| Reminiscing & Returning to Some Favorites: The Crestones
Sunrise picture was taken in Sept. '09
August 27-29, 2010
Climbers: Valerie Duringer (VBALGAL) & Darin Baker
Crestone Peak (14,294')
"East Crestone" (*unranked 14,260'/ *Custer County highpoint)
Sangre de Cristo Range
Trailhead: South Colony (w/base-camp at S Colony Lakes)
Route: S face/Red gulley
Approach to base-camp: ~3.75mi. (one way/Day 1)
Climb of the Peak: ~4.50mi RT (round-trip/Day 2)
Approach to base-camp: ~1775'
Climb of Peak: ~3875'
Gear: backpacking equipment (e.g., for me a bivy, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, Jetboil, Aqua-mira, etc.), Essentials, helmet
Resources Used for Trip Planning: Roach's Colorado's Fourteeners guidebook, NOAA weather forecast accessed from 14ers.com, TOPO! software, & prior experience/knowledge of the area
As I've traveled around the state to our beloved 14ers, I have accumulated some favorite peaks along with their areas.
The first to become a favorite was Huron Peak. I hiked to the summit of Huron via the N ridge on July 4, 2003. Upon reaching the summit, I was rewarded with the stunning views of the Apostles. Wow! I was amazed! I've been back to Huron two more times for that view.
Later that summer, my friend Dave Dietz and I hiked/scrambled to the summit of Wetterhorn; and still later that summer, Dave and I returned with Brian England to hike Uncompahgre. On those two trips, I came to love the Uncompahgre Wilderness (formerly known as the Big Blue Wilderness).
In August of '09, I returned to climb Wetterhorn from Wetterhorn Basin, and that was one of my best trips of that summer. Gotta love the San Juans!
A year later in the summer of '04, I made my first trip to the Crestones. By that point, I had heard about how good the climbing was in the Crestones, with its mostly solid conglomerate rock.
A couple of examples of the conglomerate rock found in the Crestones…
My first time up Crestone Needle started out as a scouting mission. I started from the terminal for the 4x4 road sometime around 9am, by myself while my non-scrambling friends did other things.
Once I got to Broken Hand Pass, I decided to go a little further. Before I knew it, I was on top! I had the summit to myself, as well as the entire route up and down. It was a great feeling to have scrambled my first sustained class 3 by myself, and I felt a proud sense of accomplishment and growth from that experience.
Two years later in September of 2006, I returned to the South Colony Lakes area, but this time to climb Crestone Peak for the first time, and from there go onto the traverse to the Needle. There were some route finding issues on the start of the traverse (we started too high on the ridge), but we eventually got back "on route" and finished the traverse.
Since 2006, I've been back to South Colony Lakes each summer for various hikes or climbs, and I never get tired of it.
On this trip, we had hoped for more than just the Peak, but it did not work out. However, that's fine with me, because returning to an area such as this one is a pleasure, as well as an excitable thought when I know that I'm going back.
I met Val a couple of years ago when she was taking classes in BMS (Basic Mountaineering School) when I was director of the program. She impressed me with her attitude, her strength, and her friendly & outgoing personality.
One of the things that impressed me about Val is when she took the snow climbing class.
After ascending a couloir in Glen Cove (on Pikes Peak), her group decided to glissade back down. However, Val thought down-climbing it would be a more useful skill to practice, so that is what she did. I remember her saying, "anyone can glissade."
I agree with her.
(Note: glissading can be a fun and quick way down, but it can be dangerous. Being able to down-climb, whether it is on snow or rock, is as important as climbing technique used to ascend.)
Val and I have ice climbed together and have done a local hike together. In June of '09, we climbed the Railroad Couloir (on Pikes) with the highlight of seeing her "man" Kevin Bacon perform on top! ;)
This summer, she's been hiking a lot of 14ers with Gabby, her dog, but only class 2's.
But it was time for a class 3 or 4 peak, and she hadn't been to the Crestones yet.
Then let's go!
We drove to Westcliffe on Friday afternoon and got to the new trailhead around 3:30 or so. The new trailhead adds about 3mi's to the hike to South Colony Lakes, but I didn't think it was too bad. It's walking on a road, but at least now it's peaceful without motorbikes, ATV's, or 4x4's driving by. And it only took us a little over an hour to get to the old terminal of the road, and from there it was another 15-20 minutes to get to our chosen campsite.
We set up our camp before the turnoff for Broken Hand Pass, and decided to leave camp by 4am on Saturday.
3:30am came on Saturday morning, and we were up and getting ready to start our hike up to Broken Hand Pass. I led us out of camp and up the familiar trail to the pass.
We were at the pass by 5:20am, where we stopped for a snack, and I also tried to get some sunrise pictures. It was a little windy, and my camera had some vibration sitting on its (cheap) tripod, so my pictures were a little blurry from movement.
Humboldt awaiting the morning sun...
The wind was taking its effect on us, so we descended SW down the other side of Broken Hand pass towards Cottonwood Lake.
On this trip, I did not bring a route description since I had climbed it before and was hoping to go off of memory. I did read Roach's description beforehand, and I think Val did her research too, from one resource or another.
The hike around Cottonwood Lake and the approach to the base of the climb is straightforward on a good trail, and there's cairns to follow as well.
Chatting all the way, from camp that morning, to the base of the climb, time went by fairly quick and we were soon putting our helmets on for our ascent up Crestone Peak.
