Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
"East Crestone" - 14,260 feet
Date Posted:  09/21/2010
Date Climbed:   09/17/2010
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise
 Dayhiking the Crestones  

Angels and Angles:
Dayhiking the Crestones

Peaks: Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, East Crestone Peak
Routes: Needle via SE ridge; Peak via Red Gully
Date: September 17, 2010
Length: 16 miles RT
Vertical: 7300 feet
Total climb time: 8:42
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise and friends along the way

Fall Colors Grace the Western Flanks of the Sangre de Cristo Range


After playing on the North Ridge of Kit Carson a few weeks ago, I was smitten. Climbing solid conglomerate rock for 1200 vertical feet in the alpine was too good.
The next plan was to scope out the Ellingwood Ledges route (aka Ellingwood Arete) on the Crestone Needle - a great excuse to climb the Crestones,
get familiar with the descent off the Arete, and get some recon photos.

Upper section of the Ellingwood Arete, Gr III, 5.7, Crestone Needle

"How many angels can sit upon the point of a Needle?"

Albert Ellingwood was a Colorado professor of political science, who is also reputed to have been one of the few US climbers capable of handling a rope at the time, according to climbing historian Chris Jones. He and Eleanor Davis are credited with the first ascent of the Crestone Needle on July 24, 1916, via the SE ridge/gully. It was the last of the then-53 14ers to have been climbed. Interestingly, it was not until nine years later that they returned with a party of four to claim the Ellingwood Ledges route on the NE aspect.

Crestone Needle as seen from Cresone Peak

The forecast on Friday was nearly perfect.
I arrived at the trailhead around 8:00 am and made the cut-off to the lower South Colony Lake in just under an hour, getting to the lake about half an hour later, where I stashed some water.

ImageThe bridge at the new road closure and trailhead

ImageMorning aspens paint the way

I had considered doing the traverse, but the week went by so fast I didn't have time to study the route, so figured I might get it another time. Mostly I was interested in seeing the Arete, climbing the "fourth class" route on the Needle, and getting some exercise. I brought the fly rod, just in case the trout in any of the three lakes felt jumpy.

ImageThe Needle from Broken Hand Pass

ImageThe short third class crux getting up the east side of Broken Hand Pass

ImageThe trail up BHP passes through this notch, a good place to look back on the ascent.

I'd hoped to be at Broken Hand Pass in two hours, but was about fifteen minutes off the pace. Hiking around a few gendarmes at the beginning of the SE ridge of the Needle above the pass was interesting.

Great day, lots of folks on the mountain. I passed a few folks on the lower section of the Needle's SE gully, identified the cross-over to the "west" gully, and chose to stay to the right (east) of the east gully, where the rock presents solid, easy climbing. The "dihedral" is really more of a gully, and not as solid as the rock to the right of it, so I stayed right.





I bumped into Dru, a rock climber, and friend of Steve Gladbach's. We went on to summit together, and talked about doing the Arete possibly later this month. He enjoyed the route a few years ago.


Near the top of the SE ridge, you can't go too far right as it cliffs out. We actually topped out right at the finish of the Arete, about 3:05 from the car, which was perfect to get some shots of the route from above, looking down.

ImageTop of the Ellingwood Arete, looking east to Humbolt Peak. The Upper Colony Lake is seen at the base of the Arete.

The Ellingwood Arete, seen from its finish 100 feet from the Needle's summit. The start of the route, near the lake, is 2000 vertical feet below.


I met Zenyatta on the summit. She and Johnny had roped up for the east gully. It looked like they did the left side of the gully, whereas we stuck to the right side. I already knew we were lucky that the trailhead was only ninety minutes away, but it really hit home when I learned that Zenyatta had come all the way from Pilot Point, Texas, to climb the Needle. Kudos, Z, on your passion and commitment.


Gazing northwest toward the traverse, the route-finding didn't look like it'd be that tough. Terry Matthews and I had talked about it and I wondered if he was the tiny dot I saw over on East Crestone Peak.


The four of us chatted and took some photos at the summit before heading down. I said my goodbyes to everyone, as I had to get moving with the long day ahead.



I'd have to say the true test of a rating is no better determined than during the downclimb. Downclimbing the east gully really proved that it's solid third class (Roper and Steck agree.)

