| Crestone Needle - Like Visions of Paradise
If you tried to paint a picture of Paradise, what would it look like? While everyone's vision would be different, it might include ethereal vistas of cloud-shrouded, soaring peaks, endless blue skies, lush meadows abounding in color, and wondrous canyons.
That would also be a pretty good description of what this climb up Crestone Needle was like, and we didn't even have to die to get there—although this peak does its best on you. In fact, it's tough to really do it justice in a report like this, but here goes…
It was a fitful night's sleep next to lower South Colony Lake, and I was already awake by the time the alarm went off at 4:50 a.m. Maybe all the stories about how tough this peak is had started to get to me… would I have what it takes?
Our group of four from the Denver area bolted down a quick breakfast and headed up toward Broken Hand Pass by headlamp about 5:20. As the first light started to supplant the gloom of night, we got a clear look at what we were up against, there on the right:
Meanwhile, clouds were already condensing in the east. Thankfully, they were the non-threatening brand, and they gifted us with a sunrise next to Humboldt Peak that one just doesn't come across every day.
We made our way up the class 3 warm-up act of Broken Hand Pass, and angled up to the main event, which stared us down with an unflinching gaze.
The east couloir stretched above us into the celestial heights...
This is a wide-angle view of the couloir. Gazing up it, Todd, Jason, and I could guess how this peak got its reputation.
The route runs against the outer limits of class 3, as Todd is finding out.
But it does stay class 3—if you stay on route. The guidebooks make that sound simpler than it is. We used the route description and photos provided here at 14ers.com, and they worked beautifully.
The east couloir turns into a class 4 dihedral farther up, so the key is knowing when to exit it, and climb a steep section over a rib and descend into the west couloir. We aimed for a notch in the rib, to the right of an angled rock tower, and then the west couloir appears. It's wise to study this area carefully for the return trip. You need to exit the west couloir here to get back to the east one, and the spot was marked only with a tiny flag. I didn't see it coming down—although David behind me saw it—and the west couloir cliffs out down below this point.
Ascending it from here, though, is easier and not as steep as the east couloir, as David and Jason discovered.
It joins the summit ridge near the top of the east couloir. It was up here that our efforts began to pay off with some remarkable vistas.
Soaring Broken Hand Peak, now lying well below us at a "mere" 13,573 ft., was enveloped in mists that gave the whole scene a dream-like appearance.
We summitted about 9 a.m., and behind us the east and west summits of Crestone Peak show.
This shot shows the red gulley route we had used the day before to climb Crestone Peak, although the bottom of the gulley is hidden here by the east summit ridge. (That trip report is in the Crestone Peak section of reports, entitled "Crestone Peak – Like Scenes from the Lord of the Rings")
Not even sprawling Kit Carson Mountain (14,165') with its several summits could fend off the approaching white tsunami…
The clouds cleared enough, though, to give me a truly astonishing sight. I climbed down to an exposed point that looks straight down on the mighty ridge leading to Crestone Peak, as well as a 2,000-ft. abyss…
We stayed on the summit until 10 a.m., and then descended, taking care to follow our ascent route as closely as possible.
The other three were back at camp by 1:00 p.m., although I took my time, stopping to get pictures. Total mileage according to my GPS: 3.9 miles, climbing 2,550 ft. from lower South Colony Lake. (From where we parked at the South Colony trailhead it was 15 miles round trip, and 5,470 ft.)
Todd and Jason went fishing in Lower South Colony Lake and had great luck catching cutthroat trout. Todd had caught us a trout dinner the night before, which was a rare treat.
Though not in our original plan, we decided to climb Humboldt Peak on Saturday morning before hiking back down the South Colony Lakes Road and driving home, and I'm certainly glad we did. The route winds up through the green tundra visible below on the lower left, and then follows the ridgeline up over the false summit to the true summit. I followed some cairns that turned out to be wrong into the left, north side of the peak, which led to quite a bit of boulder-hopping, but I was rewarded with great views of the Sangres and North Colony Lakes far below.
Humboldt from the top of Crestone Needle
On the trail by 6 a.m. we summitted about 8 a.m., where we enjoyed a commanding view of a huge swatch of mountains, from the northern Sangres south to Blanca and Little Bear peaks. I don't know of any other 14er with such a big payoff from so little effort—made possible by a high camp at over 11,600 feet at South Colony Lakes.
The view from the 14,064-ft. summit of Humboldt Peak includes—on the horizon 28 miles to the south—from left: Mt. Lindsey (flat summit, 14,042), 4th-highest-in-Colorado Blanca Peak (center, 14,345 ft.), Ellingwood Point (on ridge just to the right of Blanca, 14,042 ft.), Little Bear Peak (14,037 ft.) and Twin Peaks (13,580 ft.).
But what Humboldt is most known for is its views of the Crestones. The view from the top is tremendous, of course, but I wanted to leave you with a view from down the trail a ways, where the tundra wildflowers were outfitted in their full summer regalia:
"The whole earth is full of His glory."
- Isaiah 6:3
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):