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Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,196 feet
Date Posted:  06/09/2015
Date Climbed:   06/04/2015
Author:  bergsteigen
Additional Members:   jmc5040
 Ski Mountaineering Crestone Needle   

Crestone Needle

Trailhead: South Colony Lakes
Mileage: 10.43
Elevation Gain: 4,398'
Route: East Gully
Sliding Partner: Jordan

Crestone Needle has been my favorite peak from the moment I saw it and scrambled it's summit the first time. I keep going back, since I just can't get enough. I was hoping that skiing it would on increase my love for this peak. It did, 10 fold.

This has been a weird snow season. Snowy Nov/Dec, dry Jan, snowy Feb, dry March, snowy Apr/May.... total bipolar season. Peaks were out, then in, then not safe for months. As soon as I saw a photo of the Needle super fat and just waiting to be skied, I was talking with at least 5 ski partners about skiing it. We just had to wait, and wait, and wait... it was almost interminable! Then it was June. Snow wasn't freezing. Would I miss my chance to ski the Needle in record snow? I almost went to ski it when Rob (lodgling) went, but I didn't like the forecast for such a big day and big line. It turned out fine. So I started scanning the forecast for days that would work. Wed/Thurs looked good. Now to just wrangle up a partner or two. BillM was on vacation, Nate was scoping Pyramid, Eric had to work and Mike was focused on Capitol. So after a short interview process and day discussion, Jordan and I set our sights on a rare big line.

We both drive down the night before, to find the lower lot filled with out of state plates. I get about 1 hour of sleep and Jordan may have closed his eyes for a couple minutes, if that. We piled into my lifted Tacoma for the rough ride to the upper trailhead. Glad I had 4WD low for some spots. The road is getting nastier by the year again.

After gearing up in boot wings and a super heavy stuffed pack, we started up the dry, yet super wet road. Being in mesh trail runners sounded like a good plan, but soon my feet were soaked. The road is a river. Then the snow patches started. Mush snow. I post holed on occasion. Well, let's say a lot. Fun.

At the upper trailhead we decide to go through the forest to cut off the road and old trail. In the pitch black, we manage to not find the snowshoers trail, and had a mini epic. Mush snow with nonstop deadfall. It was nightmarish. I'm not sure how I escaped without new body piercings and busted joints. I spent more time in and on the snow, than I did moving over it. The mesh trail runners were practically dripping water at this point.

Once we exited the trees, we transitioned to skinning. Yay dry socks and dry boots! The skinning didn't last long, as then we had a few more dry rocky patches to cross before we could finally skin our way up the first section of Brokenhand pass. Though as soon as the skinning got a bit stupid, we transitioned to crampons.

The unspoken words that morning were - would the snow freeze and at what elevation? Thankfully, the snow exposed to air (and not trees) froze. So we had a fairly easy time getting up to Brokenhand pass, where we were greeting by a very strong wind. That wind would freeze and keep the snow cool for a very long time. And we would need that time, since not sleeping made the ascent ever so tough.

The traverse over to the base of the East Gully involved climbing up and over a bunch of snow cornice features. Then came the class 4 downclimb. I can scramble in my ski boots, just not very well on Crestone conglomerate. So we broke out the rope I'd been carrying and set up a quick rap.

First light on the Needle - gearing up for the climb up Brokenhand Pass

Sunrise Needle Pano

Jordan booting up Brokenhand Pass

OMG, look at that face, you look like my next mistake

First rap

The first view of the Needle looked a bit disheartening. Bright snow, with dark patches where we guessed the ice was. Starting up from the base of the east gully, I started wondering if leaving my ice tools in favor of my hybrid was a good choice. Lower down was a small patch of ice where I got in a good stick, so I figured I was fine. Booted up to the base of the first ice patch - hmmm water running underneath the ice. Not climbing that. So we go to the right side of the gully. I try to stick my tool into the ice, and it's so hard, chunks of sharp ice fly at me. So we end up doing a mixed climb to get around that section. Ever so glad I have the rope coiled around my shoulders. I'll want that for the descent.