The alpine section of the Needle was the best climbing of the day, and a real joy. Not quite what Kit Carson's North ridge is, but I'm guessing the Arete will be all that and more.

ImageDownclimbing the "east gully" on the Needle





Dropping in to Cottonwood Lake, I stashed more water and took a lunch break. This time I tried making some little tacquitos and dipped them in enchilada sauce. With potato chips, mostly for the salt. It worked pretty well; they were tasty. A beer would have worked just fine, except the day would have been over right there.


Looking north from Cottonwood Lake. The Red Gully up to Crestone Peak is at left.

I didn't feel that the trail's detour around the slabs at the start of the red gully was necessary, but stuck to the trail on the ascent anyway. The descent later proved that the rock is solid and negotiable as a direct line. The start of the gully is pretty solid, but there are a number of areas where it turns to loose dirt and scree mid-way up. At least half the time, moving to one side or the other (usually to the right on the ascent) would take one to more solid, if slightly steeper rock. The rock here is unusual for the Sangres - it's mostly solid red rock, and somewhat reminiscent of the rock around the Aspen area.

At the top I ended up taking a direct line to the summit on solid rock, arriving after about five hours and fifteen minutes from the car, not counting lunch and summit time on the Needle. The standard route stays in the gully to the saddle and goes left at the summit ridge.

Out of the gully nearing the Crestone Peak summit

Kit Carson and Challenger Point

The "Avenue" on Kit Carson

The views from the Peak are spectacular, but I have to say, the views from East Crestone are somewhat different, and equally as good if not better. East Crestone only has maybe 100 feet of prominence, so it's not ranked, but the 100 feet is well worth the trip. Ascending on mostly solid rock, the loose scree on the west aspect is easily avoided. I wondered if Terry were beginning his descent off the Needle about then.

East Crestone Peak as seen from Crestone Peak

Crestone Peak as seen from East Cresone Peak

Looking north to the rest of the Sangre

This was the second trip in 5.10 Camp Four approach shoes, and I have to say, the rubber, being Stealth 1 on the sole and C4 on the inside edge, really showed its sticking power on the descent. The loose areas were not fun but negotiable, and not as bad as the east side of BHP. The sections of solid rock were pure bliss.

The ascent back up BHP was the last 700 verts of the day. That was the rationale for stashing water near Cottonwood Lake, which helped with that final push. The east side of BHP evidences significant trail work since the washouts of early last month (August 2010.) Rock steps and large cairns guide the way, though there are still some treacherous sections, probably the most dangerous part of the whole trip.

Afternoon shadows draw over the Lower and Upper South Colony Lakes

At this point it was getting late, and quite evident that the beers at the car were exerting a much greater pull on the psyche than any potentially large and dangerous trout swimming in the upper lake. Not to mention adding another 400 verts to an already full day. So I raided the water stash at the lower lake, drank my fill, finished off the last of lunch, and headed down to see swarms of aliens with hunchbacks and six foot long arms coming up road and trail.
No, wait, they were climbers with backpacks and poles. Guess I must have been tired.

As luck would have it, two of those aliens were Zenyatta and Johnny. It was nice chatting with them again before scooting to the car, and right then Terry came along. He actually got the traverse today. Terry, it was great finally meeting you. And congrats on your completion of the four Great Traverses today.

Terry, whatcha shootin' at?

Oh. Yes, that is pretty!

"Don't know why I bother to take these shots of the moon; they never come out." "Yeah, me either." "Wow, gorgeous night, huh."


And... The recon?
Albert Ellingwood is quoted as saying, "One of the famous problems of the Middle Ages was to ascertain the exact number of angels who could sit upon the point of a needle.
I would adapt it and propound a question both more interesting and more answerable: From how many angles can the Needle's point be reached?"

Perhaps, over the coming months and years, I may have the good fortune to attempt to answer Dr. Ellingwood's question.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
emcee smith

Great Photos
09/21/2010 20:50
Jim, I think that shot of the climber in the east gully where you can see the hikers on the trail below (image #14) is perhaps my favorite of yours that I have seen on this site.

Your photos take me back to the thrills of my hike on this peak. Thanks.


