Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  12/18/2007
Date Climbed:   08/30/2007
Author:  CAVUfool

 Crestone Peak to Needle Traverse  

I apologize for the late posting. This is my first TR, but I hope to contribute more in the future.

I'd had an urge to complete the Crestone Traverse ever since May of '06 when my friend and I attempted the Needle for our first 14er. Needless to say, we didn't summit. But the seed was planted and we went back that August after completing 7 other 14ers to summit the Needle. And it was fun! So we returned the following year, August of '07, to do the Peak to Needle traverse.

Contrary to some guidebooks, the 4wd road into the South Colony trailhead is improving. I was somewhat disappointed to see that the road had been improved from last year by moving and hammer drilling some of the larger rocks. I prefer more remote areas that have limited access. And now there's talk of closing the road? I personally wish they left the road unimproved and therefore naturally limiting the crowds. I digress…

We set up camp in the meadow to the west of Cottonwood lake. Here we had an excellent view of the traverse.

The large tent belonged to a trail crew that brought in freshman from Colorado College for slave labor. They built a great trail. The approach to the Red Couloir is now easy to follow. Lucky for us, they didn't return until three days into our stay.

Our first day the traverse was shrouded, but Broken Hand Peak wasn't. So we climbed the towers along the way to Broken Hand for a nice refresher (C was visiting from sea level).

A view of the Needle (clear of course!) from Broken Hand Peak.

The second and third days brought more wonderfully severe summer storms.

The fourth day was to be our day (and just in time as our secluded campsite filled in overnight with 15 freshmen!) Oh, and a note to those who might be confused on the routes up Crestone Peak: the South Couloir and the Red Couloir are one and the same. When I was researching the routes I found that some TRs referred to them as two different entities, very confusing!

The hike up the Red Couloir was easy and enjoyable. Many classify it as class 2+, which I agree with if you think of that as mostly class 2 with a few class 3 moves thrown in.

As we climbed I kept an eye out to the east for the entrance in to the traverse. We took Maverick_manley's excellent TR "Crestone Blitz" along for the ride as a guide. I noticed what appeared to be a lower and upper entrance, both with small cairns. They appear to come together shortly into the traverse so I would not be concerned about which one you take (if you wish to repeat the "usual" route).

This is a picture of the cairn we used as a start to our traverse:

And this is what it looks like after passing it and looking back:

At this time we had to make a go or no-go decision as the clouds were rising up from the Valley.

Conditions didn't warrant a turn around yet so we decided to explore further.

As Maverick_manley documents so well, most of the traverse is class 2, sometimes even class 1 – but this doesn't mean I recommend it for the inexperienced. It does require good route-finding skills. We chose to put on rock shoes at the base of the first extended class 3 gully. Here is a shot of one of the easy sections (if you stay low):

The real fun begins once you get to this gendarme:

I won't describe the route in too much detail from here (the point that Maverick_manley has circled in red and refers to as a class 4 traverse) except to hopefully help clarify the route a bit for others. The clouds were getting thicker at this point and visibility lower and lower – so I didn't get any pictures of the most difficult section because I was so concerned with finding the way.

On the class 4 traverse:

you enter this oh-so aesthetically pleasing gully:

And at the top, you make a u-turn to the right across a rib with the heart-pumping drainage to upper South Colony lake on climber's left.

From here to the summit pitch I did not get any pictures. But I'd like to make a note to those looking for good beta:
In Maverick_manley‘s TR we found the two pictures following the picture where Maverick_manley recommends the red route over the blue "to get up to the ridge crest" confusing. With hindsight, I can see that it is because those next two pictures show the same stretch from two different vantage points, one from the beginning and one from the end. From the point of view of someone who has climbed it, it wouldn't be much of a problem. The best way I can explain it is to traverse right or east for roughly 30 to 50 feet (take this with a grain of salt!) after you are on the ridge crest, and then head up into a shallow gully (shown in Maverick_manley's pictures, the one with the sharp right turn at the top of the blue route arrow). Our problem was also related to the visibility: we could not see this gully. I traversed much further right on to rock that stretched in all directions in to the clouds. Once this started requiring some class 5 moves I came back to where my partner was waiting. I knew we had to go up – and finally the clouds were thinning! This is when I could make out the rough outline of the shallow gully-and I started ascending. It was a nice class 3 relief from what I'd just been scrambling. After a short time scrambling up this gully you'll find an escape ledge to your right (which is shown in the picture in Maverick_manley's report following the sharp right turn mentioned above). From here one can walk right/east about 20-30 feet and then scramble up to the base of the crux pitch. At this point I was so happy that I'd found the way I remembered to pull out the camera again. This picture was taken ~45 minutes after the last one on the rib!
We made it!

The descent was fun – causing nostalgia from last year. The whole day we saw two people on the summit of the Peak, and then the same two on the Needle –they took the standard routes on both. We beat them to the Needle by about 15 minutes. No doubt it would have been a larger margin if we knew the way!

I have another story to relate as a word of warning those thinking of scrambling the Crestones. As we were nearing our camp and walking by Cottonwood lake, C noticed some climbers coming down the south face of the Needle. I've spent many minutes staring at this face, dreaming of the lines I'd like to climb. So we decided to wait for them to get any beta we could. That's when they hollered to us "Can we get down this way?". They still had a good 20 feet to descend, and they had no rope. Long story short, they found a way and when they approached us their first words were "I don't know if you believe in god or not, but…" They had ascended the standard route on the Needle, and when the clouds moved in (the same that made our climb so interesting) they lost their way coming down. They saw Cottonwood Lake through a break in the clouds and subsequently headed straight for it! And when they came to cliffs, they just kept heading down. They saved each other's lives several times by stopping each other's slides. They found a piece of rope (probably left behind by a climber hastily escaping weather), which they used at a different cliff to hand lower themselves. The first guy, who was taller, reached the bottom of the rope, was only able to place one foot on a rock, and then let go. The rock gave way and he slid 20 feet before stopping. The second, shorter guy, used his belt to extend the rope, but still had no footing and had to let go with the hope that his partner would catch him! Later, while taking a break, one of them dropped his backpack, which fell all the way to the Cottonwood's meadow.

These two were lucky. And I think there's a lot to be learned from their story. Go prepared and know what you're getting into!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Nice job!
08/28/2008 00:37
Good trip report! Thanks for sharing


Informative Post
10/30/2008 20:51
Looked like a fun time..thanks for putting it up!


awsome report
12/20/2007 18:00
thats a big f‘ing tent!! One of those types that cost the amount of a down payment on a house.

Sweet story about the couple on the Needle, getting cliffed out is a wretched feeling and hopeless. And thanks for the exposure shots of the last part of the traverse, nuthin but air below.


12/24/2007 01:19
Much obliged!


12/24/2007 01:53
report and pictures man... I‘m a little bummed that they improved the road too. It was a sweet offroad run for us stock-SUV-pushin gapers. I‘d forgotten the details of those two pictures preceeding the crux. Thanks for the interpretation.


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