| A fine first 14ener, Crestone Needle - Ellingwood Arete
I have been personally thinking about doing this climb for about 10 years. The problem I have had in the past was finding a consistent climbing partner for harder alpine climbs. I started trad climbing again this year (I stopped rock climbing for about 3 years) for harder 13eners such as Coxcomb and Lizard Head. The idea for this climb came about when my technical climbing partner, Kevin, just received a job offer in Ohio starting in the beginning of September. I was hoping to climb Lizard Head, but due to timing we had to find something a bit closer to Denver. Kevin had never climbed a fourteener so we settled for the Ellingwood Arete. Can't live in Colorado for a few years and not climb a fourteener, right?
We left Denver around 10AM on the 19th and made it to the trailhead around 2 PM. I was impressed on how much they improved that road; it wasn't the South Colony road I remembered. I was actually a bit bummed they improved the road so much. Half of the fun of the climbing these peaks was the drive up the road.
We started hiking around 2:30PM and were planning on having a high camp at the Lower South Colony lake. After a nice short approach we set up camp, and I continued up to Obstruction Peak for a warm up while Kevin hung around the Upper Colony Lake. The weather was good, and the climb up Obstruction allowed to get a good preview of the Arete. I met back up with Kevin at camp, had dinner, filtered water and went to bed around 8.
We woke up at 5AM and made the short hike to the upper lake while chowing down some bagels. We arrived at the base of the arete right when the sun was rising hoping to find the class 3 grass ledges that would bypass the direct technical start. We didn't have much luck, but then again we didn't look very hard. We arrived at the base of a big dihedral, which is the base of direct start, and just decided to climb the direct start.
There was a 20 foot headwall before the dihedral and there were two options for climbing into the dihedral. There was a well protected crack to the right, and a somewhat exposed traverse to the left that gained the dihedral directly. I decided to lead the exposed traverse which appeared to be the better option from the top of the first pitch. Even though the right crack may have been well protected for the harder climbing, I think the traverse from the top of that crack would have been a bit more sketchy.
Over half of the way up the dihedral, we climbed out onto a grass ledge instead of climbing the last pitch. The last pitch of the dihedral looked a bit harder, not well protected, and was running with a little bit of water from the snow a few days back. The climbing for the first two pitches felt like 5.4 and were well protected except for that first initial traverse at the base.
Once on the grass ledge we traversed south for about 200 feet before the face of the arete opened up to class 3-4 scrambling. We continued up the class 3-4 ledges and worked our way back north to the arete proper. It seemed the climbing was harder directly on the arete, so we took a sinuous route traversing up grass ledges and cliff bands on the south side of the arete. After about 1000 feet of scrambling, the exposure increased, and we decided to rope up and simul-climb for the next 500 feet. At this point, we had worked our way back on the arete proper.
Finally we reached a low class 5 headwall and we set up a belay station. The headwall climb felt like 5.0-5.2 and was well protected and took us to the base of 2 obvious cracks. The direct crack on the left I think is rated 5.9, so we avoided that crack, and climbed the crack to the right (felt like 5.5-5.6) which angled up and around the 5.9 crack. There were several fixed pins placed in this crack which was reassuring that we were climbing the correct route. We had to break this 5.5 pitch into two pitches since we were not sure if our 50 meter rope would work. After reaching the top of the 5.5 pitch we could scope out the last 5.7 crack. There was a massive ledge at the top of this 5.5 pitch, where we could walk around un-roped. At this point we could see mellow clouds creeping over the summit of Kit Carson and Crestone Peak so we decided to pick up the pace.
I led the 5.7 pitch which was very well protected. I didn't think the crux move was really all that difficult; there was a great pocket handhold on the left wall of the crack which allowed me to move my balance upward so that I could get excellent handholds higher. I think the hardest part was probably the foot work. I somehow moved myself upward to get my left foot in that same left handhold pocket. With only 5 feet of rope to spare, I set up an anchor at the top of the pitch and Kevin followed.
After Kevin made it to the top of the 5.7 pitch, we took some photos and made the final 100 foot class 3 scramble to the summit. The clouds were beginning to look dark, but not really all that threatening. Right as we arrived at the summit, I could feel the hair on my arms starting to rise. We immediately bolted off the summit. I left the rope and ditched my harness in seconds as I could feel static sparks inside of my helmet as if someone was shocking me after rubbing their feet on carpet. I had never felt or seen anything like this before. Kevin was experiencing the same thing as he was swatting his head as if he was getting attacked by flies. We quickly down climbed the standard route for about 200 feet where we found a "electrically" protected area off of the ridge. Fortunately, the static sparks stopped.
Since our rope and harness were still near the summit, we decided to wait below the ridge for the weather to clear. As we waited, snow pellets began to fall along with sleet and rain. This was making me nervous as I didn't want to descend the Needle while it was wet with fresh snow. After about 20-30 minutes of waiting, we could see blue sky appearing through the clouds, and we decided to make a quick push back to the summit to retrieve our rope. Once we got to the rope we could see the next batch of clouds rolling in so we took some real quick photos, and started our descent. As we descended, the weather cleared, the sun came out and the rock dried out after this bizarre squall. We descended and returned to camp in sunshine.
After packing up camp, we took the short hike out and while hiking out a massive storm rolled in. As we drove down South Colony Road, we drove through areas of hail and heavy rain. The rest of the drive was uneventful, and we enjoyed a fine dinner at the Carl's Jr. in Florence.
Looking back on the climb, the Ellingwood Arete is definitely one of my favorite technical alpine routes so far. I thought the climbing wasn't all that difficult, and I thought the hard moves/pitches had great protection. Some of the easier lower 5th class climbing, however, wasn't as well protected. Route finding was average with harder climbing found on the arete proper. Nevertheless, the last 5.7 pitch I didn't think was very exposed. The ledge at the top of the 5.5-5.6 pitch make the exposure less intimidating for that last pitch. I would definitely plan on a full day if I were to climb it again; it took us 6.5 hours from Lower South Colony Lake to the summit.
Also, Kevin has been ice climbing and peak bagging 13eeners, including technical routes on 13eeners, with me for the last 3 years so I wouldn't take a first time fourteener peak bagger up this route. This is not a route for Newbs. With that said, Congratulations, Kevin on his first fourteener!
The Arete from Devils Playground en-route to "Obstruction"
First Pitch 5.4 Dihedral looking down.
Pitch 2 Belay station.
The direct dihedral from the grass ledge looking down.
Class 3 grass ledges.
Class 4 grass ledges.
More class 4 grass ledges.
Looking up at the final headwall.
Last 3 pitchs.
Last 3 pitchs. Showing second pitch 5.9 crack and second pitch 5.5-5.6 crack.
Clouds creeping over the Crestone Peak.
Final 5.7 crack.
Looking at the exit of the 5.7 crack.
Down climbing the standard route in sunshine after almost being struck by lightning. Wtf?
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