We were going up the red gulley sometime around 6:40am, with one climber (Michael) well ahead of us, and at this point, no one behind us.
The going was good, and the views to the south improved with each foot gained.
Looks steeper than it is
Occasionally, I would find black arrows pointing the way….
Before reaching the saddle of the twin summits, Michael and another guy were descending. The other guy had climbed the N buttress route that morning, solo, and was now joining Michael for the traverse.
I gave what information I could about getting on the traverse (which wasn't much, other than don't cut in too high like we did several years ago), and they continued on with their descent to find the start of the traverse.
Near the saddle of the twin summits of Crestone Peak….
Once at the saddle of the twin summits, we stopped to take in some views to the N before starting the traverse to the western summit of Crestone Peak.
Val on the traverse with "East Crestone" behind her…
A little more scrambling before the summit….
Bicentennial 13er, Colony Baldy (13,715')….
Summit picture of Val, with the Kit Carson massif in the background….
I love this place!!
After a brief stay on the true summit, we went to the SE side of the summit to get out of the winds to take a break and eat. And of course, Val had to have her traditional peanut butter & honey sandwich!
It was nice to have the summit to ourselves for a while, but we could see we were going to soon have company as there were at least 6 people we could see coming up the red gulley.
We left our perch and traversed back to the saddle, where Val sat and waited for me as I went up to "East Crestone" for my first visit to that summit.
Humboldt Peak (14,064') from "East Crestone"…
Crestone Needle (14,197')….
Crestone Peak (14,294')….
The fun centennial Mount Adams (13,931') in the center with the striated white rock….
By 9:30am, after about an hour on the summits, we started our way down, with us in the lead as most of the other climbers started their descent as well. Throughout the descent, it seemed everyone was being careful with the loose rock that is in the upper part of this gulley. I didn't hear or see any major rock fall on our descent.
Picture by Val
Starting the day out, we were considering a climb of the Needle once we got back to Broken Hand pass. As we descended the Peak and made our way over to the pass, we talked about it, and decided to see how we felt at the pass, before committing to a "go or no go" decision on another peak for the day.
Once at the pass (at noon-ish), there were some high clouds, clouds that looked like they could produce a light rain or mist, but they were not thunder clouds. And, the Needle was starting to become obscured by clouds.
I wasn't feeling up to another climb (i.e., feeling like my normal lazy self), and I think Val was a little torn on go or no go, but she wasn't feeling her normal 110% on climb day, so we went down.
(Oh good, I can take a nap!)
On our way down, the high clouds thinned and dissipated for a while, and the Needle came out…
Back in camp, I went to my bivy and laid down for a while, with hopes of doing a late afternoon/early evening hike to "Obstruction Peak" to watch the sunset. However, the weather would turn a bit fowl later that day, with clouds, light rain, and wind. And more wind.
While in my bivy, I did get a look at the locals having fun in and around our camp…
Later that evening….
We were able to get out for a short hike to Upper South Colony Lake later that day, which was the first time I've hiked up and around the lake itself.
We were planning on getting up the next morning for a hike up Humboldt and adding "Obstruction Peak" (a.k.a., 13,799') afterwards.
However, the weather thru the night and into the morning was not inspirational or conducive for a fun hike.
High winds (probably a steady 30-35mph, with bigger gusts).
High winds all night.
High winds and clouds at 3:30am when I got up.
High winds that did not stop or relent.
High winds that told us that we didn't want to walk above tree-line and get blown around.
"Want to sleep in and pack up in the morning and go home?"
So that's what we did. I have no regrets, because I know I'll be back.
And I know Val will go back to this magical place too, after all, she needs to climb the Needle!
(Hopefully, I'll be able to join her on that journey.)
Hindsight & Personal Notes
The Crestones are a magical place. A place I want to return to in the future and often.
I've been thru good times there, and I've been there thru tragedy, but I love the Crestones and the surrounding area.
I'm glad I'm able to still go there with both good and sad memories.
In 2008, I lost a climbing partner while we were attempting the Needle. A few weeks after she died on the mountain, I went back to finish the climb, to honor her, and to set things right with the mountain and me. I'm thankful I was able to return so soon after that horrific event, as it was one more step towards closure with the passing of Linda, and of what I saw that day.
I am not religious, but I respect the beliefs of others.
With that said, I found the following excerpt from the Bible (which was spoken at Linda's memorial service) to be more than just something for believers to revel in.
"For you shall go out in joy, and be led
back in peace; and the mountains and the
hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap
This summer has been a deadly one in the Colorado mountains. To date, I think there have been 7 deaths on our 14ers, plus at least 2 other deaths on other mountains in the state. In addition to their deaths, we (friends in Colorado Springs) lost a friend (Spencer Swanger) while he was climbing in the Dolomites in northern Italy.
Their deaths are sad, but their deaths are also a grim reminder of the dangers in the mountains. And they're a reminder of how vigilant we need to be.
However, and possibly the most important, they're a reminder to us that we need to live.
We need to live our lives the way we want and how our hearts desire. If our desires are to go to the mountains, than we shall go to the mountains.
That is where my heart (and soul) desires to go, and I hope to go to the many mountains for many years to come.
Valerie, thanks for having me along on this latest journey. And thanks for a great weekend, even though we only got the experience of one peak. But there will be more.
And thanks for getting my Mtn. Hardwear Transition shirt sewn into a jacket! You're awesome!
Thanks for reading,