Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Broken Hand Pk  -  13,573 feet
Date Posted:  04/30/2019
Date Climbed:   04/20/2019
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   mattr9
 Threading the Needle   

Skiing Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle and Broken Hand peak

Dates: April 18-21, 2019
Trailhead: 2wd trailhead ~8,800 ft
Total mileage for the group: ~ 20 miles
Total vertical for the group: ~ 9,700 feet

Day 1 - approach to camp near 11,700 ft
6 miles, 2,900 ft gain, almost 6 hours

Spring is here. After a bit of training on nearby peaks, it was time to start branching out, and the Crestone group drew the short straw. I was a bit worried about the south-facing lines melting out soon. Given the weather window, I was able to take Thursday off work, as well as to recruit 2 young guys to help with trail-breaking - Matt and Joe. Matt has been training all winter for the upcoming trip to the Himalaya. Their plan was to start from the lower TH at midnight on Friday, while my plan was for a casual backpack on Thursday to the lower South Colony lake ~11,700 feet. I missed the mark with packing, and loaded with 30 m rope, harness, crampons, hybrid ice ax/tool, and food for 3 days, the pack felt extremely heavy. Instead of expected 3-4 hour backpack, the approach took me almost 6 hours, and I arrived in the dark, promptly set up camp and collapsed in the tent without dinner. No way those 2 whippersnappers will be able to get here by 5.30 am!

Day 2 - Crestone Peak
4 miles, 3,500 ft gain, 8.5 hours

I woke up at 5 am and went about breakfast and other morning rituals. At 5.33 am I hear Matt's voice! With a midnight start, they got to the camp right on time. They took a break while melting additional water for the day and to have breakfast, and we all set out by 6.45 am after watching the alpenglow on the Needle.

Needle at sunrise from camp
Gaining the pass
Humboldt from the pass, looking a bit thin at the top
Booting up to the pass was pretty labor intensive, but we were planning on re-using the bootpack the following day
Gaining the pass

After stopping at the pass for a short break, and admiring the Needle, we made the welcome transition and skied all the way down to the bottom of the Red Gully. At least this part went pretty quick.

Matt charges towards Red Gully

Red Gully was pretty thin at the bottom, so we decided to skin up on the right side above the slabs and ski down that way as well. Matt went ahead, transitioned, and started booting up. Joe decided to stay down as he was running on fumes hiking from midnight.

Matt booting up

I checked Gaia (which was hard to do since it was so bright) and noticed we somehow crossed the gully and were just to the left of it. I caught up to Matt and told him we should move over to the right. With somewhat tricky downclimb, we were finally back in the Red Gully. There was a "slight" problem. The forecast promised wind, a lot of wind, but there was none, not even a little breeze after we left the Broken Hand pass. I sort of factored the stiff wind into our casual start time, so now we were racing against the clock in a rapidly warming couloir, without a cloud in the sky. The snow on the lookers left has already turned into soup, but was still somewhat holding up on the lookers right. Matt did the lion's share of the booting, but it was wearing him down. Once I finally caught up to him about 500 feet away from the top, he veered further right in search of colder snow. I couldn't remember if his line went to the saddle or not, so I continued straight up the gully. I was moving slowly, but the snow was still holding higher up. The summit ridge above the couloir was all snow. Eventually Matt caught up to me on the summit which we reached just before 1 pm.

Booting up in the rapidly warming couloir
Matt catching up
Snowy summit ridge
Matt near the top of the Red Gully
5th summit of Crestone peak, April 19, 2019. Really liking my new skis - Black Crows Camox Freebird
Matt sports red skis of his own - Blizzards Zero Gs 95
Stunning summit views of Kit Carson and Challenger - I know what I am skiing next!

But instead of enjoying spectacular summit views, we were stressing out about the descent (at least I was). So we didn't stay long, and hurried back to the ridge. Matt radioed Joe to stay out of the fall line in case we kick off some wet slides. After a quick transition, I started first towards the couloir. Legs felt like rubber and I wasn't trusting the snow, so I just carefully slid my way down to the top of the couloir. Matt is more gutsy and took it away from the top.

