Last year my brother, father, and I made an attempt on Crestone Peak and ended up turning around. This was our trip report: . We found the snow in the upper gully, which was quite expansive, to be a little out of our desire range of hiking.
Skip forward to 2009. We're two weeks later in the summer, in a light snow winter, and the red gully is getting near empty of snow. Of course this meant driving that accursed road up to South Colony Lakes again. Last year we had a Jeep Wrangler and did pretty well on the road. This year we drove a Dodge Durango. We *thought* that thing had ground clearance, well not on the South Colony Road. We probably scraped 7 or 8 big rocks on the way up.
Anyways, on to the peak.
WEATHER: No rain. Actually it was near perfect weather this day. The peak and the needle were both clouded for awhile in the morning, although it was one of those deals where there were small clouds only over these two peaks and nowhere else in the sky. Thankfully by the time we reached the top of the red gully the clouds had disappeared entirely.
CROWDS: Ran into 6 or 7 groups of 2-4 hikers. It wasn't enough to feel all that crowded on the hike and yet enough to have some decent people to talk to. We did had one near incident on our climb with falling rocks. We were about half-way up the red gully when we heard that nasty four-letter word shouted "ROCK!" I look up and I see a basketball-sized rock gaining speed, hitting another rock and exploding into four still-large pieces and duck and covered to my left a few feet as one of those large pieces whizzed past my head. Whoa.
TRAIL BETA: The snow was all passable on the way up. The snow lower in the gully is very easy to pass around. The larger and upper snowfield was slightly trickier. We passed around it to the climber's left on the way up by hugging the rocks. This was easy till the very top of the snowfield where it took a few difficult maneuvers to get up out of the crack between snow and rock and onto a flat area to proceed the climb. On our descent of the gully we were less inclined to make those difficult maneuvers to descend around the snowfield on the side in which we had ascended. So we went left (as you're looking down the gully) around the upper snowfield. This takes you down a steep gully around the field, but one we could still descend facing out from the mountain. All in all it was a fun climb. One needs to be very aware of letting loose any of the rock in the upper gully as there is much to be loosed. While this is a very difficult climb, we found it very do-able for one who takes his time and is very careful and meticulous with holds. There are difficult sections to climb but there are also flat respite areas to catch your breath before proceeding.
TIME: For anyone who is curious about the length of this hike, I would consider ourselves average to just below average speed hikers. It took us 4hrs 50 mins to summit Crestone Peak from the lower South Colony Lake and 4hrs 40 mins to descend the Peak back to the lower South Colony lake. Let me tell you, its a long not-so-fun climb back over Broken Hand Pass after having climbed the Peak.
On my 14er hikes I use a Nokia N800 Internet Tablet with bluetooth GPS to create a GPX track. There is an amazing program called Maemo Mapper that facilitates this. I have overlayed the GPX track file into Google Earth and taken some snapshots of our path.
A beautiful morning over the South Colony Lakes drainage.
There is a blanket of clouds over the valley as the sun begins to rise
This is a shot of the very steep, loose dirt section of Broken Hand Pass. As you're ascending from the lakes this section is just above those two large rock formations that look like fingers sticking out of the pass ("broken hand" in other words).
An amazing shot of Crestone Needle with what looks like a white hat upon its lofty head.
This is one of the first difficult climbing sections one reaches in the gully. In this view you can either ascend up the smooth rock slab where my father (white helmet) is. If its dry its do-able if your shoes can hold the rock. Otherwise you ascend around the snow and up through a near vertical 8 foot crack on the left in the pic where I am with the blue helmet.
This picture does a nice job of showing the various climbing options in the gully. Often you'll find steep loose rock on one side, a smooth sometimes wet rock slab in the middle, and grassy ledges on the other.
The Sangre de Cristo's indeed. When the rock here gets red it very well might look like the blood of Christ.
This is video about halfway up the gully.
This is the upper snowfield in the gully. We went around it by hugging the rock at the edge of the snow. The snow was melted out enough it wasn't a difficult climb to stay in this crack to the end of the snow.
This is nearing the top of the gully. The climbing is still steep and there is plenty of loose rock and dirt to navigate.
This shot is taken from the ledges just above the notch at the top of the red gully. You can see just a bit of the ledges to your immediate left and get a look at the steepness of the upper part of the gully.
This shot looks straight ahead along the ledges to the summit. We were worried about route-finding up here as there is a great lacking of good close-up pics and descriptions of this area. But we did find it went rather well and somewhat easier than expected. For ones who do not like much exposure I'd have to say the exposure here was only moderate.
The Chicagoans on the summit. Myself (Markwise), my father, and my brother with East Crestone behind us and Crestone Needle hidden in the big cloud.
My brother on the summit of Crestone Peak with Kit Carson Mountain behind. What a shot!
Well having conquered Crestone Peak we thought we were pretty good climbers, that is, until we saw these guys. Holy cow! Even the little baby in this trio could jump around the rocks 10 times better than us.
These guys are amazing climbers. This video was shot just below where you enter the red gully.
A good look at the entire red gully. You can see the two main snowfields in view here. The upper of the two was the only one that posed any problem whatsoever. In comparison, last year the entire gully was snowfield starting around where the upper snow was this year.
Well that's 33 14ers done for me now and enjoying every minute of it.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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