Angels and Angles:
Dayhiking the Crestones
Peaks: Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, East Crestone Peak
Routes: Needle via SE ridge; Peak via Red Gully
Date: September 17, 2010
Length: 16 miles RT
Vertical: 7300 feet
Total climb time: 8:42
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise and friends along the way
Fall Colors Grace the Western Flanks of the Sangre de Cristo Range
After playing on the North Ridge of Kit Carson a few weeks ago, I was smitten. Climbing solid conglomerate rock for 1200 vertical feet in the alpine was too good.
The next plan was to scope out the Ellingwood Ledges route (aka Ellingwood Arete) on the Crestone Needle – a great excuse to climb the Crestones,
get familiar with the descent off the Arete, and get some recon photos.
Upper section of the Ellingwood Arete, Gr III, 5.7, Crestone Needle
"How many angels can sit upon the point of a Needle?"
Albert Ellingwood was a Colorado professor of political science, who is also reputed to have been one of the few US climbers capable of handling a rope at the time, according to climbing historian Chris Jones. He and Eleanor Davis are credited with the first ascent of the Crestone Needle on July 24, 1916, via the SE ridge/gully. It was the last of the then-53 14ers to have been climbed. Interestingly, it was not until nine years later that they returned with a party of four to claim the Ellingwood Ledges route on the NE aspect.
Crestone Needle as seen from Cresone Peak
The forecast on Friday was nearly perfect.
I arrived at the trailhead around 8:00 am and made the cut-off to the lower South Colony Lake in just under an hour, getting to the lake about half an hour later, where I stashed some water.
The bridge at the new road closure and trailhead
Morning aspens paint the way
I had considered doing the traverse, but the week went by so fast I didn't have time to study the route, so figured I might get it another time. Mostly I was interested in seeing the Arete, climbing the "fourth class" route on the Needle, and getting some exercise. I brought the fly rod, just in case the trout in any of the three lakes felt jumpy.
The Needle from Broken Hand Pass
The short third class crux getting up the east side of Broken Hand Pass
The trail up BHP passes through this notch, a good place to look back on the ascent.
I'd hoped to be at Broken Hand Pass in two hours, but was about fifteen minutes off the pace. Hiking around a few gendarmes at the beginning of the SE ridge of the Needle above the pass was interesting.
Great day, lots of folks on the mountain. I passed a few folks on the lower section of the Needle's SE gully, identified the cross-over to the "west" gully, and chose to stay to the right (east) of the east gully, where the rock presents solid, easy climbing. The "dihedral" is really more of a gully, and not as solid as the rock to the right of it, so I stayed right.
I bumped into Dru, a rock climber, and friend of Steve Gladbach's. We went on to summit together, and talked about doing the Arete possibly later this month. He enjoyed the route a few years ago.
Near the top of the SE ridge, you can't go too far right as it cliffs out. We actually topped out right at the finish of the Arete, about 3:05 from the car, which was perfect to get some shots of the route from above, looking down.
Top of the Ellingwood Arete, looking east to Humbolt Peak. The Upper Colony Lake is seen at the base of the Arete.
The Ellingwood Arete, seen from its finish 100 feet from the Needle's summit. The start of the route, near the lake, is 2000 vertical feet below.
I met Zenyatta on the summit. She and Johnny had roped up for the east gully. It looked like they did the left side of the gully, whereas we stuck to the right side. I already knew we were lucky that the trailhead was only ninety minutes away, but it really hit home when I learned that Zenyatta had come all the way from Pilot Point, Texas, to climb the Needle. Kudos, Z, on your passion and commitment.
Gazing northwest toward the traverse, the route-finding didn't look like it'd be that tough. Terry Matthews and I had talked about it and I wondered if he was the tiny dot I saw over on East Crestone Peak.
The four of us chatted and took some photos at the summit before heading down. I said my goodbyes to everyone, as I had to get moving with the long day ahead.
I'd have to say the true test of a rating is no better determined than during the downclimb. Downclimbing the east gully really proved that it's solid third class (Roper and Steck agree.)
