Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Humboldt Peak  -  14,064 feet
Date Posted:  06/24/2018
Date Climbed:   06/22/2018
Author:  drewharrellrtr
 South Colony 14ers   

I went on my first backpacking trip June 20-23. It was my first time in the Sangres, which is the best rock in Colorado. Drove out from Texas on Wednesday and camped at the 4WD TH.

On Thursday my dad, brother, and I headed up to South Colony Lake. We took the direct trail and got to the lake in roughly 3 hours carrying our big packs. After setting up camp and taking a nap, I headed up Humbolt solo as my dad had done that one in the past and wanted to save his legs for the Crestones. Being my first day at high altitude I struggled a bit going up Humbolt. For people who are just starting 14ers, just because it’s class 1 or 2 doesn’t mean it’s “easy.” All 14ers are difficult because of the elevation gain on the hike. I struggled a bit with air, but I paced myself and drank water at intervals to help me combat the altitude a bit. I was able to summit in roughly 2 hours. Side note, Humbolt and the Crestones have great cell reception on top and I called my mom from each summit. I was even able to make a call from Broken Hand Pass (BHP) albeit it took awhile to get good enough service. I was then able to get back to camp in just over an hour. That concludes day 1.

The next day, Friday, my dad and I set out at around 6:40 for BHP. The plan for the trip was to get both Crestones but we weren’t sure which one we wanted to do first and we’re drowning in thoughts of which one was easier and all from a bunch of other people’s opinions. The best thing you could ever do is lay your own eyes on the route because each person has a different comfort level. Getting to BHP is not a cake walk. It’s not talked about a whole lot but contains a short class 3 section. It is very steep near the top and loose in a lot of areas. The class 3 section is very solid though. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the pass as I was once again struggling to get enough oxygen. A couple reached the pass and was gonna head to the Peak so we tagged along. The descent to Cottonwood Lake is steep but mostly solid. It doesn’t take too long to get over below the infamous Red Gully. The Red Gully did not live up to the hype in my opinion. It was long and you do spend about 2 hours going up it. But it isn’t as steep as I felt it was made out to be. It was solid for the most part except near the top where it got fairly loose. The ledges to the summit however were typical Sangre conglomerate rock and easy to navigate. The route was well cairned. I felt a lot of people I heard from made it sound like the Peak was pretty difficult. The climb itself wasn’t very difficult but it is just long. I would compare it to Longs Peak with the Red Gully being the Trough and the Ledges up top like the ledges on Longs. Getting down the Red Gully took about an hour and then the hike back up to BHP from where it starts back uphill took half an hour. The descent back down to South Colony was rough with the loose terrain, but it’s manageable. In conclusion, the South Colony side of BHP is the hardest part of clinging the Peak.

Finally, the Needle! We set out at 6:50 to BHP. From there the route is well cairned up to the gullies. Nobody mentions the downclimb right before the east gully. It is a good intro for a few moves coming down the gullies further up. I didn’t find it to be hard. As long as you take your time, the holds are great. With class 3 I always focus on the next move, the next step, not the next 10-20. Just stay focused on what is in front of you. The climb up the east gully looks super steep from afar but once in it, it wasn’t as bad, but it’s still very steep. For the most part you just find a route that suits you. I found that staying near the right was the best option. The rock was very solid and knobby. The Dihedral crossing is the next obstacle. It appears pretty nasty. It is a little deeper than I anticipated and didn’t have great holds. I contemplated for awhile if I would be able to do it. The hardest part was trusting my foot to stay on the rock. I finally committed to the move and my foot held solid. It takes just one good move to get up the other side of the Dihedral. The climb up the rock rib is the hardest climb on the route and much more exposed than the Dihedral. To skip a little ahead for a second, coming back down this part was easier than anticipated. I didn’t have to downclimb the rock rib and on the Dihedral I was able to stand on the inner face and then reach a leg across in the bottom and use my arm to push off the other side. A bit easier than getting up it. So back to the acent, we then crossed into the West Gully. People had left markers on where to exit on the way down. I found that the best way to find the exit is that the gully bends right above where you enter/exit. This actually hides the cairn and some objects left at the notch. When going down. There is some rock that is like a ramp down into the gully and it leads right to the notch. Hard to explain this very well and I didn’t take many pics of the route as I was super focused on each move so I would make it off the mountain uninjured. The climb up the west gully was no harder than the east. The worst is all behind. I don’t remember what time I summited but we got back to camp after about 6-7 hours from departing. This was my hardest 14er to date!

In conclusion, the Needle is in a class of its own. There really isn’t a comparison for it. It is way harder than the Peak. I would say it is about as high of class 3 as you can get only because of how solid the rock was. If not for that is probably class 4. The Dihedral is definitely the crux of the route and is much harder than anticipated. It is wider than I thought and a bit deeper than I realized. I would say don’t do the Needle without multiple class 3 climbs of experience. Everyone has a different comfort level so if you’re not sure about it, I would say at least go put your hands on it and see how you feel. My dad nearly stopped at the Dihedral because of how it looked, but he went up to it, put his hands on it, took it slow, and made it. The Needle was my 13th 14er and now my favorite! It was a great trip! I included a bunch of photos. Photos don’t do any of the routes justice. But hopefully they do give a little insight into what the climb might be like. Hope this helps others who plan on doing these mountains.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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