Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Date Posted:  07/10/2007
Modified:  06/24/2008
Date Climbed:   07/06/2007
Author:  Aubrey

 Crestone Peak from S. Colony Lakes  

After eating some freeze-dried eggs and oatmeal, we headed up the trail to Broken Hand Pass at 5 a.m. with our headlamps guiding our way.

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The snowfields were surprisingly icy and we were glad to have our ice axes at the ready. The sunrise gave the ice an orange glow.

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The previous day we climbed Crestone Needle. Now we had our sights on Crestone Peak.

The top of the crux of Broken Hand Pass:

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Beyond Broken Hand Pass, the trail to Cottonwood Lake and beyond was pretty good. Obviously, a crew spent a lot of time on that stretch. The lake was serene and quiet.

Cottonwood Lake:

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Looking toward the west, with mountain shadows on the San Luis Valley:

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As we passed around the base of Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak's massive gully came into view. It was a daunting sight.

After a quick zig-zag up the grassy ledges, we hopped across the gully's stream and scampered up some slabs on the left.

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As we ascended the climbing got steeper and harder.

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When the climbing on the edge of the gully got even tougher, we decided to don the crampons and hop into the snow. From there, time slowed down.

We made it up a little way and then decided to hop back onto the rock for some scrambling (we made much better time on the rock). This is where a couple climbers (father and son) decided to turn back because they didn't have any snow gear. Jen and I continued on up the rock on the left side of the gully.

Before long we came to a decision point. The nefarious rock ahead of us looked too risky. The snow was steep, too, but it was a much better option. So we strapped on the crampons and dove back into the white stuff. Once again, it was slow going.

We set a very slow and cautious pace, and I was methodical with my steps. One kick might've been good enough, but I kicked three or four times each step just for good measure. I also made sure my ice axe plunges were solid.

The snow varied from slightly slushy to icy and, strangely enough, it didn't seem to matter whether it was on the left, sunny side or the right, shadowy side of the gully. One thing was for sure, the route was steep as all hell (at least 40 degrees, I imagine).

The views to our backs kept getting larger and larger. The Great Sand Dunes, seen in this photo, looked like little ripples far below:

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After climbing up the snow for what seemed like forever, I longed for a break on dry ground, so we aimed for an island of rock. This was about the time we noticed a solo climber coming up the snow below us. The climber worked his way up the snow pretty fast, and I was rather impressed. As he neared, I noticed that he was an "older gent," but he was climbing like someone much younger than myself. I could only hope that I'd be climbing as strong as that guy when I am his age. He must've had at least 15 or 20 years on me (I'm 33, btw).

After scrambling up the rock island a bit we ran out of land. Instead of snow climbing the rest of the way up, we opted to hop over some snow and skirt up the steep rock on the right side of the gully. Some of the rock was loose and flaky, but with patience good holds were found.

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This pic kind of shows the steepness:

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We ended up climbing with the other guy up to the summit, but I never did catch his name. For this story, let's call him Bob.

Laden with 5-pound plastic boots and crampons, Bob skirted up the rock ahead of us and made the top of the gully. He then took off the spikes and started climbing the ledges up to the summit, and we followed. Some of the ledges were rather exposed, but the rock was mostly solid.

The top of the red gully, where the snow ends:

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The ledges (climber circled in red):

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Moments later we were on the summit (somewhere around 10:30 a.m., as I recall) and it literally took my breath away. I couldn't believe how amazing the view was from up there. It had to be one of the most incredible summits I've ever been on.

Jen and I enjoyed a few precious moments on the summit before heading back down. It had taken us a long time to summit, and we were concerned about being on the mountain late into the afternoon. Bob stayed a bit longer.

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Even though Bob came down after us, he quickly passed us on the snow. Climbing down the snow from the upper gully down to dry rock took us about two hours. We were taking our time, methodically placing axes and kick steps as we faced the mountain (I wasn't ballsy enough to heel step it facing out … or glissade). Again, there were times when one kick probably would've been fine, but I wasn't taking any chances, and I was happy to pay the price of exhaustion for that extra measure of safety. Our caution cost us a lot of time, but my mantra – "… left, right, axe …" – seemed to help pass the time and keep my focus.

