Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  04/17/2013
Date Climbed:   04/13/2013
Author:  Bean
Additional Members:   XC Snowboarder, pioletski, Gueza, Carl
 One more time   

Going in to this climb, the five of us (Carl, Eric, Marc, Matt, and myself) were aware of a not-too-pleasant weather forecast. Winds were expected to be bad, and we only had a few hour window when it would be less-than-terrible up high. The flip side of this is that NOAA's wind forecasts often turn out to be entirely wrong, so staying home because of a wind forecast is often a good way to miss a beautiful day in the mountains. This was not such a day.

Friday night, we drove up the road towards South Colony Lake as far as the snow would allow. What does a 4Runner look like with climbing, skiing, and car camping gear for four look like, you may ask? Like a tick about to pop.

I settled in for 5 hours of sleep under a beautiful clear sky, and got up and started skinning up the road shortly after three in the morning.

A couple hours later, we got closer to the lake, out of the trees, and the winds started blasting.

The Needle was socked in when we got to the lake, but we were determined to at least get past Broken Hand Pass and take a look at what we were dealing with, and hope things would clear up.

Sunrise from high in the mountains...I almost always wonder why I do things like this to myself, but it's almost always worth it.

Photo by Eric Sangueza

The winds continued at full force as the sun rose, but our forecasted window was coming up quickly so we pushed on.

Winds suddenly calmed as we came in to the sunlight. Things became downright pleasant.

We stopped for a break, had some food and drink, put on sunscreen, and lounged in the sun for a bit.

Camera time! This photo of a camera-toting gaper taking a photo of a camera-toting gaper (not pictured) was taken by a third camera-toting gaper.

Photo by Matt Kamper

As we climbed higher, we found conditions reminiscent of early-March, not mid-April. Cue the Benny Hill theme song...

As we reached Broken Hand Pass, it was clear that the calm winds we were experiencing were limited to the couloir up to the pass.

The winds through the pass were possibly the worst I've ever climbed in, and carried ice shards with it to boot. My face is still peeling from this exfoliation treatment. We traversed towards the Needle, as Carl surveyed what he hoped would be the last peak in his 14er skiing journey.

Despite the horrendous winds, I was still enjoying myself...I think. A few days separation has a way of dulling the painful memories.

Photo by Eric Sangueza

Photo by Eric Sangueza

When we arrived at the downclimb to get in to the couloir proper, we stopped to survey what was left ahead of us. There were a number of factors that concerned us. First, the downclimb below us appeared rather slick, and there was no good runout in the event of a fall - just cheese-grater rocks. After that, there were two rather large, bare bands of rock. Climbing them wouldn't be a real issue, but downclimbing them on the way back would be. Then there were winds to deal with - again, not an issue for climbing, but winds appeared to be gusting across the summit with enough force to send someone foolish enough to stand on top with skis on a direct trip to the lake 2,000′ below. They were also blowing up the line, stripping any remaining soft snow and most likely leaving a steep, narrow, thin, and bulletproof strip of snow. Any one of these things could be dealt with - maybe even a couple of them. But combined, none of the five of us cared to push on - remarkable in a group of five ambitious climbers.

As a consolation, we had some pretty good snow for the ski back down to the lake.

Photo by Matt Kamper

Photo by Matt Kamper

Photo by Matt Kamper

Photo by Matt Kamper

Photo by Matt Kamper

The winds were back at full force when we reached the lake. There are three people in this photo, getting blasted by snow.

Four miles later and we were back to the cars, tired, a bit disappointed that we endured the long miles, the crotch-deep wallowing, the big vertical gain, and the icy, blasting winds without a summit. But spirits remained high, because this is what we love to do.

 Comments or Questions

Thanks for report
04/17/2013 17:17
The wind was terrible around Breckenridge also. The group I was with finally bailed after doing peaks 10 & 9. We were going for all 5, but the wind on the ridge was so strong we couldn't stand up. I guessed gusts up to 70 mph.


tough peak to find in condition
04/17/2013 17:24
but it's always great being in the mountains, climbing and skiing and coming back alive.


04/17/2013 17:25
Great photos and nice turns!


Great decision
04/17/2013 17:31
Hey, always SO much better to come back another day if there is any real doubt in your mind. Looked like you had fun coming down! Awesome.


Dang Men
04/17/2013 17:38
Looks like it was rough up there! When I got the text from Carl that the crew turned back, I figured it must have been bad. As you said Bean, a group as determined as yours doesn't take bailing on a trip of this magnitude lightly.

When I was up there with Matt last weekend we never took a close look at the terrain between the pass and the base of the Needle, and I can't really seem to recall any major highlights from my past hikes in summer, but apparenlty there's some gnarly cliffs in there huh? Maybe it's the lower than average snow year, or just the difference between summer and winter/spring. Things always seem so different in snow and ice conditions.

Anyways, like others have said, it'll just make it that much more fulfilling when you guys finally do get it. Here's hoping it's sooner rather than later.


04/17/2013 17:45

The terrain between the pass and the start of the couloir wasn't bad until we got to the last downclimb. Although not trivial, there was a little of this...

And some of this...

But then when we got to this downclimb (and in addition to what Mike says) we called it...

But yeah, any day in the mountains that ends like this is a good day in my book...

Mike, thanks for the beers and the recap. Looking forward to round three.


04/17/2013 17:46
Coming home safe is definitely priority #1. Well, maybe 1.1, else we wouldn't leave the house.

Ben, the combination of the sun and wind was glazing the rock with ice. Sun heated the rocks a bit, the winds blew snow up the hill and on to the rocks, which melted and re-froze pretty quick. The short downclimb was mostly shaded, but still appeared a little icy. It was gnarly.


Nice photos.
04/17/2013 18:51
Sometimes the summit isn't the reward. I would place a large bet that conditions next week are going to be as good as they get down there with all of this upslope activity though. So dry your gear, but don't put it away.


Wicked winds!
04/18/2013 01:27
Valiant attempt gents, and nice write up Bean. That down climb looks nasty! Perhaps a lower route into the couloir would have been easier?
And what's Marc doing on the crappy old set-up? Too many rocks for the never summer?


camera toting gapers...
04/18/2013 02:05
Hey, that line is copyrighted!

Couple of spring storms are going to make it that much better...


Amazing photos!
04/18/2013 02:27
Crestone Needle lends itself to great pictures, but the fog and snow and interesting lighting from the sun just make yours that much more incredible. Nice job!


04/18/2013 02:54
...consider it an homage.


Great push
04/18/2013 14:50
Looks like you guys made a great push down there. Summit or not I'm sure it was one heck of an experience.

Keep pushing Carl!


Great pics, Bean
04/18/2013 14:53
Carl, you'll get it, dude! Keep on truckin'!


Great Photos
04/18/2013 15:29
Better safe than falling into a cheese grater, I always say...

You'll get another shot - thanks for the report!


04/18/2013 16:56
Awesome trip report to read - with great photos. You guys.... well


nice effort
04/18/2013 18:38
great effort, you'll get it soon enough Carl!


Gents, thanks...
04/19/2013 03:53
... for a worthy attempt. It will happen sooner or later. Mike and Eric, great getting to know you; Carl and Marc, great to see you again. Mike, thanks for taking the time to write this up!


04/30/2013 19:06
Nice report and great photos, looks like it got a little hairy for a bit!

How did Humboldt look for skiing? I'm thinking to possibly head down there thursday/friday.


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