Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  08/06/2019
Modified:  08/07/2019
Date Climbed:   08/06/2019
Author:  Sgranteed
 Crestone Traverse via Cottonwood Creek TH   

Started at the Cottonwood Creek Trailhead in the town of Crestone at 1am, first 2-2.5miles, There is a good trail, easy to navigate, then when you hit the creek and rock beds, it’s a bit tougher in the dark using only headlamps and that slowed us down a lot more than expected. It’s more of a “jungle” to the rock beds considering all of the overgrown brush and and a handful of trees down to step over. But it was extremely wet, we were soaked, I didn’t worry about mosquitoes because I was covered in Bens Max 100% DEET formula, but they were out in the highest numbers I’ve ever seen. Camped out at 11,300 on the cliff side by Cottonwood Creek, absolutely gorgeous from not seeing anything on the way in and waking up in that canyon. But mosquitoes were it in full force and it was go time with Bens Max again and gear up for the Crestone Peak and traverse over to the Needle. It was calling for sunshine ALL DAY, what LUCK!!!!! Only day in the 10 day forecast, but we figured we summit the Peak and then scout the skies and make our decision.

We started moving after breakfast around 9:30am from still a mile from the split up Cottonwood Creek Trail to the Cottonwood Lake In upper Basin under the Red Gulley. I know it’s a late start, but I’ve previously worked 16hrs on Monday and then drove the 90mins to the TH and started moving, I needed those 3 1/2 hrs of sleep for this climb ahead... we summited the Peak around 1:45pm with hardly any clouds in the sky, we can see some gray/black clouds out far near Poncha Pass. I wasn’t concerned much, but it was moving our way. A quick lunch and a handstand and we were on our way over the Traverse (pending on weather as we moved). We get to the junction for the Traverse and heard Thunder, we waited a little bit, saw nothing other than the clouds, got hit with 2 rain drops and that was it, we kept moving, carefully watching the skies because now it’s about 3pm as were hitting the Black Gendarme and that 5.2bulge (not bad at all, just be careful and strong in your holds). We heard some more thunder again, off in the distant and we waited next to the little Knife Edge above that gulley, couldn’t see anything in the sky except BLUE!!!! We started our climb up the final pitch and summited the Needle!

The turn back point for me would’ve been the 5.2 bulge, I wouldn’t mind down climbing that if I had to, it’s only about 8-10ft, but anything beyond the Knife Edge up there, I wouldn’t want to downclimb AT ALL! It is STEEP! Super Exposed! If you’re doing this Traverse, be strong, confident, well prepared physically and mentally (I’d advise some more rest than I had), enough food and water, and Start Early!! I was blessed with Beautiful skies all day long to be able to summit the Needle around 4:30pm and not worry “too much” about possible storms coming in.

For some extra fun and with great weather prevailing, and a bit of losing the route down on the Needles South Face to Cottonwood Lake, we decided to downclimb the Class 4 variation to hit the trail, it was actually a lot of fun to finish off the “climbing” portion. Then all of a sudden from over Borken Hand Pass came some hail and torrential down pour, that made for a fun hike across the lake and back down the Cottonwood Creek Trail. We got to our camp back around 7pm and hiked out back to the car around 10pm, short drive home and was in bed by midnight after a big dinner! Route finding on the way down the Rock slabs on Cottonwood Creek Trail was MUCH MUCH easier with light still and then by the time it was dark, were were back on that good trail for the last 2.5 mile-ish hike. Extremely wet with all the overgrown brush and WORST mosquitoes I’ve ever seen in my living!

I had 5litwrs of Water on me and made myself another on trail with purification tablets, I’d advise carry more water than that or have Lifestraw/Tablets ready with you. Be safe and Have Fun Climbing!

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Comments or Questions

Peak conditions?
08/07/2019 14:16
Previous condition updates mention unavoidable snow just below the notch on the Crestone Peak. Heading down this weekend, just trying to assess if an axe is going to be neccessary


Answer to AppalachianAdam
08/08/2019 00:18
There is still a strip of snow at the top of the Red Gully, just below the notch, completely avoidable without even trying to bypass it. No axe or micro spikes or anything needed at all, Iâve read reports on Broken Hand Pass that thereâs snow, I didnât see any on the Cottonwood Lake side. Canât confirm any of that but all is clear and 100% easily avoidable the entire way along Crestone Peak up the Red Gulley, traverse over and up and down the Needle.


08/12/2019 10:53
After the first 2-2.5 miles, are you still hiking on a trail? Or basically bushwhacking? And you said rock beds too? Iâm looking to do Crestone Peak sometime this summer, and am trying to decide if I should take the Cottonwood approach or the standard approach. Iâve done the standard approach a few times, but am wondering if the Cottonwood one would make more sense for the Peak since it is shorter. If thereâs a ton of bushwhacking and such, I wonder if maybe the east approach would be better? Thanks!

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