Halfway down, my hands and feet were soaked and they were bruised and beaten. My arms were tired from plunging the axe into snow, repeatedly, for many hours. But we kept on trucking at our snail's pace. Occasionally I'd drink in the massive views, and then I'd refocus on the task at hand. Bob was already far below, off the snow and climbing on rock at this time.

After making it back down from the snow, I gave the dry red rock a little kiss, as I was happy to be back on more familiar ground. After all that exposed rock and snow climbing, my nerves were jumping and adrenaline was sprinkling through my veins. I couldn't eat a thing because I felt a strong urge to throw up. It was probably a combination of physical exertion and nervousness.

The rough line of our route up the red gully:

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Climbing Crestone Peak with snow was probably the hardest climb I've ever done. It tested all of my skills, knowledge and experience. It was mentally and physically draining, but the feeling of achievement was amazing, and it went beyond just the act of climbing the mountain.

Climbing back up Broken Hand Pass was pretty brutal. I was gulping oxygen into my lungs but it was never enough. Even though it's much less than 1,000 feet of vertical back up there, it felt like 3,000. I was running on empty but kept pushing on. The climbing gods must have been smiling on us because we were blessed with a day with no afternoon thunderstorms.

Crestone Peak was an intimidating mountain, and we approached it slowly and with a lot of respect. It was an incredible experience that I will not soon forget.

After making it back to camp at 4 p.m., we decided that climbing Kit Carson and Challenger wasn't really in the cards for the following day. A hotel room, a shower and some beers seemed much more appealing. We also needed a little rest before we climbed Culebra on Sunday.

After breaking down our camp (which took about an hour), we shouldered our 33-pound packs and hiked back down to the upper trailhead (about 1.5 miles away), hopped in the truck and drove back down the rough South Colony Lakes Road.

Hours later we were sipping beers in a cockroach motel (the only place we could find with a vacancy because of the holiday). The shower didn't even have hot water but I didn't really seem to mind.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
 


 Comments or Questions
StevieTwoShoes


Nice work
02/05/2011 00:22
Great TR as always. Congrats on overcoming the mental and physical challenges.


lordhelmut


Aubrey
11/30/2010 17:28
Thats about what i felt like when we did the Peak a couple weeks ago, steep and exhausting and yes, the trudge back up to broken hand pass felt like it took years off my life. Nice job in the Sangres these passed couple weeks, if it wasn't for that road, I'd be there a hell of a lot more. Congratulations on making it up and down to the top twice.


roozers42


Congratulations
11/30/2010 17:28
I appreciate your trip reports on the Crestones - very honest and very informative. It's too bad we didn't meet on Kit Carson Saturday, but I'm sure we'll climb soon!


Aubrey


real
11/30/2010 17:28
Thanks for the kind words, fellow climbers. I look forward to meeting you all.

roozers42, sometimes I worry that I reveal too much (almost to the point of embarrassment), but I like to read that real, honest stuff, so I try to offer my own, unadulterated experiences to others. Just as I've enjoyed the honesty and realism of others, I hope people find my TRs helpful/useful, or at least something they can relate to.

One thing I've definitely, for-sure have learned: Everything is relative in the mountains ... and in life. What absolutely scares the crap out of one person doesn't even phase another. And what completely exhausts one only causes a light sweat on another. If Boulder has taught me one thing, it's that no matter how fit/in shape you think you are, there's always some Superman/Superwoman behind you to show you up.

In the Gerry Roach vein, the Peak and the Needle were definitely transcendent summits for me.


KeithK


Way to go!
11/30/2010 17:28
Aubrey, great reports on your Crestone weekend! I for one prefer your kind of trip reports. I don't really care about the details of a climb(obviously, current beta is great), anyone can look those up in the route descriptions. What I like is to read about your experience, and how you capture it with your mind and your camera. How you interpret the route, and perceive the difficulty/obstacles in your path. After all, it's a trip report, and there is certainly a hell of a lot more to a trip than just "turn right at 13,400 feet and look for a cairn". Good job!


Brad


Nice Report
07/11/2007 18:26
Your trip reports are always enjoying to read. For those of us who are novices it allows us to live somewhat vicariously through you and Jen. As always, it is nice to trade emails with you both about hiking and beer. Keep up the good work; I know this will benefit you both on Kilimanjaro in September.



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