| Revisiting the Needle
The Needle is a spooky peak, in my opinion. But it's full of really fun, sustained Class 3 climbing. And it doesn't have a lot of loose rock to deal with.
Jen and I had climbed Crestone Peak the day before, and we had to endure yet another windy night, so neither of us were excited to hear my watch's alarm at 4:15 a.m.
By 5:15 a.m. we were on the trail, back up to Broken Hand Pass for the second day in a row.
At 6:15 we were at the pass. Soon thereafter we enjoyed some alpenglow views.
When the cairned trail ended abruptly, where it looks like you cliff out, we knew we had to down climb. Jen fearlessly climbed straight down. I chose to traverse the rock wall to the right and climb across a gap.
A short trail led us to the East Gully, which we gladly entered and started climbing up. It was quite a bit of fun, and it contains so many options.
As I carefully chose my route and picked my holds, I thought I was on some challenging stuff. But then I looked over at Jen, on the other side of the water and ice running down the middle, climbing up some burly stuff.
Halfway up the East Gully I was reminded of one of the reasons why I love climbing so much. When you're climbing, you're only thinking about climbing – where you're going to put your hand next; how you're going to tackle the next obstacle; which way to go. You're not thinking about your bills or your crappy job or the yard work that you need to do when you get home. You're focused only on the task at hand. Your mind is clean and clear. And no negative stressors cloud your mind. It's just pure, unadulterated fun … with a little will to stay alive sprinkled in.
All that said, one thing concerned me: the crossover to the West Gully. I remembered that section being particularly hairy. But I'm much more experienced now, I thought, so maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
I took this four-photo pan of Jen climbing up the rib between the East and West gullies:
Me working my way across the crack below the Class 4 dihedral (I didn't have any problems with the cross-over on the way up):
With the wind still howling, I grunted my way up:
Moving into the West Gully:
Once in the West Gully, we pretty much took it all the way to the summit ridge. For the most part, it was completely sustained Class 3 climbing. At one point, near the top, there was a tricky move (I think the easier way goes up to the left and gains the ridge), but we made it up OK. Then, on the summit ridge, it was smooth sailing to the summit.
Jen nearing the summit:
At 7:45 a.m. we made it to the Needle's beautiful summit, where we enjoyed the warm sun for the first time of the day. And, to our surprise, the wind wasn't too bad up there, either.
Gotta pimp ourselves out for the free Which Wich subs:
Pan from the summit, with the Blanca Group upper-left and the Great Sand Dunes:
After spending about 15 minutes on top, we carefully made our way back down.
Down climbing back into the East Gully concerned me.
As you walk up to it, it's like walking up to a cliff. And it drops at least a couple hundred feet.
Being the much better down climber than me, Jen went down first.
Then I followed. Here was the easy part:
There's a tricky move right off the top, then an even trickier move below that one. It's not the hardest climbing, but there's really no room for error.
My left hand found a good jug to hang onto, and my right hand wanted to use it, too, but if it pulled off I'd be screaming. So my right hand found its own hold, as a back-up. Then I had to find some places for my feet. Thankfully, Jen was below to guide me to good foot holds. I had to lean out to see them.
The physical climbing was well below my skills, but the mental stuff really pushed me. Had I been roped up I wouldn't have thought twice about anything.
Then, near the bottom, where you need to cross back over the crack, I had to stop there for a minute to try to figure out good foot and hand placements. It‘s not overly difficult; it‘s just awkward.
We made quick work of the descent down the East Gully.
Jen climbing back up to the trail (again, she went the hard way):
A look back on the lower portion of the East Gully, climbers in the red circle:
I spotted this fossil on the trail below Broken Hand Pass:
And a look back at Crestone Needle from the lower South Colony Lake:
By 10:15 we were back at camp.
Man, what a mountain. And that's all I have to say.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):