Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Date Posted:  08/10/2009
Modified:  08/11/2009
Date Climbed:   08/08/2009
Author:  Aubrey
 Crestone Peak, high and dry  

If I had to sum up this climb with one word it would be WINDY. My lips are so chapped I've already gone through a couple tubes of ChapStick. And I can't get Napoleon's quote, "But my lips hurt real bad!" out of my head.

The last time Jen and I climbed Crestone Peak it was full of snow. Right after that climb we decided we wanted to re-climb it when it was dry - to get the full red gully experience and all.

So I guess this was the fifth time I've driven to the end of the South Colony Lakes Road (twice when it was really rough, before being improved) and it will be my last time, as it will be closed for good this fall. It's too bad because it made for a short and easy approach to base camp. After this year people will have to huff it up an extra couple miles each way - on an unexciting road.

After reading some horror stories of marmots and porcupines chewing up brake lines and radiator hoses at the upper parking area, I decided to buy some coyote pee to spray around the truck as a deterrent.

In theory, all types of small animals should run the other direction when they smell their predator's scent. But after spraying a few squirts around and under my truck, a couple curious marmots walked over, cautiously, to check things out. They did keep their distance, though. And as I squirted the ground near the back of my truck, one of the marmots ran and hid above the rear axle of the Tacoma parked next to us. I tried to yell at him to get him out of there, but the little bastard wouldn't listen.


Coyote pee, by the way, is some extremely pungent stuff. After squirting it for the first time, I almost passed out from the noxious fumes. Coyote pee kind of smells like a dead and rotting skunk soaked in sewer water, only stronger.

After hiking to the area just below the lower South Colony Lake, we took a few minutes to find the perfect campsite. We had our pick of the sites, to our surprise, and found a good one that was near a great view of Crestone Needle:


After setting up our camp and purifying some water, we sat on a rock near the trail and ate our leftover pizza and drank a couple beers, hoping to catch the Griswolds, who were supposed to be on their way up the trail. Before I even finished my beer, there they were.

Mr. and Mrs. Griswold were looking as fit as ever, and Audrey and Rusty had each grown another foot since I last saw them.

That night the wind blew, literally and figuratively. It woke me up 72 times throughout the night. I only got about two hours of sleep, in total. During those brief moments of REM, my dreams were filled with crashing ocean waves of doom.

Jen and I got up at the agreed-upon time of 4:15 a.m. Mr. Griswold was up but I didn't see anyone else. Then some guy came into our camp and asked us what we thought of the weather. It was still really windy, but Mr. G and I thought it would die down after the sun came up (it didn't really, but it wasn't too bad). Anyway, I thought this guy was Mike, a guy we were going to climb with who I hadn't met before, so I asked him his name and introduced myself. This guy probably thought I was crazy, being so formal at 4:45 a.m., in the middle of a wilderness area with 30-mph gusts of wind breaking up our words. But it was early and all my pistons weren't firing yet.

The rest of the slackers finally got out of bed as Jen and I finished our bagels with peanut butter. That‘s when I met the real Mike and his friend, Nick.

We all made it onto the steep and rocky trail by 5:15 a.m.

By about 5:45 a.m. I killed my headlamp. The sun came up soon thereafter.


I've never hiked up Broken Hand Pass when it was completely snow-free, so all the loose dirt, gravel and scree was new to me.


The wind never let up. I thought it would lighten up on the other side of Broken Hand Pass or near Cottonwood Lake, but I was wrong.

Then I thought the wind would fade in the red gully, but I was wrong again. It reminded me of the winter wind when I was in college at Purdue. No matter where you were on campus, the wind would always blow right in your face. And it was icy-cold.

It was great to finally make the base of the red gully. The middle of the gully only had about 10 or 20 feet of water and ice, so there were plenty of climbing options on either side.

