being proclaimed unclimbable.
We headed up Broken Hand Pass, which have a couple of fun, class 3 scrambling sections to get you warmed up, which my fellow climbers Jason and David had no trouble with.
Once we descended 600 feet from the pass, hiked around Cottonwood Lake, and got a good look at the task before us—the south couloir—it didn't look too bad.
Ascending to the red notch between the two summits looked pretty straightforward, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. Not that there is any particularly difficult climbing involved—it's all class 3 if you stay on route—it's just finding that route that could be a challenge. We followed Roach's guidance to avoid the lower couloir by scrambling up rock on the right side. The cairns disappeared on that shoulder, though; and, unsure of the route, we had a choice of a steep snowfield and staying on that shoulder for a ways or descending down 40 feet or so to easier terrain inside the couloir. Jason and David took the snow route while I opted for the couloir.
The couloir above that snowfield gave us no trouble. This shot shows us headed for the red notch (on the right), which separates the east and west summits. The main summit is the west one which is there on the left.
Climbing the steeper section of the red couloir:
At the red notch we ran into a couple of other climbers who had come up the Northwest Couloir, and they said it was steep, snow-covered in spots, and they wished they had a rope. From the red notch, we scaled these class 3 ledges for a little over 100 feet...
...arriving at the summit about 9:50 a.m.
Once at the summit, you're reminded why you do these things. Wispy white ribbons of clouds were enveloping Crestone Needle (14,197') and the surrounding peaks, creating an other-worldly, surreal scene that looked like a landscape transported right out of The Lord of the Rings.
Looking at the northern Sangres and 13,931-ft. Mt. Adams:
Then it was time to check in with loved ones from the 7th highest point in the state. Hmm… Maybe we could get a sponsorship from our cell phone providers and get paid to do these trips if we agree to wear their logos as we climb…
"Honey, you can see clear to the Great Sand Dunes and Little Bear Peak to the south of here, and… hello? hello?" Oh well, so much for our sponsorship…
Challenger Point (14,081') is in the shade on the left, and some of Kit Carson Mountain's various summits (highest-14,165') are on the right. The trail used most often to climb it—from the Challenger Peak side—is called "Kit Carson Avenue" and it's the dark line coming down over the upper face. The San Luis Valley is to the left.
Trail stats for this trip: 8.8 miles according to my GPS, and 3,850 ft. from Lower South Colony Lake. From our trailhead yesterday, it was 17 miles and 6,770 ft. total.
Tomorrow, we'll give Crestone Needle our best shot. All in all though, this wasn't as difficult as I expected, and as for the scenery--well, I suppose you could say it is Heaven-sent, because only the Good Lord could create scenes like these.
"The whole earth is full of His glory."
- Isaiah 6:3
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):