Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  09/14/2012
Date Climbed:   09/09/2012
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise
 Ellingwood Arete  

Ellingwood Arete

Peak: Crestone Needle
Route: Ellingwood Ledges, aka "Ellingwood Arete"
Difficulty: Gr. III, 5.9 variation
Date: September 9, 2012
Length: 11 miles RT
Vertical: 4400 feet
Ascent Party: John B, Jim D

John tops out on the crux pitch, 2000 vertical feet above the Upper South Colony Lake.

I first learned about Ellingwood Arete many years ago when a friend and junior classmate gave me Roper and Steck's Fifty Classic Climbs of
North America
. Then while doing the 14ers in 2010, the opportunity presented itself to get recon photos and get some familiarity with the approach
and descent. The route certainly looked impressive, with the upper section looking much harder than the 5.7 claimed for the standard line. I've
always appreciated Roper and Steck's criteria defining a classic climb: "The peak or route should look striking from afar, have a significant climbing
history, and offer excellent climbing."

September is a great month for alpine climbing. Sunday's weather looked perfect for a front door start.

From the 2010 Peak/Needle TR:

"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."

First view of the "hand" above Broken Hand Pass.

Ellingwood Arete seen from near the lower South Colony Lake.

The Arete viewed from near the upper lake. The direct start begins at the very top of the talus cone above the left half of the lake.

The upper pitches.

Top of the first pitch, Direct Start.

Top of the second pitch, Direct Start, looking to climber's left. The loose third-class
ledge is taken to access more open third-class terrain.

Third class section. Not nearly as problematic as I'd worried. John felt it was some of the most fun climbing on the route. I agree.

Climbers' Info
We'd heard and read plenty on this route; it was confusing. So hoping our reflections on the route are helpful. I'll try to keep it simple. Here's our take.

-Direct Start.
There are some fun sections on the first pitch. The start of the second has loose rock lying over lower-angle conglomerate. Early in pitch two, the route steepens, with moves
over a crack which doesn't lend itself well to passive gear, generally true for most of the Direct. (Though the standard upper pitches protect well.) The Direct soaks up time.
We used several pitches to prevent rope drag. We both felt the Ledges start would be a more aesthetic way to climb this route; fourth-class non-stop fun to the business district.

Smaller cams may be helpful on the Direct (stoppers do not seat well in the down-flaring cracks and short crack runs.) Midsize and larger stoppers work well on the upper pitches.
Few necessary placements exist for anything larger than a #2 BD. We didn't find all the fixed pins that are reputed to be on the route. We took 7-10 slings, mostly two-foot and
a coupleof four-foot slings. John brought a set of DMM Wallnuts, and a set of DMM offsets. These are like the old saddle wedges, with a recessed central area on the face of the
stopper which helps make placements more solid. Rounding out the rack were Linkcams 0.5, 0.75, 1, and 2, and a #1 and #2 BD Camalot. The rack, with slings and all, came in
under five pounds. For the rope, we took a 70m x 8.9mm Mammut Serenity. A 60m single would work fine. Experienced alpine climbers wishing to go ultralight might find a 60m
half-rope to be perfect for this route. (A single strand half-rope - but not a twin-rope - should theoretically handle at least one full factor-two lead fall.)

The description is accurate, if detailed. Our oversimplification, in five easy steps, follows.

Step One: From the upper lake, locate the talus cone at the base of the wall. Hike up through grass on the left or talus on the right. At the very top of the talus cone, third-
class or rope up to ascend maybe 30 feet, up and left, to the base of the large righ-facing dihedral. This is the direct start. If you want the Ledges start, see Bill's description.

Step Two: After two full rope-lengths (done as three or four pitches if you value your rope,) one comes to some chossy, loose ledges capping the dihedral. Look for a narrow
ledge exit to the left, to more open terrain where one can see most of the wall above.

Step Three: Third-class up and left through open terrain to get over the steeper stuff above. The ultimate target is to end up just above the red knob. The knob should be
obvious, above and to the right. Going up and left yields lower-angle terrain, after which traversing back right on ledges yields a point on the arte just above the huge red knob.

Step Four: Reaching a point on the arte just above the red knob, the classic pitches are about 100 feet above. (See images.) After one exposed move to the right,
protected by a large straight piton, the rest of this 100-foot section is class 3.

Step Five: From here, the fifth class climbing to the summit is self-evident. Two longer roped pitches take one to a ledge about 100 feet below the summit. This last
100 feet can be done third-class. Don't forget to study the descent, especially if it hasn't been previewed. Basically, one wants to stay to the east as far as possible, which is
in a gully for the first half of the descent, and crosses over into some complex terrain further east to reach Broken Hand Pass.

-Weather and time.
Roped climb times will vary, depending on risk tolerance, number of climbers, technique, and experience. We should not have been surprised that with a casual attitude, relaxed
pace, and the Direct start, it took us just under six hours from lake to summit. While prepared for this time expenditure, it was unexpected. More than two hours was spent
on the Direct. The Ledges start would definitely be faster. Car to car total time was about 13 hours. To put this into perspective, it took 9 hours to gain both the Needle and
the Peak, car to car, on September 17, 2010.

