| About Time! The Crestone Traverse
Crestone Peak: 14,294'
"East Crestone": 14,260'
Crestone Needle: 14,197'
Peak to Needle Traverse
Ben White and Mike Rodenak
Ever since he got married and moved to Crested Butte it seems that my old Vail climbing partner Ben and I don't get out as much as we used to, so when we do we make it count! This year's trips have been few, but spectacular. First there was the Hopeful Couloir, then and attempt on Mount Baker in Washington. To complete our Triple Crown for 2007 we decided it was time to tackle the Crestone Traverse.
We drove up the new and improved South Colony Lake Road on Saturday evening and managed to get all the way to the trailhead without any difficulties. I kept waiting for the rut that had stopped me the year before, but it never came. It must have been filled in. Also gone was everyone's favorite pickup truck, the old Chevy Luv that once graced one of the pullouts. We set up camp near the bridge and caught up a bit before getting some shut eye for our 5am wakeup call (Darn Fall Monsoon!).
I had been up the Peak before, and took the lead as we made short work of early trail. Soon we were in the "Lord of the Rings" cairns as the sun started to give us enough light to ditch the headlamps and admire the classic alpenglow on the Needle.
Photo by Ben White
It was cold and windy at the pass and we pressed on, choosing to take our first break of the day instead at Cottonwood Lake where we thought we would be more sheltered. So much for that, it was a cold windy break there as well, but we were making good time. We continued on the trail to the basin below the Red Gully where we got our first real look at the traverse of the day
Spontaneous shutterbugging ensued and soon we were at the base of a nice knobby slab along the trail. Shortcut time! Straight up the knobs we went, and it proved to be a wonderful warm up for the climbing ahead.
We rejoined the route and traversed into the famed Red Gully where we quickly climbed up the broken rock. Some patches were wet with runoff from the previous day's rain, but it was easily avoided. The scrambling in the gully is scattered, and most of it is really not much more than difficult second class.
As we climbed higher we realized that the clouds still were lingering around the summit and we were going to be fogged in at the top. We traversed the third class ledges at the gully exit and the Lord of the Rings feeling we had in the morning became even deeper with the fog. This view of Ben walking the final stretch to the summit says it all
It was 9.15 in the morning, about 3 1/2 hours after we left the car, so we felt good about our pace. We knew we would have plenty of time to complete the traverse, if only this darn fog would lift! From our ascent we could tell it was a thin layer based on the similar clouds that were encircling Blanca to our south. Still, we wanted to be able to see our route and the fog was a little disheartening. We decided to kill a little time by bouncing over to the East Summit, which is the highpoint of Custer County. It was now time to embark on the traverse.
Photo by Ben White
We started the traverse and followed good cairns through the class 3 ledge system. Route finding was not too bad, and it seemed even if you were off route it wouldn't matter too much as the terrain didn't seem much more difficult to traverse a little above or below the cairned route. The early scrambling was fun, and kept us below the fog.
Photo by Ben White
We continued on, probably not quite on route, but we were having a good time climbing none the less. One thing about climbing with Ben is you don't necessarily take the easiest way, but you will have a good time! At one point I found myself looking down a steep alley that seemed like it would go, so down I went. It worked, but man was it steep! At least fourth class, and a little bit of an awkward slope to it. When I got to the bottom and looked back I couldn't believe I had just down climbed what I did, yikes!
Ben went around that, but he would have his fun later. We soon were reaching the saddle between the Peak and Needle and started to descend steep terrain to reach this relief point. It was a good place for a quick snack and some water before continuing on. This is the point where the route drops below a 13,940' tower on the ridge, and I started down the steep loose slopes. Soon from above I heard my name, there was Ben, up on a ledge traversing the face of the gendarme!
I quickly descended to the cairned low point and up the other side to make sure he was able to exit okay. There he was, face to face with a face only a mother could love! It was one heckuva wall, and not one to be trifled with. Lucky for him there was a gully underneath him that led right back to the main route.
We were now delighted to see that the weather was fastly improving and we would no longer have any fog to contend with. A relief, as the days most difficult climbing lay ahead!
We continued across reasonably easy ledges towards the Black Gendarme. This traverse went quickly and the verticality of our remaining climb became quickly apparent. We worked our way towards the awkward pullup move at the base of the gendarme and were able to mantle over it without much difficulty. Here is Ben's technique from above:
The wind was something at this point and we both agreed that if it was this windy on the final face we would just climb it non-stop and say "sayonara" to picture taking. I took a short video of the clouds racing over the Gendarme. From the top we traversed the top of a flake with some serious exposure on the left.
A few more scrambling moves had us back in the sun where we contemplated our remaining route. It seemed best to do a sort of "S" curve traverse around a bulge in the ridge, just in case the back side was too steep, and get up to an area where we could see a small patch of grass just below the final face.
The scrambling here was straightforward and consisted of some third class traversing and face climbing, demonstrated here by Ben:
It was now time for the wall. Fourth class and straight up! The holds looked plentiful and we both decided to just basically go straight up as best we could. Luckily the wind was at our backs and not across and made the exposure manageable. Photo taking was back on the menu. I went first, Ben held back a few seconds to give us a little space. The next few pictures will give you an idea of what you are in for. The first is me from below, the second is Ben from between my legs (who says "don't look down"?) and the third is Ben exiting from just above the pitch.
Photo by Ben White
We made the summit right at noon, about 2 hours of traverse time if you take out our summit break on the Peak and our trip to East Crestone. There were 4 other climbers up top that had come over from the standard route, we shared stories and took photos before deciding to head out before the rolling clouds rolled back in.
On our descent we decided all of the fourth class climbing was so fun that we would just descend straight down the eastern gully. This proved to be very enjoyable, and no harder than the fourth class on other fourteeners such as Capitol or Little Bear, but a lot more solid! I would highly recommend this route for those of you comfortable with fourth class climbing who want see what you are in for on the traverse without the commitment. Here are some examples of our descent
Me from above:
Photo by Ben White
Ben from below:
As we hiked out along the trail we admired the beautiful scenery. The fall colors of the tundra grasses made it that much more idyllic of a scene, check out the view of Broken Hand Peak from our descent:
This was truly a great route and both Ben and myself really enjoyed the climb. This is one for the repeats list for sure!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):