| A Labor of Love
Crestone Needle - Standard Route
Lower 2WD South Colony Lakes trailhead
Elevation gain: approx. 5,000 feet
Total roundtrip mileage: approx. 13 miles
Dates climbed: September 4-5, 2010
Climbers: Gene (Gene913) and Bryce Porter
As summer was drawing to a close, I was filled with regret that my son and I had not been able to climb a peak together this year. He climbed with me for the first time in 2008, and we had a San Juan adventure, with summits of Redcloud, Handies, and Uncompahgre. A variety of factors conspired to keep him from joining me in 2009 and, when he was unable to join me for a trip earlier this summer, it looked like a second summer was going to slip away without us again enjoying a climb and summit together. But desire and determination can overcome many things, and the three day Labor Day weekend provided the perfect opportunity to us to finally share a peak together.
We left Kansas City at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, September 3, and after successfully summiting the Needle on Sunday, September 5, we were back in the driveway at 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning, September 6. This is the story of our 59 hour odyssey.
For me, like many of my fellow flatlander climbers, reality is that Colorado trips are a week long, once-a-year, and if we are lucky, twice-a-year, experience. Much planning must occur in order to maximize the limited time we get to spend in the mountains. By accumulating 41 total 14er summits over 9 of the the last 10 summers, I've crammed a fair amount of climbing into my annual trips, but I don't think there is any way I can top this trip in terms of squeezing the most trip into the least amount of time. In fact, I am not even going to try!
Our plan was to drive across Kansas all night. Those who have made that drive know that doing it at night is really the only way to tolerably endure the 10 plus hour drive through less than enjoyable vistas where the tallest thing on the horizon is a telephone pole. I'm a native Kansan, so I can say it: what do you miss by driving across Kansas at night? Our objective was to get to the South Colony Lakes trailhead, backpack in on Saturday morning, set up camp, catch some sleep in the afternoon, and then make a summit attempt of Crestone Needle on Sunday, followed by another nite of camping with a drive home on Monday.
We selected the Needle for two primary reasons. First, Bryce had been telling me since our first trip together in 2008 that he wanted to climb something more "challenging." He kept using the short climbing area below the summit of Uncompahgre as an example of what he wanted to do. It was time to take him on a Class 3 peak. Second, I had climbed Humboldt in 2001, the first summer I started climbing so the images of Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle were seared into my consciousness from the start. I had climbed the Peak in 2005 from the Cottonwood Creek approach. We got weathered off the Needle the following day after making it near the base of the east gully. We could not go for it the next day because we were at the end of our week and had to head home. Now was the perfect time and window to go for the Needle.
The drive was typically uneventful. We got to the trailhead just before dawn. The 2005 Civic was perfect for driving across Kansas. It was not, however, going to get us to the upper 4WD trailhead. We sat for a few minutes to avoid disturbing the fortunate ones who were sleeping at the trailhead. There would be no sleep for us. Soon we began quietly pulling out our gear and getting ready for the hike up the "lovely" road.
A sleep-deprived hike up a road is singularly unglamorous and not the image that inspires you to climb peaks. Second thoughts about your decision to climb start to a sneak into your head. When folks driving up the road go past you and don't offer you a spot in the empty bed of their truck, slightly more sinister thoughts threaten to take over your brain. But when someone finally does stop to offer you a ride, all you can think about is how wonderful human beings can be to one another. Boris was a transplanted Croatian living in New Jersey who was out climbing peaks in a rented Jeep. He had done Longs the Thursday before Labor Day weekend and had dropped down to spend some time in the Sangre de Cristo range. We were happy to meet him and learn his story.
We got to the already very crowded upper trailhead, helped Boris find a place to park, thanked him, and headed up the road with a much happier disposition. We were at the old upper trailhead in no time, and found the shortcut trail to the Lower South Colony Lake that others have described. We made quick work of the climb into the basin and got our first good look at tomorrow's objective.
Bryce ponders tomorrow's goal - You sure that's just a Class 3, Dad?