-"Fourth Class" section.
My pre-climb worries about this section proved unfounded. The rock is solid and lower-angle than it appears. We never felt uncomfortable or exposed, despite the extreme
appearance of this section from the lakes.

-Upper pitches.
The upper pitches are classic, and well worth the effort. We enjoyed the 5.9 variation. There was not much difference in difficulty between this and the 5.7 "crux" pitch above
it; both seemed very reasonable. We didn't find nearly the number of fixed pitons expected, but it was not an issue.

Study it beforehand. Having the description may be helpful. The route is cairned. Poles and spikes may be helpful on the loose sections below the gully getting to and
below Broken Hand Pass.

-Additional thoughts.
For the more ambitious, an early start may be combined with the traverse for a fun long day, gaining both peaks. And for those interested in first ascents, there appear to be some
nice fifth class lines, seen from Cottonwood Lake, on the southern walls extending from Peak to Needle, below the traverse.

Looking back down to the trailhead, a few whispy clouds above cast mid-day shadows.

The day shift back at camp.

Beginning the upper pitches. The straight crack bisecting the small buttress is the 5.9 variation. The semi-lunar crack to the right, curving up and left, is 5.6.

Just above the Red Knob. After an exposed move protected by a piton, it's all third class to the base of the 5.9 crack.

John sending the beautiful 5.9 variation.

Climbers seen on Kit Carson's "Prow" (5.8.) member Natalie is seen on Challenger's summit. Congrats, Natalie!

The spacious belay ledge seen below marks the start of the 5.9 variation.

Cracks on the upper pitches lend themselves well to larger stopper placements.

We found far fewer pitons than the number reputed.

John moved the belay up for the crux pitch, mostly for aesthetic reasons.

The 5.7 "crux pitch."

Finally above 14,000 feet! The belay at top of the crux pitch.

Third-classing the final pitch to the summit.

Thanks for reading.


 Comments or Questions

Great photos
09/14/2012 19:53
The ones showing the vertical relief are incredible!


Bringin back
09/14/2012 20:04
some good memories! Nice climb!


Nicely done gentlemen!
09/14/2012 20:29
Enjoyed the photos and captions in your TR, particularly the black and white shot early on.

I Man

Nice ONe JIm!
09/14/2012 20:52
Great pics - really, really bummed I didn't make it up there this year.

Winter. 8)


F ya Jim
09/14/2012 21:03
Dude those shots bring back some good memmories (except for the memmory that we got chased off by weather )

Very awesome job!! Lets hit some stuff this winter.


09/14/2012 21:05
This is a solid TR as usual Jim! Way to get out there on the more technical routes lately.



09/14/2012 23:25
Very cool Jim! I like Photo entitled: ”The 5.7 ”crux pitch.”
We were looking at the Arete route very closely...maybe next year! Might have to eat my Wheaties for this one.


09/15/2012 00:05
Very nice Jim, congrats on the arÍte. I was on the Peak that same day, made the summit around 11 with two or three guys on the Needle waving at me. It was a great day to be in that basin.


09/15/2012 01:42
Congrats on a solid day


09/15/2012 04:36
Those pix jump! Great report.


09/15/2012 14:22
Good to see another TR from you. Thought you had disappeared. Always appreciate the great photography and well-written reports.


09/15/2012 15:13
Breathtaking pics Jim. So glad to have been able to put a face to the name on the summit of Crestone Needle back in Sept 2010. Always love your photos and reports. Schedule and weather permitting, hubby and I will be climbing Crestone Peak next weekend. Thanks again for the great report. Elizabeth.


Nice Job Jim!
09/15/2012 15:46
When Tom and I did this route we took the 5.7 pitch around the corner, opting out of the 5.9. This TR gives me some motivation to head back someday.


09/15/2012 18:51
Great job guys. I hope my experience level can grow so I can do these sweet climbs. Thanks for the many pics


Great job!
09/16/2012 00:43
Wow, congratulations on a nice job to get that Needle! those pics made my palms sweat... very nice report, thanks for posting!


09/17/2012 15:07
Jim, your climbing skills continue to amaze me! Outstanding job on both this climb and your TR. Had I been on that one with you, I prolly would have soiled myself! I got sewing machine leg just looking at your pictures!


Way to get after it!
09/17/2012 17:04
Always nice to see you posting Summer TRs Jim.

Congrats on the climb - looks like a great one.


09/18/2012 00:20
Absolutely stunning report, Jim. Great beta, writing, snippets and pics. If I can manage to get down there before the ice/snow kicks in in earnest, I'll be using your report.
Beautiful report. Rock is a lot knobbier than I was expecting.


09/18/2012 01:46
just Wow Jim.


09/21/2012 01:58
amazing! i'm heading down there tomorrow and it's a top priority to get some views and beta for accomplishing this next season. i absolutely love your photos!


09/21/2012 03:07
Thanks, everyone. Hoping our beta is helpful to future adventurers on this fine route.


This was the one...
03/29/2014 04:50
...that stuck with me. Sad knowing I won't be seeing your name in the TR column anymore... go climb the steepest cloud you can find!

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2017®, 14ers Inc.