Looking up the base of the East Gully

Double ice section - friable crap

Super hard ice on climbers right

Jordan mixed climbing

After the ice choke, it's fairly easy booting up the gully, and Jordan and I trade off leads on the way up, trying to find the best snow to boot in. I was leading in the dihedral choke, and I must have been so exhausted that I didn't even take a photo. It wasn't until we were above that Jordan pointed out the rollover feature within the narrow section. Nice, something else to be nervous about.

After the narrow section, it was such a short distance to the summit, but it seemed to take forever. Both of us were exhausted. My usual summit sprint was not in me today. The lack of sleep was catching up. We both packed energy drinks for the summit, so we'd be awake for the ski. It also seemed the booter we were following got smaller and smaller footsteps like they were tired as well.

Right below the summit ridge I take out my inclinometer to measure the slope angle - it pegs. All I can say is that its greater than 50.

Above the ice

Looking down from halfway

Jordan climbing on the softer snow

Above the choke

Looking down at the choke and rollover

Jordan finishing off the east gully

We take a fairly short summit break, which probably wasn't as short as it seemed to our tired and slightly delirious brains. Lots of peaks around still look in prime shape. At least until the hot sun destroys an incredible snowpack. Guess my never summer snow pack will finally melt.

Crestone Peak

Kit Carson

Far off Blanca Group - still snowy

Pano south

I leave my skins on for the initial summit ridge ski, and then rip them off once over the couple rocks I had to cross. With the Arete to my left, I wasn't taking chances. Same with my initial ski to the top of the line. I know to the left of me is corniced and looks over 2000' of air. Quite the heady feeling!

I drop the initial part f the gully first. Slowly testing the snow here and there. The face that points east is hot, yet the one due south is still pretty icy. So it was a matter of finding that sweet spot. Jordan coming down that first stretch second, got all the beta and was able to ride the better stuff mostly.

Jordan riding the summit

Me skiing the summit ridge - Photo Credit: Jordan

I like turtles - looking down the line

Jordan riding the top section

Jordan kicking up some snow

Jordan riding to above the choke

Me on the upper section - Photo Credit: Jordan

Me skiing - Photo Credit: Jordan

Me loving my skis - Photo Credit: Jordan

Me contemplating my jumping future - Photo Credit: Jordan

I went first into the "Threading the Needle" section. It's fatter than in normal years, and I was quite glad of all that snow. Made at least 17 good jump turns as I went down the narrow ribbon of white. Very tiring! Was quite glad to make it out of that section and called up to Jordan to go. He charged out of the narrows and down a bit further. We leap frog a bit more until we get down to the ice section. No hucking the ice today. Don't need core shots in the new skis!

Jordan charging out of the choke

Jordan riding above the ice section

Me below the choke - Photo Credit: Jordan

At the rap station we discuss our options. Jordan in snowboard boots, feels fine down climbing the rock section next to the ice. But I would rather have the rope. So a quick rap for me, then Jordan cleans the rope and gear and down climbs. From there its a few more fun corn turns before the up and down return to Brokenhand pass.

Jordan ready to transition to the ice/rock downclimb

Disapearing ice

Me rapping the ice section - Photo Credit: Jordan

Jordan catching air

Jordan finishing off the east gully

Leaving the Needle hot and dripping

Lots of snow features to climb up and down

Another short break at Brokenhand pass where I test the snow a bit, as we eat and drink. Top part is fine, so down we ski. The lower part was pretty sloppy, but we make it down safely.

