| Perfect Day on the Crestone Traverse
Beautiful day on the Crestone Peak-to-Needle Traverse
Ryan (COmedic04), Aaron, Michelle, and Mindy (msc118 )
After my climb of Wetterhorn with dcbates80911 and Eatinhardtack a couple of weeks ago, I was dying to get away and get in another good climb before fall and my busy schedule began, after which I knew it'd be difficult to get away much. My buddy Aaron and I were also hoping to get another good climb in together, as our Pikes Peak Y-Couloir trip was so much fun! Toss all that in with an itch to conquer one of the "Great Colorado 14er Traverses", and the fact that neither of us had done anything in the Sangre De Cristo range for a couple of years, and our trip had been born!
My long-time climbing buddy Mindy also wanted to come along, as her busy fall schedule would be starting soon. And, while climbing in Garden of the Gods the week prior, I mentioned the trip to my rock climbing partner Michelle, and conned her into coming along (besides Pikes Peak, these were her first 14ers!)
Mindy picked me up (or rather startled me awake, as I had worked the night before, and fell asleep while packing! ) in the CRV her roommate graciously allowed us to borrow for the trip on Monday afternoon, and we headed off to pickup the other two and soon we were on the road down to the Sangres! I knew this was going to be a great trip, as this is the first time this year I was able to make the drive down Hwy-115 and Hwy-50 without it downpouring on me, so I took that as a good omen for the climb ahead!
We stopped in Westcliffe, at Michelle's insistence, for ice cream, and had the pleasure of discovering the Westcliffe Stage Stop Ice Cream and Smoothie Saloon! If you haven't been, you definitely need to go! They have some fantastic 14er-themed frozen goodies, as well as some unique snacks/beverages (I had a ginger lemonade...it was awesome!). And we stopped in the city park to take a couple of pictures and stretch our legs before the last bit of the drive.
Me, Mindy, Michelle and Aaron basking in the park
We loaded back up into the car and headed down the road to South Colony Lakes TH. We knew the road was due to begin closures that week, so we were anxious to get up there before any delays. The CRV was a bit less equipped than a vehicle probably should be to make it up to the upper trailhead, but we pressed on and made it safely and in one piece!
The trusty CRV
It never fails, every time I behold a beautiful mountain I've studied so thoroughly through this site for the first time with my own eyes, it's a breathtaking experience...my first glimpses of Crestone Needle were no different. The tightness in my chest, shortness of breath, quickening pulse, pupil dilation, excitability...either it's acute myocardial infarction, or it Ryan's 14er Syndrome.
First view of the Needle
We unloaded our gear and headed up the trail to South Colony Lakes to camp for the night and prep for our long day tomorrow!
Mindy in front of the Needle
Sunset over the Needle
Throughout the evening/night, we watched some misty clouds swirl up the valley and obscure our view a few times, and after many previous bad experiences with what started as just "wispy" clouds, I admit that I was quite nervous about what could happen! As we woke up the next morning and began to get ready, though, we were treated to a spectacular sunrise!
Sunrise over the valley
And purples gave way to....
...some incredible reds and oranges!
We took quite a bit longer in the morning than we had planned, and didn't hit the trail until shortly after 600am. I had some doubts as to whether we'd have time for the traverse in case the weather turned. As we started down the trail (after realizing we needed to head towards Broken Hand Pass, and not towards the upper lakes), we were continually treated to some amazing views of the sunrise and the low-flying clouds over the valley:
Photo by Mindy
Even after we got onto the trail, were were continually stunned by the amazing scenery!
We were thoroughly impressed with the fantastic trail that had been built up to Broken Hand Pass, great job CFI! After a single class 3 move in the rocks, we quickly topped the saddle and headed down the grassy slopes to Cottonwood Lake.
Mindy and the Needle
Aaron and Michelle, maneuvering over the class 3 move
Almost to the top of Broken Hand Pass!
Me, ready to get on some rock!
Descending the grassy, shadowed slopes of Cottonwood Lake basin
We quickly made our way past the lake, took a short snack break on the rocks just beyond and surveyed the route from there up the Red Gully to Crestone Peak.
What I dubbed "Crestone Cirque", you can see the Red Gully on the left side
We headed up the gully, red from all the iron in the rock, I assume, and enjoyed some solid class 3 scrambling in spots, as well as incredible views.
