Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Date Posted:  06/12/2011
Modified:  08/24/2011
Date Climbed:   06/11/2011
Author:  dmccool
Additional Members:   fepic1, hollamby
 Crestone Peak - South Face/Red Gully  

Crestone Peak - "Porcupines, Excessive Cramponing, and the Cottonwod Creek Drainage"

Team: Ryan(hollamby), John(fepic1), and Dan(dmccool)
Start: 3:00am from Old Gate Closure
End: 5:00pm (yeah, that's 14 hours)

I'm not sure where to begin on this one. I'll start by saying that Ryan and John are 2 great climbing partners and if you ever get a chance to get out with them, by all means - do it!
I drove from Colorado Springs on Friday, June 10 up to the high 4WD trailhead and packed in to a great campsite right near the Old Gate Closure. If you're heading up there, the campsites are fantastic.

Camp near the Old Gate

As planned, I got up about 2:30. When I got out of my tent, I saw an old friend of mine.


Ryan and John met me at my camp and we got on the trail right at 3:00am. We backtracked about 200 yards to the "shortcut" trail that leads to the Lower Lake and then on toward Humboldt Peak. Because of Ryan's superior route-finding (which came in handy with headlamps), we cut over to the Crestone Peak Trail near the lake and saved about 30 minutes.

"Shortcut" trail to Humboldt

The trail to Broken Hand Pass steepens quickly and we soon encountered the first snow of the day. The snowfield leading into the gully (couloir) up to BHP was very firm yet "kickable". We also use the existing bootpack.
Dan crossing the snowfield to BHP

Looking ahead to BHP

John and Ryan climbing BHP

As we got to the top of the pass, the sun began to rise. It made for a beautiful scene as we looked out over South Colony Basin and toward Humboldt Peak.

Sunrise over the valley

Topping out on Broken Hand Pass

The descent from Broken Hand Pass was snow-free. It's a little demoralizing descending all the way to Cottonwood Lake, but the views and scenery down there are amazing. You get the feeling that there's not a lot of visitors on that side of the ridge.

First light on the Needle

Dry conditions descending BHP

Cottonwood Lake

Before heading to the Red Gully, we refueled and rested at the Lake for a little bit. There was very little wind and it was pretty cloudy which would help us greatly over the next few hours. At one point, Ryan asked what we thought was our current elevation at the Lake. John and I insisted it was near 13,000ft. You can imagine our delight when Ryan's GPS read 12,200. The climb from this point to the summit is a long one to say the least.

Ryan and John refueling

There were very few patches of snow on the way up to the base of the Red Gully - all of which were easily crossable. Then we prepared for the goal ahead:

Base of the Red Gully

The Red Gully was a mixed bag of fun and games. We started out on solid, wet rock and soon made our way over to very solid snow. As we ascended, there were various rock bands, most with running water over them, many with solid ice on them, and others with dynamite hand holds. In addition, we could hear running water under the ice and snow for just about the entire climb. Here are a few photos of the Red Gully conditions:

Climbing mixed conditions

Ryan leading


We spent a great amount of time zig-zagging across the Gully searching for the best snow, avoiding solid blue ice, and escaping hidden running water. As we came close to the top of the couloir, the snow became noticeably steeper. Instead of topping out on the gully, we took a hard left toward the rock ledges about 100 vertical feet from the summit. From there, it was easy class 3 scrambling to the summit.

John and I exit to the rocks

Dan on the rock ledges just below the summit

Nearing the summit

Ryan and John on summit

John doing some sort of Class 4 move on the summit

Dan and John on summit

Challenger Point, Kit Carson and the snow-filled Avenue

We got the summit at about 9:30am and stayed for about 30 minutes. We descended the way we came up - down the rock ledges and into the couloir. I mentioned earlier that it had gotten much steeper near the top. Well, staring it down on the descent was (cough, cough) interesting. We faced in for about the first 150 vertical feet, and as it became more forgiving, we started a combination of plunge stepping, side stepping, butt-scooting, and slow-motion-style controlled glissades.
As we got close to the bottom, Ryan (again with his TomTom-like sense of route finding) led us out of the snow (to the descender's left - I know "descender" is not a word) and down the rock to the base of the Gully.

