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 Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
 Post Date:  04/30/2009 Modified: 05/16/2010
 Date Climbed:   04/25/2009
 Posted By:  doumall

 Skiing the Crestones in a Day   

Ski Descents of Crestone Peak and Needle

Crew: Jordan White, Joe Brannan

Snowmobile up South Colony Road to around 11,200'
Climb to Broken Hand Pass
Ski to and climb Red Gully on Crestone Peak
Summit Ski of Crestone Peak Red Gully
Ascend to Broken Hand Pass
Climb South Face/Couloir of Crestone Needle
Summit Ski of Crestone Needle South Couloir


The Crestones Can Be Skied:

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan dragged me up a thoroughly frozen and rutted South Colony Road with his sled in the predawn hours on Saturday. After a brief bit of booting through the forested headwall beneath the lakes we began a traversing skin toward Broken Hand Pass. I was blown to the ground a few times, a preview of things to come. We pushed on, hoping the snow had improved on the ski routes since our attempt on the Needle in February when half the route was dry.

Booting to Broken Hand:

Photo: Jordan White

We found a tent full of sled necks on the top of the pass, unexpected to say the least. We also saw the Needle was stacked. Skeptical moods were mended.

Its In!

Photo: Jordan White

Our day would start with Crestone Peak though. The ski down into Cottonwood Basin was quick and the skin up to the base of the Red Gully was firm.

Approaching the Red Gully:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The booting in the couloir was pretty variable. We found either solid point penetration or break through to your knees junk. The pack was a bit concerning as down a foot the freeze was incomplete. We knew we had to get off this route before it got warm.

Jordan Getting High:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The snow was just strong enough to be good skiing if we hurried:

Joe Setting Steps:

Photo: Jordan White

Whenever we approach a more technical section of a climb, I know Jordan is getting excited. He led the final bit of climbing from the saddle to the summit.

Jordan setting the traverse to the top:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Looking down the ski from the saddle:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Jordan on Top:

Photo: Joe Brannan

We took a lunch break on top, knowing the cool breeze was delaying a warm-up. There is really no way to ski directly from the summit of Crestone Peak without some ridiculous billy goating due to a notch up there. You can however ski from the edge of the summit area directly onto a steep face above the couloir.

Jordan from the standard ski top of Crestone Peak:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Looking down on the route:

Photo: Joe Brannan

My guess is at least one interesting ski move will always be required to start a descent from this location. Here it is:

A bit of a hop down onto the face:

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan skied the upper face first, making nice turns on fun snow with our next peak on the agenda in the background.

Jordan on the upper face:

Photo: Joe Brannan

This section of skiing is definitely the hairiest on this route. A fall on this high 40 degree face would send you over cliffs into the center of the Red Gully.

Me making some fun turns over the exposure:



Photos: Jordan White

The actual couloir is pretty mild from a ski mountaineering sense; its around 40 degrees and wide as a highway. The snow was firm so turns were tight.

Jordan Skiing the upper Red Gully:



Photos: Joe Brannan

Joe Skiing the upper Red Gully:

Photo: Jordan White

There is a rock choke in the middle of the route which accepted a straight line on this day. Usually a ski of this route involves sidestepping through thinner coverage here but we really caught this with ample snow.

Joe sends the choke:

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan pops over the lip:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The snow got a bit softer toward the bottom, but the top layers were still holding strong.

Jordan skis the lower couloir:



Photos: Joe Brannan

We got to ski straight through the bottom cliffs today.

Joe skis through the lower cliffs with the Needle waiting:



Photos: Jordan

Jordan fights the slop:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Back at 12,200', we skinned up for the climb to broken hand pass.

Beginning the skin:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Past Cottonwood Lake:

Photo: Jordan White

Up to the pass:

Photo: Joe Brannan

I use skins a bit small for my skis, so often waste time switching between hiking and skinning on icy terrain. I ended up booting this bit while Jordan zipped ahead on the sticks.

Joe adds yet another transition to the day:

Photo: Jordan White

The booter from the group climbing the needle was set across the traverse and we were happy to use it.

Jordan approaches the fun climbing on the Needle:



Photos: Joe Brannan

Joe follows the free booter:


Photos: Jordan White

Just as we approached the familiar down climb into the couloir, the hikers passed us on their way back to camp. This down climb was so much easier today than 3 months ago.

Joe enters the south couloir on Crestone Needle:

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan starts the climb and heads through the icy rock buldge:



Photos: Joe Brannan

The climbing ahead looked so simple. Skiing and climbing Capitol seems to have numbed me.

Approaching a bit of alpine ice:

Photo: Jordan White

Keeping those heels down:

Photo: Jordan White

The route narrows:

Photo: Joe Brannan

I took the lead.

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan ascends the slot:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Really it didn't matter; the descending booter from the other climbers wasn't great, but it made things pretty easy whether you were out front or in the rear. The top 150' of the route is the steepest and as I ascending this section I knew this would be a no fall zone on the ski.

