Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  09/07/2009
Date Climbed:   09/05/2009
Author:  centrifuge
 Revisiting Crestone Needles South Face Route  

The original plan for the weekend was to backpack into Capital Lake and make an attempt on Capital, but as I watched the forecast deteriorate I realized that it might not be such a wonderful plan. A month earlier I had earned myself a 2nd degree sprain on Mt. Wilson and was anxious to get back out and test out my healing ankle. So, when I got a text from Jesse (JB99) asking if I had any interest in driving down to climb Crestone Needle I jumped on it.

I had climbed the Needle two Labor Days earlier and had very fond memories of the ascent. Even though this would be a repeat, the more I thought about it, the happier I was with the opportunity. This climb would provide me with the chance to test out my ankle on a mountain I was familiar with and closer to the trailhead if for any reason my healing was not as complete as I felt it was.

Jesse and I quickly planned our logistics and I got home right after work to swap out my gear to my daypack. I got a couple hours of sleep before waking up, tossing my pack and clothes into my car and heading to the Park and Ride to meet up with Jesse at 12:30am.

I remembered the South Colony Lake Road from when I drove my Jeep up for Humboldt a year earlier as being rough, but not all that bad. I had managed to get up and down it in my stock Liberty with no skid plates, only having the bottom kissed by the road once. As we passed the upper 2-wheel drive road, I noticed that the condition of the road had not held up so well. The cringe inducing sound of a rock massaging the skid plates rang out multiple times as the Grand Cherokee crawled up the wet road in the night. We found a parking spot at the upper lot at 4:30am and convinced ourselves that trying to sleep in the jeep for an hour would not be a bad idea. An hour turned into 2 blessed hours of sleep. We woke up, chatted for a minute with the crew from the guys who are building the campsites at the upper trailhead, and then headed out.

Jesse hiking towards Broken Hand Pass with the Needle hovering above

The peaks surrounding the valley were accented by a dusting of snow from the night before and the blue sky was clear with the exception of contrails dividing the heavens in neat lines. Jesse and I made really good time and made it to the bottom of Broken Hand Pass in what seemed like no time. The Pass had clearly been worked on in the two years since I had been there. A clear trail threaded its way gracefully through the rocks saving us the any route finding. The top of the pass greeted us with a breeze and a bit of company. As always, the trail beckoned us onward and since we had taken the time to throw on our windbreakers at the top of the pass, the breeze fell away.

view of the adjoining mountains on Broken Hand Peak

We waited to change layers until the base on the East Gully. The last time I had been here, I was nervous about the upcoming scrambling, so I had not used the opportunity to take any photos. I was not going to miss the chance, so I started shooting as a group of three climbers caught up with us.

The last of the route heading to the East Gully, if you look close you can see a climber on the rocks

Looking out at a grassy ledge

Looking up the route from the base of the East Gully

I really enjoy talking to other people on mountains, we chatted for a couple of minutes before starting the fun. The rock was just as I remembered it, solid and a blast to climb. The last time I had been up there, a significant amount of water was pouring down the inset gully that runs down the left side of the east gully. This time it was damp, but lacked the running water making the climb less slick.

A climber approaching the point in the East Gully where you either decide to head up the Dihedral or cross to the West Gully

me negotiating one slightly off balance move to start up the gully wall to cross over - photo by JB99

a photo JB99 took of me heading up the gully wall

the final move exiting the East Gully photo by JB99

JB99 making faces at the camera as he heads towards the exit of the East Gully

JB99 on the final move exiting the East gully with climbers on east portion below him

In relationships people sometimes use the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" but in the case of mountains I have found the opposite to be true, especially when scrambling is involved. Lacking the anxiety that goes with wondering if you are really in the right place, the remaining route was unimpeded amusement. As we made our way up, climbers who were less certain of the route happily let us pass, so we decided that we would slow down enough that climbers behind us could see where we were going.

JB99 in the West Gully

Once you are at the top of the West Gully and on the ridge there is one section that is a tiny bit confusing. There are now bright orange ribbons tied to rocks making the route finding a bit easier, but since some of the climbers behind us had expressed uncertainty, we wanted to make this simpler for them. Intuition would make a person think they should follow the path all the way up to a small cairn at the top of what looks to be the route. When I had been there 2 years earlier, my group had chosen to follow to what looked like the obvious route up to that cairn and found that we were wrong. You can do it that way, in fact it really feels like this is the route, but your path is blocked by a couple of fairly steep sections with two moves a piece that feel exposed. Instead, at the last flat area before starting up that crack, you turn left and climb up on the ridge. There is a bright orange ribbon marking this spot right now. Going this way at least feels less exposed, even though the exposure is pretty much identical.

Once we were at the summit, we took a long break. I was happy to make it up with no ankle issues, but knew the way down would be the real test. We met a whole bunch of climbers, including a 12 year old with his dad who had done over 30 of the 14ers. Talk about impressive!

JB99 and a trio of other climbers looking at the clouds on the summit

JB99 and me at the Summit

The clouds were building and after about 45 minuets on the summit we headed down. I was much more conscious of every step, but still made really good time. We caught up to a couple of really laid back climbers who had ascended the Ellingwood Aręte just as the first of the graupel and rain started to find its way from the clouds. We joined up with them and were out of the gullies and on the pass in what seemed like no time. I was really happy with my ankle. I only rolled it once, but it was saved by the heavy duty brace I kept on all day.

We got to the car just as the first serious claps of thunder started rolling overhead; making us feel a little bit like the mountain was looking out for us. As we started down the bumpy and wet 4-wheel drive road, I couldn't help but think how happy I was thinks turned out the way they did and that I was able to climb this mountain again. Of all the Peaks to repeat, this one is at the top of my list. I look forward to the next chance I have to climb it!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Capitol‘s Plan B...
09/07/2009 21:25
I was planning Capitol as well this weekend but wound up hitting The Needle at dawn yesterday because of the forecast. We didn‘t have as clear of skies - everything was gray and ominous - but it was well worth the journey. Thanks for the write up.


Nice write-up!
09/07/2009 22:05
Great climbing with you as always my friend. You summed up the day well. Next weekend should prove even more interesting...


Good Job!
09/08/2009 16:26
Nice write up, thank you for the mention. It was nice meeting you guys on the summit. My son was the 12 year old; we had a great day. We climbed Humboldt on Sunday. I will be back this weekend to climb the Needle again with my 10 year old son who was not feeling well on Saturday, but climbed Humboldt on Sunday. There were alot of nice people up there this weekend. Safe travels.

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