Crestone Peak - 14,294 feet
Crestone Needle - 14,197 feet
Crestone Peak - 14,294 feet
Crestone Needle - 14,197 feet
|Crestones in a Day (The Long Way)|
Crestones in a Day -- The Long Way
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to do both of the Crestones, one after another, from their standard routes? The traverse, while certainly a classic, is outside the comfort zone for many (which was the case for a couple members of our party who are not yet accustomed to exposed class 4 climbing)... This dilemma has left many wondering about the feasibility of tacking both peaks in one go. There isn't a lot of information (at least that I could find) about doing both peaks this way -- and maybe for a good reason? With a great weather window and an extra day built in to the itinerary, we set out to answer this question for ourselves.
If you're looking for the short answer, here it is: It's doable but it's a long, exhausting day, even for the fit and mentally tough. In total, it was about 17.5 miles and 7,300' vert (car to car), and it took us 13 hours to get both peaks from camp just below S. Colony Lake.
On Friday afternoon, we grabbed the last parking spot at the 4WD TH and made quick work of the backpack in to a great camp site along the Humboldt trail, just below S. Colony Lakes. We set up camp and watched the sun set as we came up with a game plan for the next day...
We set the alarms for 3:30 and were on the trail by 4 am. It's a bit difficult to find the start of Broken Hand Pass (BHP) from the Humboldt side (there were several parties who were already hopelessly lost in the willows just below the lake), but there is a small trail that borders the lake and leads right to the start of BHP.
At the top of BHP, headlamps went away and we made our way down toward Cottonwood Lake. There were only 2-3 tents down by Cottonwood Lake -- A stark contrast from the S. Colony Lakes side, where there were seemingly hundreds of people camped on top of each other, piles of fresh human feces, and a handful of campfires roaring (despite the statewide fire ban and extreme fire danger). If you've read this far, here's a golden nugget for you... Approach these peaks from the Cottonwood Lake side and thank me later.
The Red Gulley was pretty straightforward and provided very fun, low-angle class 3 climbing. Most of it felt like a sidewalk tilted at 45 degrees. Rockfall potential is certainly there, so helmets are obviously a good idea (but there were a handful of groups who seemed to have missed the memo). The Gulley is a bit longer than we anticipated... When you think you're at the top, you're actually only about 2/3 of the way. Great climbing nonetheless! When you reach the end of the Gulley, it's a sharp left turn at the saddle and a quick scramble to the summit.
On the summit, we unanimously decided that we weren't going for the traverse; but we still had great weather, plenty of time, and fresh legs, so we still had our sights set on the Needle.
I was surprised how many people said to us on the descent, "hey, are you guys going for the traverse? Because we are." That seemed to be the main talking point of the morning, and I found it kind of strange. Were they looking for affirmation about their decision to go for the traverse? Or were they just itching for a chance to showboat? Nevertheless, it made for some great comic relief for our group when we could predict the next group's greeting, almost word for word...
I remember thinking to myself, wow there seem to be a lot of unprepared-looking people going for the traverse today (Nike Frees, no helmets, etc.)... Not surprisingly, we found out that there was a rescue operation underway for someone who had been cliffed out shortly thereafter.
We made our way back down to Cottonwood Lake and filtered some more water and had a snack. Although the hike to re-gain BHP is only about 500', it proved to be a bit draining in the heat of the day. But we had made it to our second decision point, and opted to take a crack at the Needle.
The Needle offers some of my favorite climbing of all time -- Solid, confidence inspiring rock with enough exposure to keep the heart rate going. Overall, the rock is so solid that once you're on it, the exposure is less dramatic than what you might think by looking at the photos (but it should go without saying to still test every hold).
Personally, I found the short 40' wall right after the dihedral to be the crux of the route (pictured above, left). It is close to vertical and takes some work to keep it at class 3.
Once in the West Gulley, it's like climbing a jungle gym for 600-700' until you reach the summit. I'm not sure we lost that much time doing it this way, as we ran into many of the same parties from Crestone Peak, who had just completed the traverse and were beginning their descent back down the Needle. Depending on how long they took on the summit, I'd say we were only about 45 minutes behind those parties.
Once back to Broken Hand Pass, we celebrated with high fives and Snickers bars before starting the steep, loose descent back to camp. Our total elapsed time this day was somewhere around 13 hours (moving at a brisk pace, but we took ample breaks and a good chunk of time on the summits). We arrived back at camp around 5 pm, with enough time to slip into our Crocs and make dinner. Over the course of the day, two new groups had pitched their tents within 30 feet of ours (par for the course on a Saturday in August). But we didn't care... After a few sips of whiskey, we were out before the sun was down.
We were awoken out of a deep sleep around 8 pm to a torrential downpour, lightning, and driving hail. When chatting with one of the SAR guys earlier at Broken Hand Pass, he made a comment about how "storms in the Sangres always bring hail." Man, he wasn't joking! Heavy lightning and hail persisted for over an hour, until we had about 6-8" of hail that had accumulated all throughout our site. I stepped out of my tent after the storm passed, and was ankle deep in standing water! It was apocalyptic, but apparently perfectly normal for a summer evening storm in the Sangres. I was stoked that my new Nemo Dagger tent passed the hail test with flying colors. Others in surrounding campsites weren't so lucky.
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