Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  09/27/2020
Modified:  09/28/2020
Date Climbed:   09/26/2020
Author:  MountainManta1
Additional Members:   MountainManta2
 Crestone Needle - Standard Route   

Before the start of this summer, my girlfriend (MountainManta2) had yet to climb a 14er and in fact had hardly been up in the alpine. I, a Colorado native, was eager to share my love for the Rockies. After a busy hiking summer which included two backpacking trips to Chicago Basin from Purgatory and three separate trips to the Crestones with a different 14er climbed each time, I'd say I've just about won her over!

Resisting the urge to start this trip report with "we got NO sleep the night before" like every other trip report.

This was the first time we made it up to the South Colony Lakes 4wd trailhead. Once previously, we'd tried but failed in my Mom's Rav4 (sorry Mom!). Each time we visited this summer, the road condition was significantly worse. On this trip, even in my new Tacoma (basic stock 4wd), there was a section that required a trial or two and some very careful line picking. It's absolutely wild to think that not so long ago, brave/stupid souls were sending it with varying degrees of success in Foresters.

Leaving Evergreen at around 4:30pm and stopping for dinner en route, we started hiking in the dark at around 9pm. At around 10:30, we set up camp just past the log bridge where the old road ends. We made a cup of tea, and the wind was howling. We'd specifically picked the Crestones on this particular weekend due to high wind forecasted in the Elks. This would be perhaps our most challenging climb to date. Throughout the night I tousled and was concerned it would be a no-go as we heard the wind absolutely whipping up high.

We hit the trail at around 4:45 am. Initially the wind seemed a bit lighter than it was overnight. We walked ~1.5 miles to the turnoff for Crestone Needle/Broken Hand Pass. Ugh Broken Hand Pass. This was familiar territory from our climb of Crestone Peak a few weeks prior. The early morning light was absolutely stunning on the peaks with extra definition from the Autumn snow.

Dr. Coe crosses the first snow covered section
This valley is absolutely glorious.

We basked in the Jah light as we fumbled over the talus. With about 1/3 of the primary climb (main headwall) of BHP remaining, we reached the persisting snow. Having read conditions reports, alas we were prepared! We slipped on our newly purchased microspikes and scampered up the slope. I was delighted with the traction these provided, gripping as well as traditional crampons I'd previously used. The snow climbing was preferable to negotiating scree. Climbing moderate snow at sunrise, we felt the mountaineer spirit. The snow completely filled in the class 3 section. 2 hours after leaving camp, we topped out on BHP to encounter a wind funnel. We put on all the layers we had.

The snow has filled in the scramble section
Nearing the top of BHP

At this point we'd crossed paths with probably ~4 other climbers and seen a handful other headlamps. It was nice to have relative solitude here.

Mountain Mantas

On easier 14ers we pass everyone, and on harder 14ers we're the slowest group. As we topped out on the pass, we hoped that when we entered the Needle's gullies, we'd be protected from the wind. As it turns out, the wind was blowing directly at our backs. On the positive side, this meant that we were being blown into the mountain and not off of it. In the end, the wind mellowed out some and wound up being a minor nuisance rather than posing any safety concerns. We contoured over to the first gully, down climbed a class 3 wall which presented our first scrambling challenge of the day, and arrived at the base of the first gully!

The climbing up the gullies was as pleasant as described. The super solid rock is chock full of classic Crestone conglomerate knobs. The persisting class 3 is mostly easy and just titillating and fun. Over all, the climb felt less exposed than we'd anticipated. The climbing is sustained. At just over 30 14ers climbed, if I had to pick, this would have to be my absolute favorite to date.

The biggest thing in my head was "find the gully crossover". Using the 14ers phone app route description, and carefully looking at the photos, we did so without too much difficulty. It's right before the dihedral narrows quite a bit. If you look to the left side, there's a very small cairn that marks the spot. Once over the hump, additional cairns and pink webbing confirm you're in the right spot. Crossing the dihedral involves a very tricky move that I would consider harder than class 3, but it's not very exposed. It's like a bouldering move - a committing lateral shimmy without great hand holds. Technically speaking, this is absolutely the crux of the route.

Mountain Manta 2 crossing the dihedral

Once in the second gully, it's a fun scramble to the summit ridge. Over all, the scrambling in both gullies goes relatively quickly, and takes a lot less effort than the Red Gully on Crestone Peak. Still, there's more sustained scrambling here than on the Peak and it does not quickly relent. When you top out on the gully, the remaining route is relatively clear, but be advised- while the route description says it's a left turn to the summit, it's really more a right turn. Follow the zig zagging crack for 30 feet, and soon you'll be able to see the summit (the left turn comes after the summit has already has been in view, when the rest of the route is obvious).

