Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  08/03/2008
Modified:  08/04/2008
Date Climbed:   07/27/2008
Author:  Uffda

 South Colony Blitz (Part 3)  

Day 4 - 7/27/08 - Crestone Needle

Andy elected to sleep in since he had already done the Needle and was still wiped out from yesterday's Kit Carson adventure. Frank, Len and I started back up the trail to Broken Hand Pass at 5.

Sunrise on Broken Hand Pass

The second time climbing up the pass in the dark seemed much easier. Especially once we knew where to look for the new trail. Once at the top, we turned right on to the trail for the Needle and skirted the ridge.

Heading towards the fun part

Frank crossing a gap in the rocks

I wasn't quite sure what to expect on this route. There seems to be many differing opinions on whether the Peak or Needle is more difficult. Roach's book, and most people I've talked to think the Peak is the harder of the two, yet the difficulty rankings on puts Needle on top (in fact, Needle is in the top 5 hardest of all 14ers on the list). Either way, I knew if I summited Peak without any problems I should do fine on Needle. Right?

We reached the bottom of the East Gully and started up. The rock was pleasantly solid, with plenty of holds to be found. As I was in the lead, I kept my eyes peeled for the blue marker that indicates when you're supposed to traverse over to the West Gully. Both the route guide on this site and the general opinion of others I'd talked to stressed that finding this traverse was critical. Since the top of the East Gully and the bottom of the West Gully are both rated class 4, it's necessary to cross over in the middle to avoid the steep stuff.

A few hundred feet up the East Gully I spied the marker. It's a small survey flag-type thing which is not easy to see until you are directly beneath or above it.

The infamous blue marker

The traverse between gullies is, in my opinion, the crux of the route. Not only is it non-trivial to find, but the climbing is probably the most difficult on the route. Not to mention the exposure. First, you must cross the stream in the middle of the gully with pretty steep pitches on both sides. Losing your footing here would mean a wet rear and a (possibly fun) slide down the gully a ways. Following the crossing is a steep pitch up to the rib separating the gullies. In my limited experience I'd call this portion class 3+. Once you reach the marker itself, though, the hard part is over.

Looking up the West Gully

Once in the West Gully, the climb up to the summit ridge wasn't too long. There was some confusion on our part as to the best route out of the top of the gully. On the ascent, we climbed straight to the ridge overlooking the top of the East Gully. This seemed like the easier route at first, but we quickly scooted back over to the grassy ledge (climber's left) that led to the summit ridge. On the descent we followed the ledge all the way back.

Once on the ridge, we followed it around the small couloir directly below the summit and made it to the top around 8:30. Like the Peak, the Needle's summit is also spectacular.

Third victory pose for the weekend

Not too crowded...

Looking north from the summit, with the Peak in the foreground

On the way down we were careful to stay on course. Frank left behind an extra shirt to make sure we knew where to begin the traverse to the East Gully. Downclimbing the steep part of the traverse was much easier.

Looking down the East Gully

Len reaching the bottom of the East Gully

We made it back down to the top of the pass without incident. I think, in total, was passed six other people on the Needle. Much more preferable to the crowds in the Front Range!

My verdict on Peak vs. Needle? I felt that the Needle was a bit more difficult, but they were both very similar. If you can do one, you'll be fine on the other.

Once again was passed the hard working RMFI trail crew on the way down the pass. Even in the two days since we last passed them there had been noticeable progress on their new route.

We returned to camp at about 11 and packed out. Len once again proved her 4WD skills on the way back to the main trailhead. Lunch at Carl's Jr. in Florence was a welcome change to dehydrated backpacking food.

Thanks to Frank for organizing this great trip!

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