Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,196 feet
Date Posted:  07/23/2022
Modified:  07/24/2022
Date Climbed:   07/22/2022
Author:  Chinook
 Crestone Needle - Ellingwood Arete 5.9   

The Ellingwood Arete route on Crestone Needle is one of the 50 Classic Climbs in North America. After climbing this route I can see why as it is absolutely incredible.

I have been wanting to climb this route for years and my buddy Alex, who I rock climb with a lot, likes hiking 14ers, so he was all in when I told him about it. We left my house in Morrison around 8:00 am Thursday morning and drove to the lower 2 wheel drive trailhead arriving around noon. From there we started our 7 mile hike to our camp above South Colony Lake in the hot sun.

The hike begins

It took us about 3 hours to get to camp, and after taking a nap, we made dinner. We cooked up some pasta and steak. Not a bad meal for backpacking!

Delicious steak

After dinner we hiked over to the base of the direct start on the Ellingwood Arete route on the needle. Alex climbed the first pitch to get an idea of the rock as he has never been to the Crestones before.

Alex climbing pitch 1 of the direct start on Crestone Needle. A #4 cam is perfect for the first piece of protection.

After testing out the first pitch, Alex came down and we headed back to the tent to go to bed. The next morning we woke up at 4:00 am and at 4:30 am we hiked from our camp above South Colony Lake back to the base of the direct start of the Ellingwood Arete route. It took around 45 minutes to get there from out camp. We had to wait about 15 minutes for it to be light enough to start the climb.

The plan was that Alex would lead the first pitch, then I would follow and lead the next pitch, so we would just leap frog each other the whole time with each person climbing 2 pitches in a row, then setting up an anchor.

Inside pitch 1, this section was mild 5.6 climbing

After Alex built an anchor on top of pitch 1, I followed, then lead pitch 2. This is a trad route, but I spotted about 5 bolts/pitons throughout the climb.

2 brand new bolts drilled in half way up pitch 2.

Pitch 2 was a little harder than pitch 1 as it went at 5.7 and there were some really cool moves. I ran it out quite a bit on the easier sections, placing pro every 20-30 feet or so in places.

Looking down from the top of pitch 2
Alex topping out on pitch 2

Pitch 3 was supposed to be a bit easier at 5.6 and Alex lead that one. There was one place were we got slightly off route because we both agreed we had to do at least a few 5.10 b/c moves to get over a smooth slabby wall. I followed and then lead pitch 4 which again was easy around 5.6. We made the pitches as long as possible using almost a full 60 meter rope length per pitch on most of the pitches of this climb.

On top of pitch 4 I scrambled up on a nice grassy ledge to make a very scenic belay.

Alex topping out on pitch 4

We then scrambled on class 3-4 terrain for a few hundred feet to get to the next pitch before the large white spot over half way up the route. I lead this easy 5.5 pitch.

Alex topping pitch 5

We then scrambled up more class 3-4 terrain around the white spot and climbed pitch 6, which was a very short 5.6 section that Alex lead.

Alex starting pitch 6
An old piton I clipped my personal anchor into when belaying. I wonder if Albert Ellingwood placed this as it looked about 100 years old. Ha!

After pitch 6, we had a short scramble to the base of the pitch 7 headwall. There are several options here, and we chose to climb the middle 5.9 crack. I lead this pitch and it was awesome. I did several hand, fist, and finger jams in the crack as well as some really fun stemming moves. The crack here was pretty wide in places, so there were some longer sections where I couldn't place any protection until higher up. The Crestone knob climbing was fabulous here as there were several pure vertical sections.

The headwall just below the summit
Inside the beginning of pitch 7
Alex topping out pitch 7

After topping out pitch 7 we had a very short scramble up to pitch 8, where Alex lead this final 5.7 pitch. We were in constant communication with our Rocky Talkies as you lose sight of the climber almost immediately on all the pitches of this climb. I told Alex he was running out of rope and I kept telling him 5 meters, 4 meters, 3 meters.... He asked if he had 3 feet left, and I said I think you might have 4. When he built the final anchor, I had 1 foot of rope left. I followed and cleaned this final route and again it was awesome. Fun thin hand jams, and there were some really thin sections where I just locked in my thumb slightly into the palm. I also got to do a cool lay back section and basically a double Gaston move grabbing both sides of a narrow wall.