Jordan skiing the upper section of Brokenhand Pass

Looking down at the remaining ski off Brokenhand Pass

Below the pass on the trail out, we watch snow calving off into the gushing stream below the lakes. I now was trying to find the way I skied out from Crestone Peak & Brokenhand Peak last year with Joel. But the snow ends in a raging rapid going downhill at a steady clip. So we return to our tracks from the morning, hoping to find a better way down. It was slightly better, as there were 50% less downed trees to cross, but it was still horrific. It sapped what little strength either of us had left. It pruned up Jordan's feet and made my quads jello. Jumping over the raging river road was almost pointless. I had no leap in my legs left. But eventually the never ending road ended. The relief and the amenities of the truck were had. It would take a few hours to a day for the reality to sink in. We just skied the Needle in prime conditions!

Melting stream crossing

Final view of the Needle

Skiing the creek - Photo Credit: Jordan

So was the high worth the pain? Heck Yeah! I'll be back each and every year the Needle looks like this. I just can't get enough.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

Comments or Questions
6/9/2015 2:16pm
Well done Otina!

6/9/2015 2:44pm
So much fun! Funny how in less than a week you forget about all the misery of the ascent and descent and want it again! I’m sticking with that this was my favorite peak ski to date. Great day and great write–up!

6/9/2015 6:38pm
Git some!

6/9/2015 9:30pm
Another great report and beta.

Thanks for sharing, Otina!


Daniel Joder
6/9/2015 10:11pm
Awesome adventure and photos. Very, very impressive!

Avoid the shwack
6/10/2015 9:46am
Congrats on getting the ski –– I know you’ve been wanting this one for a long time. Regarding your route up and down between the old summer TH and S. Colony Lake where you ran into downed trees, etc., I added a gpx to my TR. I think that our route up and down thru there, though a little longer on paper, is the most efficient one on snow (especially in the dark).

6/10/2015 2:59pm
Senad –

Jordan - Definitely my favorite technical ski descent, whereas Lindsey a few weeks ago was the best snow conditions

mojah - Should have come to repeat it!

Ryan -

Daniel - Thanks!

lodgling - We thought about continuing on the road for the longer approach, but I was trying to find the way I went up the last time that kept us skinning. I guess when I return, I’ll try your way.

Brian Thomas
6/11/2015 4:05am
I like this trip report very much thank you

6/11/2015 12:40pm
congrats to both of you!

Funny, if the needle was in the elks, I bet the arete would have been skied. Fun game right, what if this mountain was in this range....?

6/11/2015 5:28pm
great job guys!

Sicky narnar
6/11/2015 11:35pm
Thanks for the trip report and great pics. It was exciting to read about!!

Great Pics!
6/12/2015 11:08am
and great report.

6/12/2015 2:53pm
Brian - A bit different than a LCW scramble or skiing at Monarch eh?

Abe - If the Needle had Elk level snow - Mmmmmm!

Alex -

Sara - Shoulda done it in fishnets and pink mini like last time on the Needle. More gnar?

Aardvark - Thanks!

6/13/2015 8:55am
Way to go, Otina! I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to join in the fun.

6/13/2015 8:25pm
Way bad ass to you

"…you look like my next mistake."
6/16/2015 10:48am
That’s a quotable line! As always, really enjoyed your report, Otina. Looks like you’ve healed well.


Mike Shepherd
6/17/2015 8:54am
I am impressed by your ability to come back 100% from your injury, especially from a mental standpoint. It is good to see you getting after it out there. Excellent report as usual.

6/17/2015 11:57am
Not bad for a ~1 year anniversary ski!

Bill – Lots of fun! Hopefully El Nino will be strong into next winter, so we can go next year!

Ryan – Thanks! Sometimes I can pull off bad ass

Tom – Watch or at least listen to the video. It’s a song lyric. I wanted to use "Darling I’m a nightmare, dressed like a daydream" for a summit pic with the rope coiled around my shoulders, 2 ice tools and skis on my pack, but I was so exhausted I forgot about a selfie. Next time.

Mike – The mental healing has been a roller coaster. But I’ve been skiing as much as I can, all season to help the process along. Glad to have my mental game sharp for this descent.

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