Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  05/24/2020
Date Climbed:   09/14/2019
Author:  CreekRunner
 Lend me a Hand   

Lend me a Hand

Crestone Needle, Ellingwood Arete

September 14, 2019

The Team

Joey: Team Ropegun; can fingerlock a 0.75 crack without screaming; adamantly dislikes going uphill but does it every weekend anyway

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Waugh: Snack Logistics Manager; finds a new way to lose down from his puffy each trip; excessively says, "sko buffs"

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After a season chocked full of alpine adventures was coming to a close, the intuitive question of, "what do you close out the season with", was at the top of my mind. I had the opportunity to hike nine 14ers already, made my first trip to the San Juans, and got a second chance on summiting Humboldt, after my first attempt three years prior in winter failed due to brutal winds on the west ridge. Since winter in the mountains was fast approaching, my climbing partner and long-time friend, Joey, decided that we needed to go out with a bang before our second favorite second came: Creek Season. What's the first favorite season you ask? Well, its Creek Season in the spring obviously!

So at 9pm, Joey, fresh off his shift, and I made the night time drive from Golden to the 4WD trailhead. In order to minimize our hiking distance in the morning, we backpacked to the trail junction of Broken Hand Pass and Humboldt and unfurled our pads, shook out our sleeping bags, and went to bed under the stars. It was 2 am.

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After a questionable three hours of sleep, we made tea and oatmeal from the comfort of our sleeping bags, then subsequently packed up and divided up the gear for our big day. Since I had never even led a trad pitch before, Joey would carry all of the climbing gear while I would carry a 15 liter REI flashpack with 2.5 liters of water, first aid kit, and food. Making our way up the Humboldt trail to the lake, we huffed and puffed. Both of us were sick, and the high elevation was letting us know.

Thankfully, the hike to the lake was mellow, and before no time, we had made it to the base of the direct start just as the first rays were peaking into the valley. We roped up, double checked our gear, and started on our adventure. The direct start was interesting. It was very slabby and didn't have good placements for gear until you were in the dihedral. Not to forget that we were in the shade, so the rock sucked up all the heat from your hands and feet, leaving you with no feeling whatsoever of what you were even climbing on!

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Arriving at the top of the first pitch, Joey had ended up on a ledge on the left side of the dihedral, where there was a bunch of webbing left behind from previous parties. Thinking this was the direction of the route, he made an anchor. However, when I had joined him on his perch and peaked around the corner to only see choss, we realized that we were supposed to stick in the dihedral. Carefully, he downclimbed the ledge back into the dihedral and proceeded up the slabby face another rope-lengths up. Now if you know anything about following, you know it's all fun and games going up, but absolutely terrifying and down-climbing or traversing. Well, I had to do both. First off, the follower needs slack to make a downclimb; too much tension and they will pendulum toward the first piece of pro. Second, going off route means that you are likely in Choss-dom, so every good hold is loose. So, I have to be honest that my easy job of designated toproper became a bit more spicy. However, I made it down and numbly climbed my way to meet my partner at the top of the direct start.

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With easier terrain ahead, we backpack-coiled the rope, traded our rock shoes to approach shoes, and scrambled out onto the warm ledges. Being Snack Logistics Manager, I pulled out a Z-bar for each of us and we both drank up some water. The following sections were pretty tame. We mostly stuck to the left side of the arete and enjoyed the easy terrain peppered with 5.easy stints. For the most part, everything was going smoothly. However, on a traverse heading toward the Red Knob referenced in doumall's route description, I saw an object fall out of the corner of my eye. For a second, I thought Joey had fallen off the narrow ledge, but looking a hundred feet down and I saw our green rope rolling down the ledges. Thankfully, it came to rest on rock and a frustrated Joey downclimbed and retrieved the rope. He made sure to tie stopper knots in the ends this time.

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After Joey caught up with me, I rewarded him an Oreo for his heroic effort. From this point beyond the Red Knob, the easy scrambling seemed to disappear and the final headwall towered ahead. Still feeling comfortable not roping up, we soloed as directly on the arete as we could. There were definitely some exposed moves, and there were several times we looked for easier ways up to the left or right. Surmounting each obstacle finally brought us to the headwall. Well, the headwall before the headwall actually. We initially tried climbing it directly, but it proved to be too difficult without roping up. We first looked left and cliffed out, and then to right, where we found a much easier way up. With the warmup headwall out of the way, the fun was finally here!

