Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  08/13/2011
Modified:  08/14/2011
Date Climbed:   08/08/2011
Author:  James Scott
 North Buttress & Traverse  

Trailhead- 5:00
Bear's Playground- 8:20
Crestone Peak summit- 10:50-11:15
Crestone Needle summit- 2:00- 2:35
Trailhead- 6:00

Last Sunday night, I found myself driving over Monument Pass with my friend Derek, discussing the Crestone Traverse. We planned to go Peak to Needle the next day, but he wanted to do the North Buttress route to gain the Peak, and I had assumed we'd take the standard Red Gully. I will admit I was a bit intimidated with the description of the North Buttress- it claimed to be class four, and I've done a fair amount of class four, but it sounded fairly extreme. We left things undecided going to sleep at the closing of South Colony road.

By light of day, as is often the case, I felt stronger, happier, and more positive. Getting to South Colony lake, I suggested that we do the North Buttress- it would be much harder, but also far more exciting and rewarding. We passed the exit to Broken Hand Pass and negotiated the willows and scree fields leading to the top near Bear's Playground. From afar, this wall looks impossible, but other than scree, it's not too unpleasant. We saw a notch with a green ledge leading to it, and took off toward it. From there, we found many options that would work, avoiding the scree filled couloir to the far left. We were on top looking at the Peak from the north by about 8:30.

Sunrise on the Needle

Upper South Colony Lake

Looking back at the Needle from the lake

Heading toward the right of the Peak

Through this notch toward the top seemed to work

Humboldt and the basin

Eyeing the Needle and parts of our climb

I've always felt confident climbing with Derek- I consider him an expert rock climber, and on a few climbs- Bells Traverse, Little Bear, he has lead, which lets me focus on what I'm doing and not what's coming up later. From the bottom of the North Buttress, I assured myself that it's always easier than it looks, and we started climbing. I didn't get a lot of pictures on the way up, for two reasons- I had borrowed a pink camera from a friend, and I thought it could cause me to fall, and I was just at the edge, and sometimes beyond my comfort level, so I didn't want to be messing with a camera. Especially a pink one. There are two photos of what we climbed, taken from the summit:
North Buttress- lower shot

North Buttress- upper shot

It was easy to make out the north couloir, and there were indeed some cairns leading in that direction. We started up to the left of that- in the top picture you can see two distinct ridges leading all the way up, with a kind of V in the middle, and a notch at the top of the V. I'm sure this will sound confusing, but we were on the flat looking part in the V to the left of the right ridge. The Crestone rock was my best friend during this- grippy and lots of hand and foot holds. The terrain didn't start super steep, but quickly got steeper, then let up, then got steeper again. Up and up, test the hand holds, follow Derek, focus on the here and not the below, fill my mind with positive thoughts and happy music. This was about what I expected- probably a more dramatic exposure, but I was enjoying the climb until we had to turn left and traverse to the notch. This is better seen in the second picture, upper buttress. To describe where we were, find the little ribbon of sunshine on the ridge that ends with a small splash of sunshine on a little rock on the ridge. We were just to the left of that piece of sunshine, and we had to move to our left over to the notch. This was the steepest of the climb, and the footholds and handholds were more sparse. Derek was great at not getting far ahead of me, and helping me find handholds. Again, stay positive and go step by step. He later called this 5.2 climbing, which is far out of my league. I was extremely happy to gain the notch, and turn the corner to some class 3 terrain.

From there, we rounded the tower, and then lose the ridge, traversing up and down , around a couple other towers, with the goal being the top of the north couloir. This is an easy saddle to identify, and although the ridge from there looks rough, it's actually the top of the red coulior on the other side. When we reached that saddle, we immediately met two people coming up that couloir from the other side, asking if this is finally the top of the red couloir. I assured them it was, and we took the class three scramble to the summit. The North Buttress was by far the most difficult climbing I've done in all my experience, which, added to the extreme exposure, made for a grandiose satisfaction and pride at the top. We sat and ate, retracing our steps, reliving the climb.

The traverse-
Needle from the Peak

From all the trip reports I'd read and my previous experience on the traverse, I believed that the farther you drop down, the easier it would be getting to the black gendarme and the real climbing. Years ago I attempted the traverse with my friend Laura, and although we had a great day until then, when we reached the black gendarme we turned back because the couloir was filled with ice. Derek and I decided later that we dropped too far in the red gully, and we could have made our way to the black gendarme without losing so much elevation. Still, our route was mostly cairned and it wasn't such a struggle getting to that point. Standing there in the exact spot I turned back last time was surreal- I got a smile thinking about second chances.

I had read about a million trip reports and route descriptions for this section, but here's how I would describe the route:
1. Find the black gendarme- it can't be missed, on the right from the saddle, the impressive tower you can see from both sides.
2. Climb to the top of the couloir directly on the right of this gendarme. There is a tricky move getting into the couloir.
3. At the top, turn right. There will be a window of exposure that falls about 2000 feet, and a "fin" to lead you to solid ground. Cross the fin.
4. You find yourself on a rib- your instinct will be to circle around, but you actually need to climb up the rib- not difficult climbing.
5. You'll see the rest of the route from here. (This is also seen in the picture below) There is a zigzag which goes right, then left (but not to the ridge), then short right, then short left. This can be seen from the rib you are standing on. This will lead to the final class 4 wall that leads to the summit.
6. Climb the wall, summit Crestone Needle.
Derek let me lead this section, and we made quick time to the wall. The exposure here is spectacular- I would compare it to Capitol's knife edge. The climb, however, feels exciting and very doable. Again, the Crestone rock is your best friend. Derek went up first, and I followed. I did make the mistake of seeing climbable terrain to the left, which led to the edge and the 2000 foot drop. Positive thoughts, turn back to the right. In a matter of minutes, I was topping out at the rope sling and the traverse was complete. A high five, a big silly grin, lunch, a cloudless blue sky, and a big fat marmot who was very happy to see us- we didn't want to leave the summit.
Getting to the fun part

Below the black gendarme looking down

Below the black gendarme looking up

Looking right from top of "black gendarme couloir"

Looking down from same place- dramatic exposure

Climbing the final wall

Happy, traverse behind me

Derek, feeling great!

The Needle welcoming party

Down the standard Needle route, over to Broken Hand Pass, and to the lake seemed to take forever, but soon we were back to the lake for a short rest before walking down the road. We were excited to get to Westcliffe for pizza, but were sorely disappointed. Almost every restaurant in Westcliffe is closed on Mondays, so there was no pizza to be had. We settled for burgers in an extremely hot bar, (meaning high temperature, not tons of babes), before heading south toward Lindsey. My legs were jello, but what an amazing day!
Final shot- resting at South Colony lake, such a beautiful place, feeling amazing.
Back at the lake- such a peaceful place

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Great report!
12/24/2011 23:01
I need this traverse so thanks!

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