Michelle in the Gully
Looking back down the valley - Photo by Mindy
We made the summit of Crestone Peak at around 10-1015, and there was much rejoicing, especially when we saw how incredible the weather was!
Kit Carson and Challenger
The 4 of us, happy to be on top!
Mindy was overjoyed!
Aaron and I were thrilled so much that our clothes disappeared!
We spent about an hour on the summit, chatting with an inspiring father and his daughter (can't wait until that's me and my daughter, Fiona!! ), eating, and enjoying the incredible views before we headed off back down the gully, in search of the correct traverse start at around 11:45.
Aaron and Mindy, contemplating the traverse
We knew we had to drop back down the gully at least 800 feet from the fantastic recent traverse TR‘s we‘d read, but weren‘t sure exactly where to start our measurement. Aaron kinda went on ahead, scouting out the best place to start, and we all ended up doing some..."imaginative" route finding going down the Red Gully.
Aaron, guiding us from above!
We slowly made our way across 2 steep gullys, involving quite a bit of gnarly downclimbing, until we finally reached the saddle lowpoint between the Peak and the Needle! Hallelujah!
Michelle decided the saddle was a good time for a nap!
Me, crossing yet another gully
After a bit of scrambing, the Black Gendarme that was repeatedly referenced in Bill‘s route description and several other trip reports became obvious, and we aimed out route for that.
The Black Gendarme
At the base of the notch for the Gendarme, there was a steep little shelf that required quite a move to get up onto...Aaron and I quickly got up on top, but the girls had a little bit of difficulty, especially with their packs. So I figured, since I had lugged the freakin‘ rope along, this was a good time to use it! I pulled out the 30m rope and tossed it down to them, using it to pull up their packs, and help them get up and over the shelf. They both totally could have done the move without it, but we figured if we had it, why not use it!
Mindy, contemplating the cruxy shelf move
Me, pulling up the packs with the rope
After this little scramble, there was another cruxy move, in which we had to "mount" an airy fin and scramble up it onto the ridge that would lead to the summit. The holds were bomber and plentiful, but the dropoff on our left side (as you scramble up the fin) was enough to make your heart pump a little harder!
Aaron at the top of the fin, Michelle‘s just starting the fin, and Mindy‘s past the hard part, rejoicing her victory!
What lies below the fin!
This portion of the traverse provided fantastic views of Humboldt, and more than once, I found myself thinking about TalusMonkey and reflecting on his life, accomplishments, and what an inspiration he was and is to me and the folks on this site!
After some more scrambling, we soon found ourselves at the last crux class 4 climb to the summit! It was very solid, classic "Crestone knob" climbing, but the drop-off to the left of us made it exhilirating, to say the least!
Me, headed up the crux
Michelle, negotiating the beginning of the crux
Aaron: "Look, ma! No hands!"
I think Mindy was the most excited of us all to get to the top!
We all summited out at around 3:30 to continuing beautiful weather and were thrilled to have completed such a long and fun climb!
The 4 of us on top!
A view to the Peak
After almost an hour of snacking, pictures, and relaxing on the summit of the Needle, we began our trip down.
We were surprised by the LONG, grueling downclimb down the gully from the summit, and almost missed the cairn that finally cuts to the left from the gully...be on the lookout for it!!
Michelle, putting on a happy face amidst the loooooooooong downclimb
We were extremely happy to make it down, finally!, to the grassy slopes of Broken Hand Pass, and made quick work of the downclimb back to S. Colony Lakes. What a climb!
Tired, but VERY satisfied!
We quickly packed up our camp, loaded everything up, and made the hike out to the car just in time for nightfall. We headed down the 4WD road in the dark, which wasn‘t much fun in the CRV...(I REALLY hope I didn‘t damage Mindy‘s roommate‘s car!! ). The whole way, we were afraid we wouldn‘t make it to Westcliffe in time to get some food...we were all craving PIZZA!! Mindy, in her wisdom, called ahead to Pizza Madness and they agreed to make us a couple pizzas and stay open a little late for us to pick them up! THANKS PIZZA MADNESS!!
Overall, it was a fantastic, but long and grueling climb. I‘d recommend this one to anyone looking to break into some challenging class 3/4 scrambling, and would say this is probably the best of the "4 Great Traverses" to start out on, due to the solid quality of the holds, the minimal exposure, and the rewarding nature of the summits! This was a great climb, and I look forward to getting back to this beautiful valley soon!