| Hot Day on Crestone Needle
Trip report interspersed with pictures is here
Complete picture gallery is here
Distance: ~6.5 miles
Vertical Gain: ~3300 feet
Climbed With: Brian Murray, Ryan Gregg
With only two fourteeners remaining for each of us and a limited time in which to complete them, Brian and I decided to take a Wednesday off to finish off our last remaining day-trip type fourteener: Crestone Needle. Ryan was able to come along for this one as well, making for a party of three. Brian and I had previously set out to attempt the Needle last September when we climbed the Needle, but when we arrived back at Broken Hand Pass we found that the weather wasn‘t looking very good and we had to go home and leave this for another day.
We set off from Denver at 3am, and after an adventure in finding an open gas station at 3am on a Wednesday morning we set off for the South Colony Lakes trailhead. We found that the road was in worse shape than it was even last September, but still much improved from what it used to be. It took us an hour to get from the 2wd trailhead to the 4wd trailhead, and we set off from the car at 7am on the nose.
We made quick time up the trail and onto the route up Broken Hand Pass. Even this early the sun was beating down fiercely on what was expected to be a very warm day down low, and we were all being taxed by the heat. We had brought ice axes and crampons in anticipation of snow on the route to the pass, but encountered only once snow field that was easy to cross. There was one step across it that concerned me, but as I was getting my axe off of my pack it slipped out of my hand and about 20 feet down onto the snowfield. I catiously made the step using my trekking poles for stability and then downclimbed the rock on the far side of the field to pick up the axe. I used my crampons for this little maneuver, so they didn‘t go completely to waste.
We stashed our axes, crampons, and trekking poles not too far beyond Broken Hand Pass. I made sure to stash my trekking poles with the handles in a position that made them inaccessible to marmots. I had left them at camp on Sunday at Capitol Lake and the marmots had made a mess of the handles--I didn‘t want their cousins coming back for seconds. The trail was easy to follow, though the blazing hot sun made for unfortunate conditions. Before long we were in the east gully climbing up the enjoyable Crestone conglomerate rock.
The climbing in the lower part of the gully was easy and went by quickly. We were enjoying it so much that we nearly missed the gully crossover. Ryan and I were fine with continuing up the east gully, but Brian‘s preference was to follow our original plan and make the switch. The climbing to make the switch was the crux of the ascent and it took me a bit to find a place where I was comfortable crossing the water running down the center and climb the steep slope up to the crossover. From here the climbing in the west gully was equally enjoyable and not especially difficult. We topped out shortly after 10, surprised to have seen a large (14 people) group of people in an outward bound type group climbing down the east gully. It was our second encounter with such a group in the last couple of weeks.
Ryan hadn‘t been present for our Crestone Peak trip and was keen on doing the traverse. Brian and I warned him of the danger and difficulty, but he seemed set on it and set off, planning to meet us back at the pass once he was done. We waited on the summit for over two hours waiting to see him on the approach to the summit of the peak, and once we saw him we started our descent. The clouds appeared to be building as we descended, but they turned out to be nothing.
We descended the east gully and found that it was generally very easy with the exception of the portion just above the point that we‘d crossed over at, which required a bit of a tricky class 4 downclimb that was the crux of the descent. I wasn‘t so convinced that it was any more difficult than descending from the crossover would have been, though Brian disagreed. The downclimb to the pass took us about an hour.
We sat around and caught a bit of a short nap at the pass waiting for Ryan to meet us, which he finally did at quarter of three. It was hot even at the pass at nearly 13,000 feet; we were glad that we weren‘t sweltering back in Denver. From the pass we made a quick descent back to the car. Despite it being a weekday there were still a fair number of people around the lake, but it was overall much less crowded than when we did the peak on a weekend last September. It was a shockingly warm day with nice clear weather and enjoyable climbing, a great way to spend a day off.
A few pictures (the rest are here)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):