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Trailhead: Cottonwood Creek
Elevation Gain: 6,284'
When Kevin invited me on this climb, I knew it was going to be a long tough day, with a possible turn-around if conditions were bad. But as FotH says: "Alpinism is the art of suffering". "Mountaineering is more than climbing, panoramic views, and wilderness experience. It is also challenge, risk, and hardship. And it is not for everyone. ... not everyone is willing to pay the price in hardship for its rich physical and spiritual rewards." How little did I know at the start, how well those words would ring true on this day!
With quite a bit of partner shuffling and rearranging, we finally came up with a strong team to climb the Peak. Ryan and his friend (also named Ryan) would join for the approach, but then branch off for the Needle. So Friday night, we head south to the booming town of Crestone to catch a few hours of sleep before the 2:30am wake-up call.
The dirt road to the trailhead is still open for vehicles with Subaru like clearance and traction. Some snow and ice, but not too bad. Just drive to the end of the road, and you're there. We geared up with lots of hardware dangling from our packs, making them much heavier than we'd like, but we ended up needing much of what we brought, except the rope and harness. But better safe than sorry! Most of us started out in microspikes, but after awhile, the trail became much snowier than expected, so the snowshoes went on instead. Apparently the Snotel station lied, and more new snow was on the ground than expected.
Thankfully Kevin had done this route 2 weeks previous, and knew where the turn off to go to Cottonwood Lake was, and we scrambled up and around on the class 4 slabs. Some class 5 bouldering abounds in this region, some can be avoided, others can not. Made for an interesting time on snowshoes. Quite a few squeals of "enjoyment" were had by all.
Once above the tricky boulders and slab section, the steep uphill relented, and the trees parted for the view of a lifetime. I have never seen peaks up close that were so completely flocked by hoar frost! It made the trees and peaks so amazingly beautiful, we had to take a break just to soak it all in!
A pretty 12er
After the break, we make our way up and around and through to the upper basin below the Red Gully. The Ryan's also decided to join our group, instead of having to slog further up the drainage to Broken Hand Pass and more. The Needle will wait for them. The Peak looks like it has a lot more snow than when Kevin and Greg were up there last. I was a bit nervous to see what the avy snow conditions would be like. We had not seen any evidence for instability in the snowpack, nor could I spot any natural avy paths on any aspect. So I was hopeful for a green light up the gully.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, we were at the base of the gully and transitioning out of snowshoes and into crampons and putting on and testing avy beacons. Excess gear was jettisoned as we reveled in the heat of the day. A rare winter day that I wish I had a summer baselayer on!
Crestone Peak and the Red Gully
As we neared the gully, I dug and tested and jumped on as much snow as I could, trying to get it to fail. But it wouldn't. The new storm snow, bonded pretty well to the old snow below. Of course there were pockets of windblown that did break apart the top inch or so, but these pockets didn't connect. We were fairly confident that the snow pack was giving us the green light to ascend. Though, we were not going to take any chances either, and decided to stick to the edge of the gully, and to travel one at a time through any questionable section, using safe travel techniques the entire way up.
Above the lower, more rocky scrambling section, we were presented with the snowy white wonderland of the Peak above us and all the flocked rocks surrounding us. While Ryan didn't find the snow all that supportive, me and my Ghost Elf self, found it mostly good snow - considering it was winter. Now it was a stair-step work out to the top, with the guys switching off breaking trail. I couldn't quite catch up, until the very end. Not that my tiny feet would do much!
Ryan 2 making his way up the 'one at a time' slope - Photo credit: Ryan
Me with a grin! - Photo Credit: Kevin
Once at the saddle with the ridge, we were presented with the biggest challenge and risk of the day. Could we safely traverse the snowy ledges to the summit? We had carried a rope up here, for exactly this point. But it looked like we wouldn't need it, just carefully placed steps and slow steady movements. We helped each other by finding hand and foot holds as necessary, and soon enough we were on the summit!
The snowy ridge over to East Crestone
Me topping out! - Photo Credit: Kevin
Once again in winter, we couldn't stay long on the summit. We wanted to make it down the gully before sunset and dark. The summit was chilly with the wind, and so fingers were also getting cold quick, so only a few summit photos before we were making slow steady progress down through the very tricky ridge section. Then it was monotonous plunge stepping the long, long Red Gully to the base.
Kit Carson and Challenger
View down Gully from ridge traverse
Heather finding a more elegant solution to a tricky section
Once at the safety of the basin below, we eat, drink and transition back into snowshoes for the long, exhausting, but hilarious trek out. We didn't want to deal with the class 5 boulders of the route in, so Kevin found a better way out. Though it did involve some fun power glissading and tree rodeo! I'm glad we could make each other laugh on the long de-proach! Though, the last couple miles of regular trail did get old, and the GPS seemed to be getting slower and slower in approaching the trail head, or was that us?
The night previous, Kevin and I met an older gentleman that was amazed we were hiking Crestone Peak the next day, and was reminding us how blessed we were to be able to consciously enjoy the beauty. Once above the trees, and seeing the spender, I couldn't get this song out of my head.