Marion crosses the little ledge just after the dihedral, entering the west gully.
Nearing the summit! (Sand dunes just barely visible upper right)
On top of the Needle!

It took us about 2 hours to get from the top of BHP to the summit. Upon arriving at the top section, the views of the Sagres and down to the San Luis valley are just breathtaking. Even without fantastic visibility, we looked down on the San Dunes, across to the Little Bear Group, down the sheer face to South Colony Lakes, across to Kit Carson and Challenger, and far beyond.

The Crestones are powerful. We love these mountains.

At the summit looking down the final crux of the Crestone traverse- we hope to give this a run next summer after climbing Capitol as a pre-req! (Crestone Peak visible as furthest left summit)

On the return trip, we met Brittney "Bert" Woodrum for the third time this summer (previously on Sunlight Peak and Antero). She has hiked all 58 fourteeners this year with a large green plastic box on her back to support her charity- ShelterBox- for emergency disaster relief. This was her finisher. Check out her website at Congrats Bert!

I'd secretly planted a few beers in the river at camp which we enjoyed after the ever delightful slog back down BHP. After breaking down camp, and once in the trailhead, we cracked another beer, sat in the bed of my truck, and were grateful that for the first time we didn't have to hike the extra 3 miles down to the 2wd trailhead. This hike will go down in the books. What a fantastic end to the Summer.


Back at the car, we met a woman who was looking for a missing hiker, who'd climbed the Needle and was due back a day prior. We are so grateful to have just learned he was located by Custer County SAR, who'd dispatched several teams including an aerial search.

Update - when this trip report was written, the SAR report simply said the missing hiker was located. We have since learned that in fact it was a body that was located. He sustained a 1k foot fall from Crestone Needle. Some media reports misstated that he fell from the Peak, due to an incorrectly stated press briefing from the Westcliff sheriff's office. What an absolutely horrific accident. Our condolences to Jeffry's family and loved ones. We wish we could have provided more comfort to the woman we spoke with for some time who we presume was Jeffry's wife. Gratitude to the CCSAR team.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
I love Crestone Needle too
09/27/2020 18:59
Congrats and nice trip report.


Nice report!
09/28/2020 21:28
Fun read! Congrats on another well-earned summit.

Thank you.
09/30/2020 10:31
I am one of the three children of Jeff Deardorff, who fell while descending the Needle just the day before. I will hang onto that photo of the sunrise view of Cottonwood Lake where he was found a 20-minute hike from later that day, and found his final place of rest just the day before. I haven't yet gotten the detailed location from SAR but he was found at the base of the west couloir, which is likely the other side of that rock ridge you got in the right of the frame. My dad was an experienced climber who had maybe 7 more 14'ers before getting them all. He had gotten Crestone Peak and I had the Needle and we each needed the other. We had climbed Kit Carson together years ago, along with my uncle who was also an experienced climber, and who passed earlier this year at age 82 in Maui, Hawaii (my dad was 72). I'm deeply grateful to my dad for introducing me to the outdoors at a young age back in the 80s in the Great Smokey Mountains of East Tennessee, before backpacking and mountaineering became a crowded industry. I can trace my dad's influence to my choice of degree (geology) and my career path working for environmental protection. The Sangres are some of the most rugged and remote peaks in Colorado and "Blood of Christ" carries transcendent spiritual meaning that my father understood and appreciated. The relief between the San Luis Valley and the tops of those peaks is like looking out of the window of an airplane and those pictures of impossibly rugged terrain tell you all you need to know. I've climbed Colorado's 14ers across three decades of my life and only now comprehend the razor edge that exists between success and tragedy up there, even when you don't realize it. Take care of each other. Love your people and connect deeply with them, and may you always make it home safely. -Jason Deardorff


09/30/2020 11:13

Jason, we are moved by your words. Thank you so much for sharing this with all. In life, we are each fortunate to be among those who are able and compelled to explore and be moved by the mountains. By your accounts, your father leaves a wonderful, lasting legacy. Like you, my experiences early in the mountains also led me to a career working for environmental protection (EPA). What a gift your father gave to pass on the ethos you have described. His final resting place is one of grandeur. We wish you and your family peace.

09/30/2020 11:16
I also work for US EPA in Denver. Let's follow up.

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