Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Date Posted:  08/17/2009
Date Climbed:   08/15/2009
Author:  fleetmack
 FogStone Peak  

Crestone Peak
Route: South Colony / Red Coulier
Summit Elevation - 14,294
Elevation Gain: 4600
Trip Distance: 8.00 miles
Total Round-Trip Climb Time (including about 45 minutes of rest and summit time): 10
4WD Required: abso-fu**ing-lutely
Exhaustion Factor (on scale of 1-10): 8
Scenery Factor (on scale of 1-10): 5 (should be MUCH higher but was extremely foggy)

Rental vehicles are fun. Joe picked up Samantha and I at 12:30am in the rental Chevy Tahoe and it was out the door to South Colony Road. We made excellent time out of Denver, much faster than most of us anticipated. I usually include our exact roads taken on my trip reports, but I don‘t know what they were as A) I wasn‘t driving, B) We used the GPS and it simply told Joe when to turn. About 20 miles west of Colorado Springs we nailed some animal who neglected to leave his suicide note; no clue what this thing was. There was no avoiding it and we hoped that running it over didn‘t induce bad karma on us for our climb of Crestone Peak.

We arrived at the bottom of South Colony Lakes via Colfax around 3:30. It was a bit weird, I live just off of Colfax and here we were, 3 hours later, again on Colfax. We headed up the 4WD road and surprisingly saw both a Geo Metro and Buick Century that made it WAY further up the road than I would have taken my car! The road seems MUCH improved from when I was last there 3 years ago, and the orange truck is finally gone! The new parking lot before the first stream crossing looks like it has had its construction begun, as several trees have been cleared for the future parking lot. Anyways, we got to the top of the road around 4:30 to discover the lot already full, so we created a makeshift parking spot. We geared up and hit the trail around 4:45.

With headlights strapped on we winded up and down, round and round the simple trail to the lakes, to the sign where the Crestone Needle path breaks off. We saw headlamps and campsites everywhere, this was sure to be a busy day on the mountains! Our initial goal was to climb the Peak and then hit the Needle if the cards were stacked in our favor. We strapped on helmets and headed up Broken Hand Pass. Pretty simple climb, but it was a shocker as I hadn‘t done anything more difficult than Class 2 since 2006. We arrived atop Broken Hand Pass in just under 2 hours, where we felt the wind‘s presence. That wind was blowing hard, and we sure hoped it didn‘t stay that way. We uneventfully dropped down the steep trail to Cottonwood Lake. That lake is pretty funky. It looks like it just drops straight down to a depth of 15 feet deep in a matter of yards from the shore.

We winded around the lake to the bottom of the Red Gully, which is a strikingly obvious landmark.

The trail is steep leading up to the right of the gully, but we made it up to the entrance without event. You enter the Red Gully and shift to the climber‘s-left of the stream flowing down the coulier. From here you immediately begin your rest-of-the-day search for stable rock vs. loose rock. Following cairns and swerving back and forth across the gully, you slowly make your way up the peak. Around 7:30 we stopped and Joe suggested we look up and evaluated the weather. It looked a bit sketchy. Black clouds seemed to be forming directly above us and were moving at an incredibly fast pace.

We chilled out for 5 minutes or so and decided the weather wasn‘t threatening, but with the clouds looming and wind howling, we were going to keep a very close eye on the weather. The Gully was quite packed and around 8:30 we heard our first scream of "ROCK!" Realizing I‘ll sound like a drama queen here, flashbacks of my 2007 Sneffels incident immediately set into my head as I sprinted about 20 feet to my left. The rock stopped, wasn‘t that big to begin with, and wasn‘t really much of a danger, but for the first time today, my nerves got a rise. For the rest of the day, I was quite nervous after hearing that initial "ROCK!". I am terrified of falling rocks. Terrified.

I slowed down and Joe & Samantha took a considerable lead. Most everyone below me on the mountain began passing me as I took extra care to ensure I didn‘t let a rock slip and that I had a place to run to in case of another scream of "ROCK!". We winded back and forth within the gully, and then it got very steep around 13,700. Around this time I decided I wasn‘t going to mentally be able to do the Needle today. I felt a bit nauseous, not because of the altitude or any health issue - because I was so damn nervous about falling rocks. I truly thought I was going to spill my guts all over the coulier, but I kept these thoughts to myself. We arrived atop the Gully and saw the ledges. I was already nervous, and the first move across one of the ledges had me terrified as I hugged the rocks. Have I mentioned I‘m also scared of heights? (and spiders, and snakes, and falling rocks, and small rooms with lots of people in them, and concrete barriers in construction zones on the interstate ... yeah -- I‘m a pansy). Anyways, I hugged the rock and widdled my way along the ledges. Luckily there was too much fog to see more than 10 feet off the mountain, so the exposure really didn‘t treat me as badly as it could have. We summitted around 9:45.

I was so relieved, I thought this mountain was MUCH harder both mentally and physically than the Needle was ... this mountain, to me, was just downright scary. I mean, comparing this to the Needle isn‘t even the same ballgame. Maybe my confidence has dwindled in the past 3 years, who knows, but this was just scary.

First time I‘ve seen a summit register in quite awhile!