From a fellow SUNY Fredonia Alum - Natalie Merchant & 10,000 Maniacs
"These are the days
These are days you'll remember
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it,
You'll know it's true
That you are blessed and lucky
It's true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you"
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
that snow looks unusually wet for Colorado this early in winter, maybe climate change will give us better snow from now on. echo on the photo's, beautiful. Looks like all that training we gave Kevin is working for him.
Otina, thank you for putting in all the time and effort on these trip reports! They are always much appreciated and enjoyed! They certainly inspire me to try harder to take better photos and and then get out a report (although I still have a ways to go to get my reports to your level).
Congrats to everyone on this climb, although it looks like the rewards were commensurate to the effort!
Nice TR and pics, Otina. Epic trip due to a solid team. Heather looks like a stud in that pic on the ridge. Thanks for letting me tag along Kevin. Glad we didn't run into that mountain lion the night before.
...the TR Otina. You did an awesome job of capturing the day! This trip is right up there as one of my favorites. It was an awesome day in all aspects, amazing scenery, a fun challenging day, & an awesome group! Thanks for putting it together, Kevin!
Nice TR! What did you think of coverage in the couloir for skiing? I see you did not bring your skis. Was there enough to be worth it or still too bony? I saw a pic from a distance that made it look like the couloir had a good deal of snow recently but your pics seem to reveal a bit less than I had previously thought. Looks like a great day out.
Thanks everyone! This was truly one of the best climbs, views, teams that I've been on in a while. The only thing that would have made it better, would have been to SKI down it!
taylorzs, bean, RoanMtnMan - So yes, I may have skied this from the saddle if I had my skis. But the snowpack is still very shallow, and I'm sure any skis would have plenty of core shots by the end. Skiing from the summit would need a rope, since there isn't enough snow that sticks on the ridge to be ”safe”.
Mindy & Val - I'm glad there isn't a photo of my version of that ”tricky section”! I tried hugging the rock horn to the lower left of Heather's pack, and found myself too short to reach the bottom! So I had to do some crazy move that I had to do at The Spot gym a few weeks ago, and traverse while hanging! All that while having my torso, with beacon, camera and GPS, smushed against the rock...
Jeff - What, you don't want to follow me around? Oh yeah, no one wants to follow a Ghost Elf 8) And yeah, Sophie rocked that climb!
Ryan - My mountaineering mentor always reminds me, that he doesn't necessarily remember the moves or the route on a mountain, but the partner(s) that he was with. The companionship in the mountains is the best aspect of climbs like these!
Prakash - Your talking about mountain lions, had me seeing eyes looking out at us the entire way down! Good to get out with you again!
Heather - Great to finally meet you! Hope we can get out again when you have more sleep.
Thank you everyone for the nice comments. Without a doubt this was the most picturesque views I have ever seen of any 14er at any time during the year. Thank you Otina for such amazing pictures that really brought back the feeling of actually being there.
The reality of a peak like this in those conditions is that none of us would have made the summit without ”Teamwork.” I have only climbed one peak in my life solo and never plan on doing that again. Its climbs like this that I find so rewarding with good company. All the guys took turns trailbreaking and without that no one would have made the summit. We would have all been to burnt out. ”Life is best when shared” - Chris Mccandless
P.S. My new name for Kevin Baker is ”The Snow Plow”
Excellent effort and teamwork!
Great write-up Otina!
I saw all the cars at the TH the night before and wondered what was up. The west approaches for KC/Chal/Crestones have been getting a lot of attention this year. Nice to have the snow.
Congrats, Kevin! Way to go back and get that dude.
Love the FOTH quotes, Otina. So true.
PS - Love your photo of KC/Challenger. Still can't believe we went over that steep little saddle and onto the Avenue. Your photo makes it look nuts. Maybe it was. Maybe we're all a little ”off.” : )
Congrats to everyone on the deterimination, skill, perseverance, and teamwork to have made this a safe and successful summit!
This will go down as one of my most memorable climbs in winter. It had it all. We had to overcome quite a few setbacks on this climb, yet we worked together as a team to do it safely. I honestly thought we had little chance of getting to the summit when I saw how white the Peak was considering how late it was already, but I just had to give it a shot! This is one of the few winters where a dayhike of Crestone Peak is still feasible in Feb, and yet it still was a very tough day!
Excellent job recounting the adventure, Otina. Those pics are superb. Glad you enjoyed the new route on the way down! Hope you didn't drop too many bad words on Mr. Bluebird.
...to even read such an amazing report. I am exhausted and tired just looking at the pics.
Well done. Had I started climbing 20 years ago, I would have loved to have join you all. At least I have the wisdom of knowing my own limits, so I will just live vicariously through all of you stud climbers!
As I wind down the last 8 weeks here in Afghanistan it is very inspiring to see those peaks we all love. I have summited the Crestones already but will applaude your winter climb! Awesome pictures! 5 of 54 to go from this side of the world...
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