Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  09/06/2020
Date Climbed:   09/05/2020
Author:  Alpinefroggy
 Climbing one of the Crestones as a relatively new face to 14ers   

Way back in April or so I got enchanted by the Crestones as mountains. Between the views from both the summits and the difficulties of each route and approach, they became a little project of mine.

As far as I go I am new to hiking 14ers, new to Colorado but not necessarily new to strenuous hiking or backpacking. And not being new to scrambling either.

I sort of made 2020 a project to do the crestones this year and so I sort of dedicated my first 1/3rd of my summer here to doing some 14er climbs. My first 14er was Longs in 2018. And in 2020 hereI have done Kelso and sawtooth. So a decent amount of class 3. Was jumping into the Crestones this early recipe for disaster? Perhaps not, perhaps yes but alas, here is my experience this weekend with climbing these mountains. I had planned for 2 nights and climbing each mountain via the standard routes. Though in the end it turned into only doing the needle and one night.

The Approach:

Cottonwood Creek

~3900 ft elevation gain

~4.25 miles

~3.5 hours

The approach on Friday afternoon was a bit uneventful. I arrived around 1300 to the cottonwood trailhead in Steve the 14er Prius. I chose this trailhead for direct access to both mountains. And because Steve the Prius could get there comfortably.

Steve the Prius at the TH

Let me just say that the route up Cottonwood is, after doing it, clearly not the standard route and also not something I wish to do again. I had my big backpack full of camping gear and such and the many obstacles you encounter along the way were annoying to overcome with a backpack though I didn’t necessarily think it was overly strenuous. Regardless, I don’t anticipate returning to this trailhead.

On the Boilerplates looking back down the gorge

Looking up the gorge

When I arrived at the base of the needle I chose to camp in a low area ensconced by rocks on the crestone peak side of the basin. There was also a convenient water source. I made sure to camp on rock to avoid the tundra and was overall unsure of the legality of camping at or near the lake. I set up camp and ate and refilled my water bladder. Then some dark looking clouds came over the crestones. There were also a few claps of thunder. It was supposed to be sunny right? Well yes but I suppose this is only in passing. And it was. One thing to know about me is that I really do not like weather like this. I spent a large portion of my life in California, where thunderstorms seldom occur and sun is the rule. So while this set of clouds was ultimately not a threat, my mood was set.

Evening in the basin


Gray clouds loom over the needle. These produced the thunder claps I had heard.

I had a rough overnight. It's been a long time since I have slept in a tent. And so I was restless and honestly not into the whole camping thing that night though I am otherwise ok with the concept and have spent my fair share of time with only fabric between me and the outdoors. I did at what point get hit with some graupel but that passed quickly.


I had set my alarm for 5 and got up to eat, get the small backpack out and refill and drink water. I ended up dropping my water bladder and it ruptured at a seem. Well that was great. And it could only hold about a liter of water before leaking again. Not a great combo this morning. I made it work though. I downed some more water and filled up to the liter mark.

The first target on the day was Crestone needle. I managed to summit from that part of the basin in under two hours and down in another 2 or so since I was taking my time. I took the entire east gully. Honestly? This mountain is awesome. The class 4 felt super safe because the hand holds and rock were so awesome themselves. And the scrambling also felt super safe. It is still hard but this mountain seemed totally in my wheelhouse of scrambling and is probably the most fun I have had on any mountain in Colorado. Unfortunately on the way down, I ripped my pants in the butt.

Summit on the needle

When I arrived back to camp, a couple of things set in; my attitude which was sour, a little bit of fatigue, and water and pants thing was annoying. Overall I stared up on the red gully and made a decision that I think was correct one. I decided to go home. I could do Crestone Peak. But it would be long, hard and I was not in the mood to go about doing that.

So I packed up my camp and hiked out. Not much interest to say on the way down except its equally as annoying and some of the downclimbing with the pack was harder and more sketchy feeling than anything I did on the needle in the morning. It took me about 2.5 hours to hike back to the car and I arrived at a reasonable enough time such that I wouldn’t be getting back to the front range way after dark.

Looking back as I hike down

This particular trip report is meant to emphasize some key points of learning for me being relatively novice to these big mountains:

-Having discipline is important in not only deciding when to turn around due to bad conditions, but also contingent on your mental state when hiking another 14er is not in the cards and forcing it is not an exercise in enjoyment anymore, even though hiking 14ers is always hard.

-Make sure I have the ability to account for gear failures. Especially the water thing. I did ok but if my bladder was completely intact I would probably feel a lot different at the time.

-Never take the weather for granted and learn to be a little more comfortable perhaps with the omnipresent nature of thunderstorms always happening in the Colorado rockies

Holy pants

In the end, I hope to be back hopefully this September weather holding or into next year, looking to do Crestone Peak to finish the Crestones from SCL. And boy do I have an itch for that mountain after how much fun I had on CN. But only if it is enjoyable and conditions are good. EIther way CP this year would be my last climb until 2021. Or one of the first. 2021 for me is going to be operation Sawatch which would be to do all the Sawatch peaks mixed in with some spicers. Namely some of the Wilson group, Snowmass and or Pyramid to get an intro to the harder elk peaks.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

Cottonwood trail
09/07/2020 15:09
How was the route finding heading up from that trailhead!

I know you said it was annoying with a big backpack, but my next âœbig❠14er will probably be a day hike/climb of Crestone.


Cottonwood trail
09/07/2020 15:54
I think it is totally doable as a dayhike. In fact I am somewhat considering it perhaps. I think the difficulty on the route goes down a lot without a backpack to be ok.

Routefinding is tricky due to an overabundance of cairns on the route but after I have done it and know where to go I think I could go quickly up it. The ricky point is that if you haven't done it route finding is very tricky.

Cygnus X1

Nice work!
09/08/2020 11:57
Congrats on getting the Needle. Too bad those mishaps put you in the mood to skip the Peak but as they say, the mountain will always be there. The Peak is a nice scramble but not as fun or challenging as the Needle. And with Steve as your ride, doing the the red gully route up the Peak from the South Colony Lakes 2wd trailhead is a more difficult option than doing it from Cottonwood, with or without backpacking. Broken Hand pass sucks!


New plan
09/08/2020 13:24
Yeah my next hike as long as weather stays ok this September is to get a hotel somewhere and day hike from cottonwood. I think I could hike to the top of CP as a 9-12 hrs. I know where to go now in the cottonwood area

Excellent report
09/29/2020 14:51
Great report with wonderful photographs.
Thanks for posting this. When I fo get to the crestones, it will certainly be from the Cottonwood side.

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