Now for my own personal variation of the descent/ascent back to Cottonwood Lake. Below the base of the Red Gully, I noticed that I dropped my camera. I figured it to only be about 50 yards back, so John and Ryan went on to Cottonwood Lake to rest and filter water while I raced back to grab the camera. The plan was for me to catch up and meet them at the Lake.
I found the camera in about 10 minutes, but figured that since I had slowed down the group, I'd better get down there quickly. I took a faint trail (later to be discovered as the Cottonwood Creek Trail) that I thought would get me to the Lake. To make a long story short, I found myself heading well below the lake and down into the Cottonwood Creek Drainage. Waterless, I ascended the cairned Cottonwood Trail back to the Lake, met back up with John and Ryan, and drank about a gallon of water. By saving time and running to catch up, I cost the group about 40 extra minutes. You're welcome, guys...don't mention it. It was nothing, really.

But I digress. We regained BHP, repeated our slow-motion-style controlled glissades, and crossed the snowfields - this time post-holing like crazy since it was approaching 3:00pm. The rest of the hike out was uneventful, yet incredibly scenic.

14 hours on the mountain and what do we get? This:
The Needle and the Damage Done

What did I learn from this trip?
1. Just because you EXPECT snow up ahead doesn't mean you need to leave your crampons on for a half mile.
2. Don't ever take short cuts in unfamiliar areas.
3. The Cottonwood Creek Trail, while cairned, is steep - especially after 4,000ft of vertical gain.
4. Regaining BHP is steep - especially after descending into the Cottonwood Creek Drainage.
5. Great climbing partners are as valuable as any piece of equipment.
6. And finally...South Colony Basin - in the late afternoon - is one of the most wonderful places imaginable.

Thanks to Ryan, John, and my good buddy in the fire ring for making this such a memorable climb.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Unforgetable Trip!
06/13/2011 05:45
Great to meet you Ryan and to meet up with you again Dan. We worked for every inch of that mountain. Good snow on the way up ,cloudy skies protected us .Then clear at the summit. Perfect! What happened on the wayout? That was rough . I will be sore for a few days. I will be ready for another with you guys anytime.


Not Spanish Creek
06/13/2011 13:38
You would have been descending into the Cottonwood Creek drainage, not Spanish Creek. The Spanish Creek drainage is were Steve and I lost Cooper (in Bear's Playground on the Peak/Columbia Point saddle). Great report!


Edit made
06/13/2011 14:05
Thanks Terry. My mistake.


06/13/2011 13:56
Fantastic report and great pictures. Wow.... Makes me want to head up there.


Nice Report, tiring hike.
06/13/2011 15:06
”What did I learn from this trip?
1. Just because you EXPECT snow up ahead doesn’t mean you need to leave your crampons on for a half mile. ”

So great


Nicely done!
06/13/2011 15:52
And a really nice writeup. Thanks for posting some great pictures, that area is spectacular.


”The Needle And The Damage Done”
06/13/2011 16:22
Every junkie's like a setting sun.

Neil lives! Great caption, and excellent TR.


06/13/2011 16:42
what a difference 2 weeks makes, we skied from BHP all the way to the base of that gully, then climbed entirely on slow except for one 15 foot section. All beta should be considered suspect until on the climb itself.

great tr, looked like a fun climb. solid work.


Kicking my own ass for not going
06/13/2011 19:42
Wow, dude that looks unreal!!! Great report.


Excellent report!
06/13/2011 20:24
Great route pics! Thanks!


South Colony Excellence
06/14/2011 15:35
It was great to share in your Crestone adventure from the basin camp. I'm pretty sure that I heard the same porcupine in our camp the 2nd night. Great report!


Thank you, everyone!
06/15/2011 00:25
What a great response.

Oman - I'm so glad someone caught my Neil Young reference. It restores my hope in humanity.

Ryan and John - thanks again for going with, it was awesome!

Kushrocks - let's get back there soon for the Needle

Highrock - It was great meeting you guys in camp!


Nice report
06/15/2011 19:10
I enjoyed the write up and the pics. Looked like a nice snow climb. Cool shot of the porcupine, btw.

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