Matt skis off the summit ridge
Matt in the gully

Thankfully the gully itself did not present any issues. I made sure to stay to the skiers left as much as possible. In the middle the snow was heavy and unsupportive. We tried to ski the gully as fast as we safely could, and I took relatively few photos.

me in the Gully
Further down in the gully
Matt in the Gully
Matt in the Gully
Matt picks up speed near the bottom

Down at the bottom we reunited with Joe, the guys collected some water coming down from the cliff, while I skied down to the lake and took a deep breath. I definitely felt that we got lucky and nothing moved (at least nothing beyond the small wet sluffs). After some snacks, the reclimb back to the pass went as expected, and the snow was noticeably colder on the pass. After some powder(ish) turns, we got to our tents just before 3.30 pm, and after melting snow and having a bite to eat guys promptly went to sleep, while I chilled in my tent. Despite another windy forecast, we agreed to start a bit earlier tomorrow with 5 am wake-up call.

Matt skiing off Broken Hand pass in late afternoon
More turns off the BHP

Day 3 - Crestone Needle and Broken Hand Peak (Broken Dogleg couloir)
3.5 miles, 3,300 ft gain, 8.5 hours

The night was very windy. I slept on and off, woken up multiple times by the wind gusts that shook up the tent. I probably got 4-5 hours of sleep combined. I woke up at 5am and slowly started getting ready, but didn't hear the guys for at least an hour. With another alpenglow on the Needle, I went and asked them if they were alive/awake. They stayed in tent for another half an hour. Finally everyone started getting ready and we set out at 7.45am, an hour later than yesterday! However, with the stiff breeze and some creeping cloud cover, everything was still a sheet of ice and I wasn't panicking about a later start. I had trouble skinning up the pass without ski crampons (that was the weight-saving measure that wasn't brought in with the kitchen sink). The existing skin track didn't help as it was iced over, but the pre-existing knee-deep booter to the pass did. We made the pass shortly after 9am.

Needle from the pass
Heading towards the Needle

Matt went ahead, I tried to keep up, and Joe took an extended break. There was enough snow to justify crampons, but we still had to go over several rock ribs. Finally just after 10 am I caught up to Matt, who was very intrigued by a giant cornice off the ridge. He wanted to set it off and see if it started an avalanche. By that point I was getting mildly concerned about the timing, as some parts of the icy ridge were starting to warm up and I was wondering about snow conditions in the couloir. Matt told me to go ahead and that he would catch up (I had no doubt about that). So I set off hoping for the best. A bit of a breeze and some cloud cover was on our side today.

Almost immediately I ran into a class 4 downclimb, which I vaguely remembered from the summer. But it was much more difficult with the skis attached to my pack and in semi-automatic aluminum crampons that were ready to fall off or bent when met their match in Sangres conglomerate rock. I managed to lower the pack with skis without dropping it, took the crampons off, and the downclimb became doable. I rushed to the bottom of the gully to see the conditions. As soon as I got there, I panicked! There was no wind in the gully and it was warming up rapidly well past 10am. It's a Groundhog day! I stashed skins, put crampons back on, had harness/webbing at the ready and started up the first ice bulge. I remembered the feature from my winter climb of the Needle with Jim (Yikes) and Jeff from 5 winters ago. This time it's just water ice, and the water was dripping from the ice fall. I didn't climb ice this winter at all, so I was hesitant, and decided to stick to mostly dry rock to the right of the ice flow. It worked. Onto the second ice fall/rock band. Finally I could see both guys downclimbing the ridge. They were probably 30 minutes behind me at that point.

Me in the gully (guys' view)
Matt is climbing the 1st rock band

I stashed the webbing, harness and other non-essential gear and started up the gully. Thankfully, there was an outline of an old booter, which helped. We couldn't be late again, especially with this kind of terrain, with less snow depth than Red Gully, more exposed rock and higher angle. Thankfully, my legs were feeling much fresher than the day before, the snow was a bit firmer, and the temps were cooler. The snow was still in great shape higher up in the gully. I got in the rhythm and watched the guys' progress of catching up to me, which they did on the summit. I also felt surprisingly good about the terrain and reminisced about the winter climb. There's way more snow in the gully, so it was in fact skiable.

