Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  07/07/2008
Date Climbed:   07/06/2008
Author:  GREENSon14s

 Ellingwood Ledges Triathalon  

Not your traditional triathlon- Hike, Climb, Bike

Crestone Needle was the last Colorado 14er to be climbed. In 1916, Albert Ellingwood and Eleanor Davis made the summit via the current "standard route." 9 years later, the pair returned to climb the 2000 foot arête outlining a dramatic edge above South Colony Lakes. The lower part is pretty blah, easy 3rd/4th class stuff littered with lots of loose rock but the upper part, well, I'll let Albert give the original description:
"There were pessimistic doubts expressed as to the last five hundred feet, where the precipice seemed to attain verticality, and near the top of which a huge boss of well-polished rock was certain to force us into an enormous overhang from which we could discern no avenue of escape."

In Walter Borneman's beautiful book, 14,000 Feet, he states, "Albert Ellingwood was perhaps Colorado's preeminent technical climbing pioneer. Born in IOWA, Ellingwood…reserved his deepest passion for the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming." I relate to this very well and always draw inspiration from a fellow Iowan.

Now for the business.

2wd trailhead

South Colony Lakes holds a special place in my heart because 3 years ago, a buddy and I climbed Humboldt Peak as our first 14er. Twenty 14,000+ foot summits later, it's fun to look back and realize how far my mountaineering/climbing knowledge has grown since then. No blue jeans or layers of cotton shirts on this trip!

Our plan was to take our mountain bikes- with full trad gear, 60m rope, harnesses, 3 pairs of shoes (bike, hike, climb), tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, food, and water- up the 5.5 mile long, all steeply uphill, 4wd road to the top trailhead. Biking with heavy packs was going far slower than anticipated.

We were overjoyed when Josh and his dog Sawyer stopped and let us throw our bikes/gear/ourselves into the back of his Tacoma! Sorry about the paint scratches from the handlebar bouncing.

Crossed the creek, set up camp, finished a backpackers flask of Yukon Jack (if you never have, please read the story on the back of this bottle and drink away your lonely, hoary night) and got an early bedtime

The 4am wake-up call came early and we were slow to leave camp, with iodining water, breakfast, chai, and stashing the bikes. We were on the trail by 5am. We crossed a lot of snow fields on the approach but they had easy-to-follow steps and were no problem without crampons.

What time is it?

Max scrambling up the early 3rd class traverse

My belay ledge under the Red Tower landmark.

We went to the right of this tower towards more solid looking rock and I found a purty foto op.

Max simul-leading with a doubled over 60m rope. I found an old TR for Ellingwood Ledges where the guy recommended this half length simul approach to help with rope drag, facilitate communication, reduce rope-caused rock fall and increase overall speed. I'd say it worked well and will use this technique again in future simul-climbing.

Looking back down at Max, South Colony Lakes, the tent and bikes stashed in there somewhere, and Marble Mtn

Max high on pitch 1 of the headwall. A perfect belay ledge sits about 59 meters up.

It's always cool finding old gear on climbs. Especially when it still looks bomber!

Looking up the crux 5.7 pitch at 14,000 feet

The 7 move wasn't too bad. Slightly overhanging crack, I wish I had more aggressive shoes for this one move, as all the holds around the crux resemble polished door knobs. Another perfect belay ledge sits 58 meters up and a short, easy gully…

leads to the summit. AAARRGH! 11:45am.

Little Bear, Blanca, Ellingwood Point, Mt. Lindsey, and sand dunes

Next time we're taking hero summit shots, wait til I'm off the phone, Max.

Marmots on the summit-bringing sexy back.

Sexy marmot and Crestone Peak

Now for the descent! This was nasty. I was surprised at how difficult the "standard route" was.
Somewhere along the way we found a lil arch.

We were crab walking or turned around facing the wall downclimbing w sticky rubber down the entire steep gully system. This is low down, beneath the business.

From Broken Hand Pass down, I don't know if we were on the right route or not. Looking back up from the lakes, there were a lot better ways, but we did a lot of sketchy (without crampons or axes, only random rocks for potential self-arrest) snow crossings

Columbine's on the hike out

This mine shaft started to collapse so I caught it

Surprisingly, no rain or weather moved in and we enjoyed a leisurely pace back to the trailhead/camp. We arrived at 4:30pm, broke down the tent, re-packed, and hit the road.

The road down was sick. ~6 miles of downhill madness. We both have cross-country bikes w/ full suspension but wish we had straight downhill machines cause this road was brutally fun.

A marmot stole my sweat encrusted biking gloves and my hands are still numb and ringing from the non-stop rocks, bumps and nearly constant disc brake pressure! With the car in sight, we encountered our only hang-up of the entire trip, Max blew a tire.

A quick repair and we bombed down to the car

So much mud, so much fun

My overall impression of the climb was that it was a let-down. We had a blast and packed a lot of mountain fun into 2 days but for being one of the "50 Classics," I didn't think the actual route was that great.

Lots of loose, frustrating 3rd class scrambling and insecure 4th class simul-climbing finally brings you to 2 good pitches. For a technical rock climb, especially with this kind of hype, Ellingwood Ledges leaves something to be desired. Still a good way to a great summit.

This summit was one of the easiest efforts I've put into reaching 14,000+. Maybe all the belay rests kept us fresh, but its like you finally get to climb some solid vertical rock and all of a sudden, you're looking over the summit. The descent is not something to be taken lightly so maybe it's best that we still had energy left.

Post-Humboldt, 2005

Post-Crestone Needle, Ellingwood Ledges route, 2008!


 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
Great adventure! Great TR! Congratulations. I hope to get up there and do the ledges soon too.


what a way to...
11/30/2010 17:28
do the Crestones... I'm very intrigued by the bike and hike idea... Good Job fellas!


07/08/2008 11:40
We saw you when you arrived at the upper parking lot (we were in the red Toyota Tacoma)! We hiked Humboldt and could hear a bunch of rock fall coming from your way - was it you?! Nice TR - this route looks awesome.


07/08/2008 18:49
weird as it sounds, i thought i recognized you from your profile pic! didn‘t say anything, i always feel like a nerd asking if i know someone from the internet.
but yeah, lots of loose rock. i know i jumped off a rolling block the size of a car hood that picked up a lot of followers on its way towards the lakes. i was the one screaming, ”ROCK!!! ROCK!!! ROCK!!!!” at the top of my lungs. better to sound like a careless idiot than a silent killer!

and covfrrider, bikes were awesome but without hitchhiking, that road would have been impossible

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