Toward the top of the shortcut trail, we met a group of three guys on their way out. They gave us a description of how to get to an ideal campsite they had just left, which only quickened our pace. By 10:00 we had found the site. We pitched the tents in no time and were off to sleep at 10:30.
One for you and one for me.
I slept easily but was awake by 2:30. I wanted to make sure I knew how to get to the standard route trail from our campsite so there would be no unnecessary adventures finding our way in the morning. Our campsite was near a social trail just off the shortcut trail and below Lower South Colony Lake. I knew the standard route to the Needle was to the south, so I took off in that direction on the social trail, crossed a three log bridge, and found a much more well-defined trail that took me right to where we would want to be in the morning.
Hard to miss with highway signage like this!
I returned to the campsite after spending some time just sitting off the trail, propped against a tree, enjoying the shade, a few more winks of sleep, and the fresh air. Bryce was up and about when I got back, so I happily described to him our good fortune at having found a campsite that provided such ready access to our route for tomorrow. We made dinner, filtered water for the next day, and just continued relaxing for the rest of the evening. Part of our relaxation included building and enjoying a fire in the established fire ring.
Another part of our relaxation was meeting and talking with Dru, who was camped nearby. He is from Pueblo and, as it turns out, is a good friend and neighbor of a well known and highly regarded 14ers.com member, Steve Gladbach (sgladbach). We enjoyed our conversation with Dru, as he spoke admiringly of the climbing exploits of his legendary friend and neighbor. The next best thing to meeting a legend is meeting someone who knows the legend! Dru, however, is an incredibly accomplished climber in his own right. He had returned to camp on Saturday after a long day with an adventurous solo climb of Crestone Peak, using the Northwest Couloir through the Bear's Playground for his ascent and then the red gully south face route for his descent. As Roach would say, a very creative "tour-de-Crestone Peak."
After a thoroughly enjoyable first day, we had no trouble heading to bed at 7:00 p.m., just before dark. After a very good night's sleep, we were up at 5:00 a.m., and had boots on the ground by 5:30. Headlamps got us started up the trail toward Broken Hand Pass. Just after 6:00, the sun was trying to make its presence known while the sliver of a crescent moon was still aglow.
When days start with this much promise, you can only be filled with praise
The wind had been blowing all night while we slept, but the sky was star-filled when we left camp and there were no clouds to be found. Those conditions were to hold throughout the day, as the wind rarely died down and was easily at a sustained 10 miles per hour for most of the day and often gusted much stronger. In my mind, the bluebird sky compensated for the wind, but Bryce found the wind totally annoying.
The route finding was uneventful up to Broken Hand Pass. There are ample cairns when the frequent trail tread disappears.
Bryce on route up to Broken Hand Pass
The wind was really starting to be oppressively strong at this point, rushing over and down the pass
We easily avoided the marked restoration area just below the pass and were greeted by a howler wind when we reached the pass shortly after 7:00 a.m.
We turned climber's right at the pass and headed up the obvious trail toward our summit destination.
Head down, and fighting the wind, heading toward the east gully from Broken Hand Pass
The route from Broken Hand Pass to the bottom of the east gully is direct and obvious. When we arrived at the bottom of the east gully, I stopped, and while facing up the gully turned to my right, and took this picture looking back toward the route home. I do this sometimes at this type of trial juncture so that if I am unsure of the route on the way home, I can scroll though the pics in the camera to remind myself of the correct route home. This picture was to remind me of the two cairns high on the ridge, so I would have a way to locate the route home if necessary.
At the bottom of the east gully, looking back on the route
The real fun for the day was now ready to begin. I knew what to expect but Bryce did not. The solid Crestone conglomerate can only be described as intoxicating. And Bryce was quickly drunk. I let him take the point so I could watch his movements and offer suggestions as needed. He needed very few. As a well-fit 23 year old former collegiate soccer player, he does not lack physical skills and abilities. Oh the glory of youth. He was deliberate and careful, experimenting with the solid rock, finding hand and foot holds galore. Following him was a delight. He showed ample technique and skills for someone on a Class 3 peak for the first time.
Notice the choice of footwear!