I'll let the pictures do the talking for a bit (some may be slightly out of order, but you'll get the idea):


Oh, I almost forgot, we met a couple leprechauns in the red gully ... here's Jen standing next to them:









While there were some really fun, really solid sections, I was surprised by how much loose crap is in that gully. At least a few rocks got kicked down the gully, and I heard the word "ROCK!" yelled quite a bit. I had to dive out of the way on one occasion. On the upside, there are many "level" sections that sort of stop the rocks from careening down the entire gully.

This was the only snow section but there was a really good rib of rock to climb up the middle, or you could bypass it entirely by climbing up the left without too much difficulty:


Looking out toward the Blanca Group and the Great Sand Dunes:


Once at the top of the gully, we hung a left onto the exposed ledges. They kind of remind me of Eolus' upper reaches.




Sometime before 8:30 a.m. we gained the summit. The skies were perfectly clear ... but that damn wind just wouldn't quit.

Jen on the summit:


And a pan from the summit, with the Needle on the left:


While in the area, Jen and I, along with Mike and Nick (great climbers and great people, btw), decided to run over to the east summit, which is also above that magical 14,000-foot plane. It was a fairly easy scramble, only taking us about 10 minutes to climb, but it was littered with loose rock.

The east summit is really small and extremely exposed. Let's just say you could easily BASE jump off that thing.

The wind was blowing so hard, we all crawled to the top on all fours and no one stood up on the summit.

Here's a shot of the west summit, taken from the east summit (you can see climbers on top and descending):


On the way back down the red gully I ran into JA_son27, which was pretty cool. I took a look at him and recognized him from his avatar, but before I could say anything, I heard him say something like, "Are you Aubrey?" It's always cool to meet people, especially on 14ers.

The descent down the red gully was long, and a lot of the terrain looked surprisingly different. At one point I found myself down climbing some rock, faced into the mountain, that I didn't remember climbing up. But it wasn't overly difficult. And, overall, aside from all the loose rock, it was a pretty fun descent.

The flat hiking near Cottonwood Lake was a nice break from all the vertical gain and loss.


As we were strolling by the lake, I quietly thought to myself, "Hey, maybe we should just do the Needle while we're here." Then Jen said out loud, "Maybe we should do the Needle while we're here."

I swear, sometimes I think we share a brain.

But then, halfway back up Broken Hand Pass, we came to our senses, as our bodies screamed, "NO EFFIN' WAY, MAN!"

Getting back down the front side of Broken Hand Pass was much harder than going up. But the sight of sneakers, blue jeans and cotton sweatshirts, and getting funny questions, lightened our spirits and gave us the charge we needed to keep going.

We made it back to camp at about noon, very tired.

Curiously, the skies were still completely cloud-free and clear. And it stayed that way throughout the day. It was one of those rare days in Colorado.

We celebrated our successful climb with these two bathing beauties:


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

11/30/2010 17:20
We climbed Marble mountain on saturday and the Peak on Sunday.. Saturday's wind was pretty chilly.. Seems like everyone flocked to SCL before the road closes. I shoulda wore my 'Hello My Name Is' sticker on my helmet with all the members up there. By all the comments, I probably walked by 15 or so members! Oh and going back down Broken hand pass with all that scree loose crap junk was a cruel joke after a long day..


08/11/2009 22:17
I should‘ve gone for the east summit that day, maybe next time I won‘t be so lazy!


Great TR, as usual!
08/12/2009 01:24
Aubrey, you post the best pics of anybody on this site. And, also as usual, a great account that really gives you an idea of what it‘s like. Please don‘t stop hiking 14ers, even now that it‘ll be multiple summits for you!


Nice Report
08/12/2009 02:11
Aubrey I always enjoy reading your report‘s. Your last photo is best one! By the way as you were descending the Peak I was drinking at the Craft Lager Fest in Manitou, not bad even though I wasn‘t climbing.


Windy, really?
08/12/2009 04:21
Great climb! A big Griswold thanks to you guys for dragging us up another peak ... the group approach seems to help the collective family mojo as we are getting to the more demanding climbs. Great pics, too!

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