Me topping out the 8th and final pitch
Alex coiling the rope at the anchor

From the top of pitch 8 it was a quick 200ish foot scramble on class 3-4 terrain to the summit. We reached the summit a little after noon, which is much later than I am normally on a summit, but rope work, climbing, and building anchors takes a long time. The weather was perfect all day for us though.

Alex and I on the summit

The first thing we did on the summit was take our climbing shoes off. Both Alex and I were saying how much our toes hurt by the last 2 pitches. I know some women complain about high heels hurting their feet, but climbing faces and cracks for 7 straight hours in climbing shoes has to hurt more :). We didn't spend too much time on the summit after taking in some views and headed down. I've climbed the standard route previously, so I knew the route down. There were a few guys that had done the traverse that we saw going down past the point where you crossover to the other couloir. Alex yelled down to them and told them the right route. I actually don't know where you end up if you stay in that original couloir, but don't want to find out.

I remember Broken Hand Pass really sucks going down, but with how tired we were after a super long day, it was just awful. Thankfully I didn't slip and fall on my butt going down, but came close a few times. We got back to the lake and our camp a little after 4:00pm, about 12 hours after we started. We basically collapsed and took a nap before breaking camp, sorting our gear and hiking out.

My rack of cams quick draws, anchor, and nuts I carried.

On the climb I found a #1 BD cam that was absolutely stuck fully cammed into a crack. I didn't even bother trying to get it out, but Alex tried and did! It was completely mangled, rusted, and stuck in the fully cammed position. He said he is going to put it on his booty wall.

Alex's broken booty

We got everything packed up and started hiking out at 5:30 pm. We did the 7 mile hike back to the car and got there at 8:30 pm. We drove back to Denver getting home just before midnight. What an amazing day in one of my favorite places in Colorado. This climb was incredible and I completely understand why it is one of the 50 classic climbs in North America. Here is what our climb looked like, unfortunately I don't have the 4 pitches of the direct start crack in my picture, but you can look it up.

The route we took to the summit of Crestone Needle Via the Ellingwood Arete (this was from an old picture I took when hiking Humboldt)

A few thoughts:

This is truly a classic climb, so if you like trad climbing, DO IT!
The route is extremely committing, and once you are past the first few pitches, the best way to get down is climb to the summit and go down the standard route.
Bring a full rack of cams .3 - #4 and ideally doubles of .3 - #1 if you can. Alex and I each had a full rack, so we had doubles of all and triples of .4's as you will use a lot of the smaller cams. Also bring at least 12 alpine quick draws as you will want to extend your placements to help with rope drag.
There are only around 5 pitons/bolts on the entire route, so don't expect much there, you will have to make and build your own anchors.
You will want to go as fast as you can, so doing longer pitches will be helpful as you do not want to be stuck in a storm on this route. It takes a very long time and you will be at high altitude for a while.
The route is each facing, so covering your neck will help prevent sunburn. I put a handkerchief over my head down below my neck to keep the sun off of it.
There are several long sections where you will not be able to place pro, so you will need to be comfortable doing 5.7-5.9 trad routes with long runouts.
A 60 meter rope is a great length, 70 meter really won't help you any and you will just be carrying extra weight. Anything below 60 will force you to do much shorter pitches making you do more pitches and build more anchors which will lose you valuable time.
Camp at South Colony Lake near the turnoff to the standard route to Crestone Needle. That way when you return from the climb and are exhausted, you don't have far to hike back to camp.
Start as early as you can and do the direct start rather than the ledges. The 4 pitches of additional climbing you get doing the direct start is awesome!

Thanks for reading and have fun out there!


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Nice work!
07/23/2022 16:11
Excellent report. I second the 70M suggestion - I too led the last pitch and had about 2 feet of rope left to work with at my anchor with a 70M.

To those that prefer scrambling quickly over adding extra roped pitches, do not overlook the standard Ellingwood Ledges route that zig zags ledges and scrambles 5.0-5.2 amazing Crestone Conglomerate the entire way to the final two pitches.

When did the new bolts go in?! Albert and Eleanor did it 100 years ago in leather boots and a hemp rope before nuts or cams were invented, and someone puts bolts up their sport climb... LOL

07/24/2022 07:26
eskermo, not sure when they went in, but based on how new the bolts and hangers looked, I'd say within a month or so.

Exiled Michigander
Great Trip Report
07/26/2022 08:41
Nice work and very informative report and photos.

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