Oh sure, rub it in...
09/21/2010 21:00

Great to see that your plans materialized. SOOOO wish I could have joined in, but I would have been on 1 or 2 hours of sleep at best. Based off your recon, are you still contemplating the Arete in the next month? My #1 goal is still to get the Peak, but I *may* still be interested in the Arete, time and weather permitting.


Jim on East Crestone
09/21/2010 21:12
Hey Jim, me (Adam) and a friend of mine (Eric) met you on top of the Peak- here's a shot of you atop East Crestone:


one more
09/21/2010 21:11


Nice photos!
09/21/2010 21:39
Love the pics and TR! I can't wait to go back!


Thanks guys
09/21/2010 23:53
Mike, I have to confess, my eyes are getting old. When I framed that shot, I never even saw the hikers in the valley below. Thanks for pointing that out! Juxtaposed against Dru in the foreground left, it turns out to be a pretty interesting shot!
Adam, you make a good argument for bringing the SLR with those photos! Are you using a polarizing filter? That classic 14,000 foot cobalt blue sky is gorgeous, and the resolution is superb. You're using a Canon T2i, aren't you? 18-55 kit lens? Superb images.
Scott, at least your thread got us motivated to get out there, thanks! : ) Bummer you couldn't make it, but I trust it will still be there for a little while.

Brian C

Cool report.
09/22/2010 01:39
Nice job Jim. Love the photos!


Great report!
03/04/2012 18:31
Way to knock em out this fall, makes some pretty pictures. Winter needs to hurry up.


Absolutely amazing....
09/22/2010 02:03
photos and text! That opening shot is very cool! Nicely done Jim. How many do you have left now?


09/22/2010 02:27
Thanks, all.

Eric, let's not rush it. : )

Caroline, that means a lot to me, knowing this general area holds a special place in your heart. Of course, I was thinking of you while I was up there gazing to the east... I have 46 now - a dozen left to go - though I find myself not wanting to ”finish.” Why would anyone want to end something so fun? I was thinking of wrapping it up this summer/fall - but decided to let it ride. Including repeats, it's been over 50 14er summits this past year. Of course, there's always that ”winter list.” I'm only good for 12 there, just having started last winter. But I suspect those start getting hard in a hurry. : ) Thanks for your comments and kind praise. Hope you and Lance are doing well. Maybe we'll see you on a peak this winter.


Never finished
09/22/2010 05:07
As usual, the story was a joy to read and look at. Nice work Jim, on the climb and the report. And thanks for the tip on the 5.10s. I nearly pulled the trigger on them this summer (like box in hand) but decided to spend the monies on a macro lens. Once winter passes I'll be looking at them again, esp as I progess in my scrambling abilities.

Doctor No

Always love your photos, Jim!
09/22/2010 11:42
Looks like a long day. The contrasts in your shots are amazing!


09/22/2010 16:32
Yup, Jim, T2i with kit lens and polarizing filter. Sometimes when I don't have the filter rotated just right the sky looks a little unnatural, but such beautiful surroundings makes for easy photography. My next camera purchase will be a wider angle lens, something like an 11-16.

When I look at the photo captioned ”Crestone Peak as seen from East Crestone,” it looks like you were taking a photo of us about the same time I was taking a photo of you. Nice job bagging East Crestone, by the way- it seemed to take you about 5 mins. from the time you left the summit of CP.


Well done!
05/02/2011 14:23
What a captivating trip report you've put together. Makes me want to get down there again soon.


09/22/2010 17:34
Brings back memories of that area. I'll have to go back sometime.


Great photos....
09/23/2010 07:12
and a quick big day!


09/24/2010 03:49
Nice trip and trip report! FWIW, I think the fishing may be worth a trip by itself, I hear it's pretty good up there.


09/24/2010 15:45
You sure do eat like a king up there! Beautiful colorful pics as always. I should have a weekend off in early to mid oct if you need a partner for the arete.


Breathtaking !
09/25/2010 01:32
Ahhhh, I just got to relive it again thanks to your amazing photos and trip report. Comforting to hear your comments on BHP, too. That descent was brutal on my gimpy knee. South Colony Lakes is truly heaven on earth for me too. You are too kind to acknowledge me. Yes, I have lots of passion, fueled even more now! What a perfect day it was!


10/05/2010 23:06
These reports are works of art, well done!!!

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