The upper face:

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan on the upper face:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The summit was a sight for a ski mountaineer's eyes. A solid snowpack covered the top and extended in a continuous strip over to the south face. We found a wind break from the increasing winds and took a nap. Within minutes, the apocalypse seemed to be approaching… a bit of background.

I watched the forecast all week prior to this climb and early on winds of 50-55 mph with gusts of 70 mph were forecast. I would not have climbed in that, so luckily the forecast changed to moderate wind speeds the day before our climb. Reality, however, remained true to that original prediction.

As I took my turn to go ski the summit, a gust nearly blew me over the east face cliffs. It pulled at my skis and threatened to steal my gear without care. I hunkered down, grabbed some hip and waited a bit to get a chance to ski off the top. Eventually the ice stopped flying off the SW face and I made a few turns back to the windbreak.

Skiing off the summit of Crestone Needle:

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan took next and quickly got up and back.

Photo: Joe Brannan

We began the ski down the south face. The wind seemed to change direction just at this moment, blowing straight up our ski route. I remember looking up at Jordan from the middle of the upper face and seeing dinner plate size pieces of ice flying horizontally at 50-60 mph over the east face. Skiing Crestone Needle in hurricane force winds was one of the most interesting experiences in all of my mountain adventures.

Entering the steeps:

Photo: Jordan White

Skiing down 50 degree terrain onto the upper face:

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan was right there behind me making drop-far jump turns on icy snow:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The snow was marginal and variable. Breakable conditions existed on the edges with rock solid stuff in the middle. We leap frogged a bit still trying to get pictures in the steady onslaught of wind. Dust storms blew across the San Luis Valley below.

Jordan:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Joe:

Photo: Jordan White

Entering the choke, we felt we had this one in the bag and wanted to get the hell out off that face gone crazy with a Mother Nature temper tantrum. There was no talking, too much noise to verbally communicate, but after spending a bunch of time in the mountains you start to just know what your partner is thinking.

Joe:



Photo: Jordan White

Jordan:





Photos: Joe Brannan

Down below the choke, we got a bit of a break from the wind. Maybe only 40-50 mph gusts now. Turns got more fun as a result:

Joe exiting the choke:

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan skiing below the choke:

Photos: Joe Brannan

On the way up, we spotted a way to ski around the icy rock budge and took full advantage. It involved a slight traverse to skiers left:

Jordan heading for the ice work around…

Photo: Joe Brannan

…and then a short straighline.

Photo: Jordan White

With all the difficulties complete, we now just had to get over Broken Hand Pass. Popping the skis off for the short climb out of the couloir and then putting them back on, we skied away from the Needle. Feeling out of the woods, I skied up to the pass. The wind took this opportunity to finish me off once and for all. Feeling the lift, I clawed at the earth. My skis, still attached to my feet, tried to take flight. I envisioned a solo flight through the air. At first, I thought I would just wait it out, but the gust was not a gust, it was a sustained 70-80 mph wind. Getting desperate after a minute or so, I began to crawl, inch, and shimmy over to the other side of the pass. Eventually I made it as my face began to freeze from the flying ice. Crestone Needle didn't go without a fight.

Pow turns were had on the other side of the pass!

Photo: Jordan White

Jordan getting some fluff:

Photo: Joe Brannan

After Jordan bagged a Humboldt ski the next day, we were off to the Wilson Group for an epic 3 peak day!

Jordan's TRs can be found on his blog:
www.elksandbeyond.com

 


  • Comments or Questions (9)
JB99


Wow!     2009-04-30 20:50:32
Thanks for the front row seats to your adventures. Amazing day... it‘s been an epic year for trip reports here on 14ers.com thanks to you two.


RoanMtnMan


Epic Few Days     2009-04-30 20:55:11
5 tough peaks for you Joe and 6 for Jordan in 3 days. Well done.


Aubrey


Right on!     2009-04-30 21:27:11
So many priceless photos! Well done on the climbs, ski and photography! I especially like ”Jordan Skiing the upper Red Gully:” and ”Beginning the skin:” ... awesome job all around!


BCSkierDG


Nice Job!!!!!     2009-04-30 23:45:23
You guys are machines. Thanks for such great TRs. very much appreciated! Cheers


KentonB


I Hate this Report...     2011-01-05 10:15:06
Because it reminds me of what a pansy I am! Great job guys! :-)


DebbiesMOM

SURPRISE!!!     2009-05-01 12:57:31
Not a surprise to me Joe, love all your reports and photos, I certainly envy you your strength etc. You have so many interesting and fun adventures. Keep it up!! Some of this still looked very scary!


MountainHiker


Wow     2009-05-01 14:02:53
Great stuff! Thanks for sharing your adventure.


bckcntryskr


Sweet photos     2009-05-01 22:07:04
You guys rip it good.


SchralpTheGnar


phenomenal efffort     2009-05-03 13:06:09
You guys get it done right, I‘m in awe.



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