We sat on the summit for 15 minutes or so, hoping to get a view of something, but it never came. Little 5 second bursts of views in some random direction would come by every few minutes, but nothing special. These views were eerily similar to those I had on Huron a few years ago.

(Crestone Peak)

(Huron Peak)

We started to make our way down the ledges to the top of the Coulier. I was less nervous going down than up, easily.

I took it slowly down the coulier, with Joe and Samantha again well ahead of me. No screams of rock the entire way down. We stopped and watched some goats less than a par-3 away from us for awhile; it always amazes me how agile they can be!

There was one tricky move on the way down that none of us were confident in. Joe went first, then he spotted Samantha and I down. Wish I had taken a picture of this move but it wasn‘t on my mind. After this move, it got quite simple. Windy, careful footing, and steep elevation drops. We got out of the gully, went around Cottonwood, and made the extremely steep & exhausting re-summit of BHP.

I believe my words were, "Wow, what an evil f**king joke that is, making us re-climb BHP!!" We sat down for 5 minutes; I declared that I was officially not going to attempt the Needle. Physically I had the energy, mentally I did not. it was windy and cloudy and just after 1:00. Joe & Samantha decided to give it a try, it the weather or clouds got sketchy, they‘d turn back. I took what weight I could from their packs and decided to carry it down to the car for them. We said our goodbyes and I hiked down with a guy named Scott. Heading down BHP wasn‘t so bad, but the rock is as loose as I remembered and the trail a bit difficult to find for the first 400 feet or so of descent. We made it down and back to the car around 2:30. I took the shoes off and napped in back of the rental. Around 5:00 I got a knock on the door to wake me up, it was Joe. They made it about 400 feet from the Needle‘s summit. It was very windy, the weather was sketchy, and the terrain had them intimidated. Also, some rock climbers were there who offered to help them down, as I think they felt they perhaps bit off more than they could chew. I have confidence they have the ability to make it, easily, but perhaps were just mentally exhausted from an extremely long day. Happy they were safe and made the right choice, as I NEVER think it is the wrong choice to turn around; I‘ve done it several times.
Had a fun encounter involving the road and the rental car on the way down, oops!

Stopped in Westcliffe for some Pizza Madness-to-go for the ride home.

....made it back to Denver around 9:30. A 21 hour day. *YAWN*. I watched some SNL just so I could stay awake for 24 straight hours ... not sure if I‘ve done that since college!!! Great day, great, challenging, peak summited. Happy

Image #1 (not yet uploaded)

 Comments or Questions
Daniel Trugman

Nice Report!
02/05/2011 00:22
I think I met Joe and Samantha on the way down from the Needle, being one of the ”rock climbers” you mentioned. The wind was fierce coming down the Needle and they were unsure if they‘d be able to retreat if necessary, so I encouraged them to descend with us. Hope I didn‘t offend.

That fog certainly spooked me on Ellingwood Ledges; that route would not be any fun at all in the rain!


08/17/2009 19:09
likely them! no offense whatsoever, they were very happy to have the help coming down!! they‘ll likely comment here themselves so no need for me to speak for them, but I can tell you they were very happy you guys were there! thank you!


Nice report!
08/17/2009 21:39
Just did my first class 3 (Wetterhorn) last week, and am already thinking of my next ones, (next year since I am in Kansas). Good to see your perspective on Crestone Peak!


01/05/2011 17:15
Is it ALWAYS foggy on Crestone Peak??? Aptly named Title for your trip report! LOL... Dense fog rolled in for us last year and I think just about every report I‘ve seen on Crestone Peak has had fog in it.

Daniel Trugman

Re: Fog
08/17/2009 22:00
It was also foggy two weeks ago when I did the traverse.


Re: Fog
08/17/2009 22:21
It was also foggy twenty years ago when we did the traverse. No kidding. Hey, I recognize that climbing helmet, but from another part of your anatomy. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


08/17/2009 22:45
ha! yes, the helmet was strategically placed last time. oddly enough, that is my avatar and is the peak in the background (avatar taken on the needle) ... and the avatar day had no fog!


Fog, weather, and nerves
11/30/2010 17:28
Trugman--Definitely not on full mental game at that point; your help was appreciated and you were gracious to offer it. Would have been even more appreciated had we met you on the summit! Turned out going down was a LOT easier than anticipated”descending was Samantha‘s big concern; mine was your statement about dark clouds moving in that could yield wet/slick rock; neither of us was a fan of the wind”and I kept stopping for photos/to admire the scenery. Even rattled, she was mountain-goating her way down with you guys, so I'd have to scurry down to catch up. Fairly annoyed at myself for getting so close but no summit, but as you said: it's a mountain worth coming back for. Maybe next weekend. Nice meeting you; you've notched some impressive climbs.

Good TR, Mack, good title; glad to hike with you! Looking forward to something nice and easy this weekend. Maybe.

tornadoman--Try Kit Carson. Easy easy class 3. And, of course, the one and only time I‘ve seen the Crestones sans fog was from the top of KC. Figures.


A feast of friends...
08/19/2009 03:35
I may have to stop off at Pizza Madness when I go back for The Needle in the fall. Nice write up and congratulations on getting a bigtime peak on a day/weekend when most people (including myself) didn‘t do sh-- because of the forecast...


08/21/2009 20:23
good work reppin‘ the Mines ORC on the helmet

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