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After seeing our options on the scramble up, we opted for the middle 5.9 dihedral in the center. Let me tell you, the climbing was amazing! The knobby conglomerate provided ample feet, and the crack in the dihedral provided good handholds. The no-hands rests also were also well loved for allowing us to warm up our numb hands. We were honestly surprised it was rated 5.9, since it felt really cruiser. However, the following 5.7 pitch proved to be crux of the climb. Halfway up, Joey encountered a bulge in the dihedral with only an off-fingers crack. Placing a 0.75 C4 beforhand, he fingerlocked and surmounted the bulge with a healthy dose of effort; far beyond what should be required for a 5.7 (***exceptions made for Eldo 5.7s). With the anchor all set up, it was my turn to clean the pitch. Now before this point in my life, I had never cracked climbed. In fact, I had only led my first sport route five months prior and the only real crack I had encountered before on a climb was on Lover's Leap in Morrison, where I embarrassed myself on the 5.7 finger-sized crux. Now before you berate me for my ineptitude, I'll inform you all that I've become somewhat of a crack fiend in the meantime (no, not that kind). I've made my first trip to Indian Creek, did my first trad lead on a crack climb, and at the time I'm writing this TR, recently climbed up Handcracker Direct and only cried twice. Ok, all of this is to say that at the time of this climb, I was trash at crack. As I made my way up to the bulge, my morale fell. I gave my best effort to overcome the bulge, but I repeatedly fell. Frustrated, I did next logical thing any non-crack climber would do and french-free up the crux. Problem solved!

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Worn out with the crux, I plopped down at the belay ledge, and for the second time today, we made the switch to scrambling mode. After easy climbing, we found ourselves right at the summit! Elated, we celebrated with obligatory Oreos and joined another group at the summit. For the first time all day, our hands weren't numb and we were able to sit back and spread our legs. Out in the distance, a large plume of smoke rose from the southernmost Sawatch peaks.

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After a plentiful amount of rest and fueling up, we linked up with the other party on the summit for the hike down. Given the numerous gullies and non-trivial route finding, we were glad we did. After what seemed like an hour and a half, we finally made it to the sweeping ridge between the Needle and Broken Hand Peak. There our new friends stayed behind, since they needed to wait for their mate, who opted to hike to Cottonwood Lake since he only brought Chacos to walk in.

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Now on our own, Joey and I thought we had the easiest parts ahead of us, but not to be outdone, Broken Hand Pass had a lot in store for us. The rock ended up being heinously loose, and every move was slow going and slick. After a day of solid climbing, the loose rock made the descent slow going. I don't have a time on how long it took for us to reach the lake, but I can tell you that it left us bruised and battered. At this point, we were feeling the lack of sleep and our colds taking a toll on us. We were encouraged by the easier terrain, but more than eager to make it back to the junction to reach our packs.

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At this time in the day, the sun had disappeared from the valley and darkness was starting to claim the sky. Joining the road, we knew we were close, and that we only had to push a bit more. When we made it back to the junction, we were exhausted. It had taken us twelve hours to make it back, and we still had to make it back to the car. Joey, who was really feeling poorly, ended up cooking up a bowl of ramen, while I finished up the last of the trail mix and filtered more water for the journey out. After a 45 minute nap, (in which we got many strange looks for being two climbers sprawled out at the junction) we put on our backpacking packs, turned on our headlamps, and walked down the road. Much to our surprise, a Custer County SAR truck was lumbering up the rough road. Moving off to the side, it crawled on through into the night. After an hour of hiking and a lifetime of thoughtless thoughts running through my head, we had arrived back at the car! Not far behind was the party we had joined on the summit of the Needle. We subsequently learned from them that a pair of hikers had descended the wrong gully of the Needle and were cliffed out in the dark. If only we had known of the party, there was a possibility that we could have rescued them with our climbing gear, but thankfully help was on the way.

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Unloading our packs and exchanging approach shoes for Chacos, we made the drive down the dirt road and finally joined up with the highway. It was no question that it was late and we were tired, so we kept ourselves awake with loud music and the proposition to stop for food in Colorado Springs. When it's late at night, there aren't many places that are open either. Wanting to sit down and relax, we opted for the always open and always mediocre choice of Old Chicago, where between the zombie-like glances of the staff, cacophonous laughs of the only type of person who would frequent an Old Chicago at midnight, and the constant fluttering of the obscene number of TVs in the room, we munched on Pub Pizzas and downed pitchers of water.

After paying the check, we trudged to the car and made the final push home. By the time we made it back home, we were toast. In total, it had been a 20 hour day with only 3 hours of sleep the night before, and hours of technical climbing coupled with both having colds. But we were stoked. We had ended the alpine season on a high note and we had done so with arguably one of the most classic lines up a 14er. Soon after, I would find myself in Indian Creek for the first time, topping out on my first desert tower and getting a painful taste of crack climbing, laying the foundation for a crack addiction (once again, not that kind) I would try to satisfy throughout the winter and into this spring.




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