Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Humboldt Peak  -  14,064 feet
Post Date:  07/21/2010
Date Climbed:   07/18/2010
Posted By:  stevevets689

 Nifty Shortcuts and Awesome Rock  

Peaks: Humboldt Peak and Crestone Needle
Gain: 1,600 feet Upper TH to camp, 2,500 feet to Humboldt summit, 2,600 feet to Crestone Needle
Miles traveled: 3.8 miles to camp, 4 miles RT between camp and Humboldt summit, 3 miles RT between camp and Crestone Needle: 14.6 miles total (approx.)
Participants: stevevets689, WSC_Geologist12, Alex

It was once again time to return to one of my favorite basins that I have spent so much time in already. James (WSC_Geologist12) was looking to get introduced to a "class 4" route and after seeing some of my pictures of the Needle was pretty excited about it. He then got a friend of his from high school interested, so on Saturday the 17th James and I met up with Alex at the subway in Westcliffe. After a very long wait for our subs, we ate and then headed up to the trailhead, arriving around 2 PM. We got moving after figuring out a parking spot (the lot was PACKED) and figuring out Alex's pack.

Getting ready to go. Thank you again, Alice, for doing part of the work for us

Walking up the road was blazing hot and we had to stop frequently for water and just to cool off in the shade for a minute, but we made good time up to the old 4wd parking lot before the last creek crossing. James was about to follow the old road across the creek when I stopped him and pointed up the hill to the right. Here, we located the alternate trail up towards the lake and took it. When I spent a month working on Broken Hand Pass, our crew always used this trail for resupplies since it shaves around a half mile off the hike.

This is in the north side of the first old parking lot, before the creek crossing. Follow that slight trail in the center of the shot and continue on a good trail

About a mile from the old parking lot you encounter this junction. Continue straight for Humboldt, turn left and locate a trail along stones and logs to a creek crossing for Broken Hand Pass

A mile later we located a Y in the trail, took the left fork, and established camp in the old trail crew base camp area. Amazingly we had arrived after less than two hours of hiking! Someone had built a fire ring where the big tent used to be, so James improved on it and gathered a bunch of firewood while I pumped water for everyone. Sometime after 4 PM we decided to hike up the trail and check out the lakes. Our trail led along some logs, over a small hill and across the creek on a good log bridge, then up the hill to meet up with the main trail, where we took a right and before long found ourselves at the lower like. We decided to keep on hiking up to the Upper lake, where we would have an excellent vantage of the trail going up Broken Hand Pass. To my surprise there was absolutely no snow covering the trail! Guess we're leaving the axes at camp tomorrow.

Looking back on the junction of the shortcut with the main trail. We came up from the left, the main trail comes from the right. If you camp on the shortcut, make sure not to miss this turn on your way back down.

Conditions on Broken Hand Pass: completely dry. The trail doesn't go near any of the snow you can see in this shot

At the Upper Lake, we took a look up the Humboldt trail. Our initial plan was to hike Humboldt after the Needle the next day, but James had other ideas. He asked if we were up for hiking it that evening. It was around 4:50 PM, but the weather looked good. Still, I didn't want to be worn out the next day, and this would be the final mission of my current pair of boots anyway due to huge splits in the leather. I wasn't too thrilled about going up Humboldt in the first place, having been up it twice already, but James was rearing to go and was prepared to go by himself. That was enough to get me to go. Minutes later, I was glad I went.

Hiking up the trail, I reminded myself that this would be my first ever evening summit of a 14er, plus I need to be training for a week-long trip to the Tetons later this year and back-to-back peak weekends are good for that. Not to mention the exceptional views that I know Humboldt offers. Those factors in mind, we arrived at the saddle on the East Ridge at around 5:20PM. I grabbed a swig of water from James (the only one carrying anything more than a camera) and we all started heading up the ridge. It was very very warm and we all ended up taking our shirts off. Mine didn't come back on until the way down.

Broken Hand Peak and Pass above the lower lake

Marmots in their kingdom. Much as I hate their equipment and brake cable-chewing guts, I give them props for living up here

Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak from near Humboldt's summit

Looking south from near the summit, with some nice afternoon shadows

The summit was reached at 6:30ish and I was very happy to have hiked up, though the shadows were going in the opposite direction from what I was used to. James and Alex beat me up there and wanted to get moving before it got dark so I just spend a few minutes signing the register and taking a couple pictures before joining them for the hike back to camp. We made a fire, tried some freestyle rapping, and went to bed.

