| Fluted Peak via North Crestone Lake
Due to the really poor weather, I had bailed the previous week on a chance to hike Yale. Instead Monday and Tuesday were perfect days: above freezing even above 13k feet and quite clear. The only downside was the obligatory wind - which among other things crippled my photography. Fluted Peak made for a significantly longer day, but with basically no driving required it worked out well.
This turned out to be an extremely fun route. It was barely even class 2, but that was perfect for me at this time of year.
Distance: 16-20 miles?
Elevation gain: 5300-5700 feet?
The majority of the background for this climb came from the top of Mount Adams, when I noticed a cool-looking approach from North Crestone Lake straight up into the plateau northwest of Fluted. Missing from the view was the portion right above the lake, and the route from the plateau up to the summit itself. A bit of internet research indicated these portions were climbable but said nothing about difficulty.
The plateau is in the middle - North Crestone Lk in the lower left and Fluted Pk in the upper right
The second thing to consider is distance. Fluted is at 13554', versus the trailhead at 8600' makes for a minimum of about 5000' gain; the trail is very rolling and I'd estimate 150-350 feet of reverse incline. It's also really long: 7-9 miles one way from trailhead to lake, depending on who you ask. As a December hike, it seemed likely that there would be a fair bit of snow below and around the lake but probably none above it.
I put this climb on the back burner, waiting for the perfect day.
The forecast for Monday was perfect - but I wasn't ready in time to get on the trail early enough. Tuesday forecast was almost as good - still above freezing at 13000 feet (!), with a few clouds but the wind was supposed to be less. Unfortunately I still didn't manage to get on the trail until 7:30. Up to the first creek crossing and "three forks", the trail was clear of snow, but after turning south snow gradually got deeper on the way up. Below the basin's "zig-zag" I don't think this basin gets a minute of sunshine this time of year, but still it wasn't until past the "zig-zag" that it turned into postholing. I made the mistake of following some footprints and accidentally followed them off the trail then lost them; I ended up cutting around above the snow but being off-trail it was extremely slow and cost me 30-60 minutes. I ended up arriving above the lake right at noon.
North Crestone Lake
The very imposing headwall - Mount Adams NE ridge in the background
North Crestone Lake with Mount Adams in the background; the true summit of Adams is barely visible on the right
Traversing around the lake at 11900' to get to the gully (which appears to hold a seasonal creek, frozen solid at this time) that heads north around Fluted Peak took longer than it should have. At this point it was 12:15 and I knew if I continued up I'd most likely not get back to the TH until after dark. After a minute of consideration I decided that was ok. I'd say this was the hardest part of the hike; since I was approaching the gully from the west and not head-on there was no good opportunity for route-finding. I just climbed by the easiest-looking route, which was still an easy class 2 but was a bit tedious to avoid clumps of bushes and snow. Around 12300' I arrived in the upper basin, where things became easier and extremely pretty.
The "upper basin" below Fluted Peak (summit is off to the right)
Looking back down on the lake
I didn't follow the gully all the way to the ridgeline, instead striking out east and up after getting around the rockiest-looking portions of Fluted's west slope. This turned out to be the perfect spot, and it brought me up to the ridge and the wind in short order. As the pictures show there was no issue with snow in the south-facing gully, and no issue with it along the ridge either. There was, however, an amazing amount of wind. Fortunately it was constant and not gusty. As I approached the summit block I realized first of all that any exposure at all would be too dangerous, and secondly that with my hands freezing and inside overly-stiff gloves, I wouldn't be able to safely climb any class 3 rocks. I almost stopped at the "false summit" to the north of the main peak, as it looked as though there would be scrambling involved, but when I actually made it to at the summit block the piles of rock were easy to walk over. At 2:00 I arrived at the summit and to spectacular views and spectacular wind. I couldn't find a summit register. I took a few photos, including a panorama - large version (54 megapixels) available here.
Left to right: Colony Baldy, Humboldt, Crestone Needle, Peak, Columbia, Kit Carson, Challenger, Adams NE ridge
Close-up of Crestones
Looking down on the lake
As it was now 2:20, I knew I had to hurry to get as far as possible before sunset. Heading down the tundra was quite fast, and despite stopping to examine a complete skeleton (it looked like a sheep, but possibly a small elk) and to admire a bizarre uncontained ice flow (I didn't want to take the camera out again to snap photos of either - regrettable in hindsight) I was back above the lake before 3:00. Traversing above the lake was again tedious but I soon made it to the main trail and started flying down it. This time I didn't have any trouble following it, and the snow that was so tedious on the way up was mostly shallow enough that it didn't provide an impediment heading downhill. I did have to break out the headlamp for a few minutes in the dark but made it back to the trailhead and my car at 5:45.
I really enjoyed this route. Tundra hiking is fun to begin with and the tundra below Fluted is very self-contained...everywhere you look it's nothing but tundra and mountains. Most of the hike is completely surrounded by the Sangres with no outside views of any civilization, and the sense of isolation (though not really true) is amazing. Aside from footsteps, the only sign of humanity I saw all day was a small piece of broken glass at around 12400'. The distance wasn't that bad really, aside from having to bushwhack on the way up.
Approximate topographic route