Matt reaches the summit
6th summit of Crestone Needle, April 20th, 2019 - getting excited about the ski descent

I arrived on the summit just before noon, with guys just minutes behind me. Again we didn't stay long. Needle summit was in great shape for skiing, so I slowly made my way down, only had to pass over 2 big rocks. At the top of the line the fun began. Matt went first and dropped to the right, immediately kicking off some minor wet sluffs. Joe and I stuck to the skiers' left. It worked yesterday, and I hope it would today. Snow still was almost icy on the far left. I got in the groove, the steepness didn't phase me, and I grew less concerned about the timing. We got this! The narrow section came up quickly and went by fast. I had more fun there with maybe just a couple feet of sidestepping with my 160 cm skis versus guys with their 185 cm skis. I thought the steepest part (the rollover) came just after the narrow choke which took me some calculated thought to navigate, and shortly after that we're back at the ice falls.

Joe in the left fork of the gully (our ascent route)
Me before the narrow section
Matt in the upper gully
Joe in the narrow section
Me in the narrow section
Matt in the rollover section

Joe and me rapped the upper one, while Matt downclimbed, and then all 3 of us rapped the lower one, leaving the webbing and the rap ring. By this point the weather started to move in and finally delivered a few long-promised wind gusts, which warranted putting on another layer or two. Matt wanted to keep going to the lake but the lower gully didn't go. He still had to go to investigate, while Joe and I picked the tried and true approach route and relatively soon were back up on the ridge.

Matt on the rap
Not all who wonder are lost
Joe scrambles on the standard route

Once back on the ridge, I started postholing to my hips in the snow drifts, so we had a discussion. Matt wanted to ski down to the lake if we could find a chute that goes through. I threw in the idea of Broken Dogleg couloir. Joe just wanted to get back to camp. So we handed him the rope, clicked in and skied down to about 12,500 feet, making some wide GS turns in great corn, and next to a pair of old snowboard tracks. Once again, it was transition time. We skinned up for the first couple hundred feet and booted up the rest. Weather definitely started to move in, but nothing looked threatening (i.e. no thunder). I was more concerned about skiing refrozen corn on the NE aspect of the Broken Hand peak. We had good, still soft snow in the upper section, refrozen corn in the middle and the soft apron - not bad for a 1,800 ft line.

Needle from the Broken Hand peak
Broken Dogleg
Matt in the upper section
Middle part was refrozen corn
All the way down to the lake and the camp
Skiing with the view

And just like that, we were done. We got to camp shortly after 4pm, the guys packed up camp and left, while I was hoping to tag the Obstruction peak in the morning. However, after another windy night, I woke up tired and unmotivated to a cloudy view of the Needle, so I decided to call it and ski out. The ski took just 2 hours, with almost half a mile of the road melted or chewed up by trucks in just a few days. 14er skis # 43 & 44 were on the books. Thanks for reading!

Moody Needle on Sunday morning

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

 Comments or Questions

Fantastic TR!
04/30/2019 13:55
....and great pics as well. Thanks for posting, and congrats on so many 14er ski descents.


Woot Woot
04/30/2019 15:04
Haha I love your caption "Not all who wonder are lost" haha
I really thought it would go.... I paid for it with a rather spicy mixed traverse
One of the more rowdy 2 day trips I've done! big days!
Awesome TR!


04/30/2019 15:32
Not only are you a master of the mountains, you have also mastered V2 of the TR software as well!

I really enjoyed this one, Natalia!


Awesome report!
04/30/2019 21:02
That looks like some intense skiing! Also, Crestolita looks so sexy with snow!


05/05/2019 12:09
Great read, awesome pics, thanks for the report.


Great Trip
05/06/2019 13:34
Glad I bowed out.
Looks like you had a hell of a trip out there. Glad your out safe and got some fun skiing in.

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