I got a decent night's sleep and was feeling pretty good and ready to start when the alarm went off at 4:30 AM. I got up and woke the other two up, then proceeded to put my pack together for the climb. We were ready to go before five and started along the trail from camp. Headlights didn't stay on long, and we turned left on the oh-so-familiar (to me) trail up Broken Hand Pass. I was happy to see a particular set of steps that I led a group of Outward Bound students in building, and they are holding up well. We cranked up the winding trail to the pass, put on helmets at the loose section, and made quick time to the top of the pass, where the sun rose. We weren't in it for long.

Climbing up the pass

Looking down on the trail going up the pass

Sunrise near the top of Broken Hand Pass

Looking back on the upper part of the Pass

At the pass, we turned right for the trail which leads to the base of the climb. As we approached, we noticed that a couple other climbers were ahead of us. James doesn't like to be climbing behind other people and started speeding up. I told him to cool his jets and then, as we came to the short class 3 downclimb just before the base of the Needle, I saw the shortcut that my trail crew had taken when we climbed this two years prior. Just off the downclimb there is a level, bare patch of ground, and the climb starts right there. The normal trail leads down to the left from that spot to the base of the East Gully, where I could see the other two climbers were roping up. I yelled to James, "Hey, you want to pass those guys? Start climbing from right there!" Up he went, and Alex and I followed behind.

Crestone Needle in alpenglow

The trail on the approach to the base of the Needle

Shadow of the Sangre de Cristos on the San Luis Valley

Broken Hand Peak in the early morning

Alex starting up the class 4 shortcut. Note the bare patch of ground between this face and the downclimb in the upper part of the photo

Terrain on the shortcut

This shortcut leads up solid, class 4 and 3 rock and then angles across into the gully. It's a superb way to go if you're comfortable with a bit of exposure. Up we went, briefly entering the East Gully, and then we angled to the right and back out of the base of the gully. Again, the rock here is very solid, mixed class 2, 3, and a little 4. It basically leads into an even-more-eastern gully, parallel and just next to the East Gully. Up, up, and up we went. Holds abound, and we were the only climbers we could see anywhere. This is the stuff we live for!

The view you're greeted with after climbing the shortcut face. Traverse left on a trail to the gully, climb up until you're past the big tower on the right, then you can angle right and out of the main gully to be on nice, solid rock

Alex photographing James climbing a class 3 section

Crestone conglomerate awesomeness!

When we got the opportunity, we went far to the right to a scenic vantage. We were probably at around 14,000 feet even, and we could see right across the practically vertical east face of the Needle. It's a fantastic spot. From there we continued climbing up in our private gully all the way to the summit ridge at the top of the Ellingwood Arete (another awesome vantage). From there, it's just a simple walk to the top! We arrived at 7:15 AM, first climbers of the day. We had the summit to ourselves the entire time we stayed up there, and of course, it was totally awesome.

The lower lake from our scenic vantage (no, not from an airplane)

Looking across the Needle's east face

Our route is in the shadow, whereas the normal East Gully is on the other side of the rock rib in the center of the photo. Better put, we were climbing the east side of the East Gully and more people climb the west side

Alex and James climbing the summit ridge!

Looking down the Ellingwood Arete towards the upper lake

We hung out up there for a while, checked out the summit pitch of the traverse, and then headed back down. We met the two climbers we had passed shortly after we left the summit, and then only saw two more parties headed up the Needle the rest of the day! We were pretty shocked, considering how many cars were parked in the lot and the number of tents by the lake (please people, no camping within 300 feet of the lake, everyone seems to break that rule...). We hung out at the pass for a while when we arrived there an hour or so later, throwing pebbles at marmots and cracking jokes. Then we tried for Broken Hand Peak, but our route leading through cliff bands didn't go so well so we decided to just head back to camp and relax.

Climbing back down to our ascent route

Crestone Needle from the flanks of Broken Hand Peak

Back at camp we cracked open the Newcastles that Alex had brought us and then headed down for pizza in Silvercliffe. Once again, I can't wait for my next trip into that basin. I still want to do the traverse, and I still want to climb the Ellingwood Arete, AND I still want to check out a snow climb I've been eying on Broken Hand Peak. How can people really just visit this basin just once? I don't understand that.

I'll be back

To see more pictures from this and other climbs, please visit my online photo album at:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

4WD-Lake shortcut
07/22/2010 16:40
Thanks for pointing that one out! On the descent, we walked down that trail for several minutes before realizing we missed the standard trail cutoff by the lake. Nice to know it connects; we figured it just led to campsites


Very nice TR Steve!
07/23/2010 01:47
Gorgeous pics too. That last one of the Needle looks like a painting. Way to get both done!

Nathaniel Gallion

Very Beautiful
11/23/2010 06:18
This is one of my favorite areas to climb. I hope to summit a few more mountains with you!

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