There is nothing more solid than Crestone conglomerate - great place to introduce someone to Class 3 climbing
Looking down the east gully
As I watched him, the only question now was whether he was prepared to sustain it for the length of the entire climb. He helped answer that question a couple different times on the ascent. Once he turned to me and said, "This is going to suck ass on the way down!" I just laughed and nodded. I was pleased to realize that he was developing good climbing awareness – he was not only focused on the ascent work at hand, but obviously had already started thinking about the descent.
Others have described the crux of this route as finding the right place to cross over the rib from the east gully to the west gully. Because you can take the east gully all the way up without crossing over, I was no longer concerned about whether we ever found the correct cross over point. From watching Bryce go up the east gully, I knew we would be just fine staying in that gully if we had to take it all the way to the top.
When my GPS said we were at 13,945, we were still in the east gully, and I was prepared for us to take it all the way to the top. At this point, even though we only had just over 200 hundred vertical feet to the summit, I needed to stop for a food break. While we were snacking, I turned to Bryce, told him we only had about 200 more vertical feet to go before the summit, and asked him how he was doing. He was plainly looking a bit tired.
Is this wind ever going to stop?
He really did not like all the wind we had been experiencing. He acknowledged that he was feeling it. I said to him, "Well, we could just call it good here and say this is the summit and head back down." He quickly responded with a very dry "Don't even put that thought in my head!" We enjoyed a good laugh together.
As we finished our snack, I looked to the west and could see an obvious line to cross the rib. There were no cairns, but there was a ledge angling down from our spot, and then a solid and very short downhill traverse to the other side of the rib, with a drive-a-truck-through-it entrance into the west gully. Our good fortune at finding this spot was impossible to pass up so we crossed over. We were quickly into the west gully and on our way to the ridge, followed by the brief scamper up the ridge to the summit at around 9:45.
Because of Bryce's near hatred of the wind, we did not linger long on the summit. A couple on the summit were the first people we had seen all day other than two guys who passed us well below Broken Hand Pass and a single climber who got to the pass at the same time as us and headed toward Crestone Peak. We had enjoyed the ascent of the Needle all to ourselves. Despite a very busy three day holiday weekend in the basin, it was like our own private peak. We visited with the couple, and one of them was gracious enough to take these summit shots of us with Crestone Peak, Challenger Point, and Kit Carson in the background.
On the summit together
There really was a smile in his heart
On the way down, we crossed over at the same spot we used on the way up, and then downclimbed the east gully using the exact same route as our ascent. We took our time.
Bryce continued to use the wonderfully solid Crestone conglomerate rock to work on some techniques. We worked on facing out and facing in. Turns out (no pun intended), like me, he favors the face out approach.
On the downclimb in the east gully. Where is the helmet?
On the downclimb above Broken Hand Pass
At the bottom of the east gully, we made our way back to Broken Hand Pass with no trouble. Down we went to South Colony Lakes, taking time for one last look back toward what we had climbed.
What a day! His first class 3 peak and I got to do it with him!
It was 1:30 when we got back to camp. While we were on the descent, Bryce had started talking about breaking camp and heading on out rather than our original plan of spending the night and driving home on Monday. Although I tried to discourage the idea, he ultimately prevailed only after we agreed that we would start the drive home and if either one of us wanted to stop and get some sleep, the other would concede.
We were on the trail at 2:30, and back to the car at the trailhead just before 5:00. The hours on the drive home started to unfold. We stopped for cold drinks in Westcliffe, gas and food in Colorado Springs, and once more for gas in Hays, Kansas, and then we were home at 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning. I never got behind the wheel on the way home. He did all the driving. Again, the glory of youth. And, by the grace of God, a safe trip home.
There is much about this trip that I frankly cannot put out there as a "model" for others to follow. Some might tell you that we did not properly acclimate. Some could criticize Bryce's choice of footwear or our lack of helmets (we had them with us but forgot them and left them in the trunk of the car at the trailhead). Some will say that it is insane in the span of 24 hours to first climb a tough 14er and then immediately spend the next 12 hours driving cross country. Yes, we broke a few "rules." But if you focus on that aspect of what we did, you risk missing the true point of this trip report - the labor of love that comes from climbing with your son.
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