The alpine section of the Needle was the best climbing of the day, and a real joy. Not quite what Kit Carson's North ridge is, but I'm guessing the Arete will be all that and more.
Downclimbing the "east gully" on the Needle
Image #28 (not yet uploaded)
Image #29 (not yet uploaded)
Dropping in to Cottonwood Lake, I stashed more water and took a lunch break. This time I tried making some little tacquitos and dipped them in enchilada sauce. With potato chips, mostly for the salt. It worked pretty well; they were tasty. A beer would have worked just fine, except the day would have been over right there.
Image #30 (not yet uploaded)
Looking north from Cottonwood Lake. The Red Gully up to Crestone Peak is at left.
I didn't feel that the trail's detour around the slabs at the start of the red gully was necessary, but stuck to the trail on the ascent anyway. The descent later proved that the rock is solid and negotiable as a direct line. The start of the gully is pretty solid, but there are a number of areas where it turns to loose dirt and scree mid-way up. At least half the time, moving to one side or the other (usually to the right on the ascent) would take one to more solid, if slightly steeper rock. The rock here is unusual for the Sangres – it's mostly solid red rock, and somewhat reminiscent of the rock around the Aspen area.
At the top I ended up taking a direct line to the summit on solid rock, arriving after about five hours and fifteen minutes from the car, not counting lunch and summit time on the Needle. The standard route stays in the gully to the saddle and goes left at the summit ridge.
Out of the gully nearing the Crestone Peak summit
Kit Carson and Challenger Point
The "Avenue" on Kit Carson
The views from the Peak are spectacular, but I have to say, the views from East Crestone are somewhat different, and equally as good if not better. East Crestone only has maybe 100 feet of prominence, so it's not ranked, but the 100 feet is well worth the trip. Ascending on mostly solid rock, the loose scree on the west aspect is easily avoided. I wondered if Terry were beginning his descent off the Needle about then.
East Crestone Peak as seen from Crestone Peak
Crestone Peak as seen from East Cresone Peak
Looking north to the rest of the Sangre
This was the second trip in 5.10 Camp Four approach shoes, and I have to say, the rubber, being Stealth 1 on the sole and C4 on the inside edge, really showed its sticking power on the descent. The loose areas were not fun but negotiable, and not as bad as the east side of BHP. The sections of solid rock were pure bliss.
The ascent back up BHP was the last 700 verts of the day. That was the rationale for stashing water near Cottonwood Lake, which helped with that final push. The east side of BHP evidences significant trail work since the washouts of early last month (August 2010.) Rock steps and large cairns guide the way, though there are still some treacherous sections, probably the most dangerous part of the whole trip.
Afternoon shadows draw over the Lower and Upper South Colony Lakes
At this point it was getting late, and quite evident that the beers at the car were exerting a much greater pull on the psyche than any potentially large and dangerous trout swimming in the upper lake. Not to mention adding another 400 verts to an already full day. So I raided the water stash at the lower lake, drank my fill, finished off the last of lunch, and headed down to see swarms of aliens with hunchbacks and six foot long arms coming up road and trail.
No, wait, they were climbers with backpacks and poles. Guess I must have been tired.
As luck would have it, two of those aliens were Zenyatta and Johnny. It was nice chatting with them again before scooting to the car, and right then Terry came along. He actually got the traverse today. Terry, it was great finally meeting you. And congrats on your completion of the four Great Traverses today.
Terry, whatcha shootin' at?
Oh. Yes, that is pretty!
"Don't know why I bother to take these shots of the moon; they never come out." "Yeah, me either." "Wow, gorgeous night, huh."
And… The recon?
Albert Ellingwood is quoted as saying, "One of the famous problems of the Middle Ages was to ascertain the exact number of angels who could sit upon the point of a needle.
I would adapt it and propound a question both more interesting and more answerable: From how many angles can the Needle's point be reached?"
Perhaps, over the coming months and years, I may have the good fortune to attempt to answer Dr. Ellingwood's question.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):