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Combination Route

Crestones Traverse
Difficulty Class 5 
Risk FactorsExposure: Extreme!
Rockfall Potential: Considerable  
Route-Finding: High  
Commitment: High  
Start9,900 feet
Summit14,299 feet
Total Gain5,300 feet starting at upper 4wd TH (9,900')
6,450 feet starting at lower 2wd TH (8,800')
RT Length14 miles starting at upper 4wd TH (9,900')
20 miles starting at lower 2wd TH (8,800')
Last UpdatedOct 2022
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Take Colorado 69 south from Westcliffe. Drive 4.5 miles and turn right on Colfax Lane. Drive 5.5 miles to the end of Colfax. Turn right and drive 1 mile on a dirt road to a junction. Continue straight up the 120 Road for 0.3 mile to the Lower 2WD Trailhead at 8,800'. To reach the Upper 4WD Trailhead, continue 2.7 miles to parking/camp spots before the first river crossing, near 9,950'. In 2009, the South Colony Lakes road was permanently closed here (gate) and this is the current trailhead. The trail starts next to the trailhead kiosk, in the parking area.


WARNING: This route involves difficult, exposed Class 4 climbing and a fall on the final pitch would almost certainly be fatal. Unless you've climbed a bunch of Class 3 and 4 routes and are comfortable with exposed Class 4 terrain, climbing the Crestones separately, by their standard routes, is probably a better idea. Once you're on the crux wall below the Needle's summit, it takes a bit of work to keep the difficulty below Class 5 and then there's the exposure. If you get the heebie-jeebies from exposure, this wall might make you cry or crap your pants.

This route is described from Peak-to-Needle because most people climb it in that direction and do so without the use of rope. It can be climbed in reverse but requires a rappel down the crux wall in addition to some other steep downclimbs near the Black Gendarme.

Taken from west of Cottonwood Lake, 1 is an overview of the traverse. First, follow the Crestone Peak South Face / Red Gully Route to the summit of Crestone Peak. Descend the same route until you reach approximately 13,700' in the red gully. On your left (east side of the gully), look for cairn(s) near 13,650', on the angled rocks outside of the gully - 2. Finding the proper entry to the traverse is important because it provides access to the easiest way across. Scramble east out of the red gully and onto slightly easier terrain as you begin to drop slightly as you begin the traverse - 3 and 4. Look for cairns and avoid the temptation to climb higher until it's necessary. After your initial drop and a couple of short ups and downs, you'll reach an obvious rock rib - 5. Since the start of the traverse, this is the first section where you'll regain a fair amount of elevation (about 100'). Look for cairns and ascend easy terrain to reach a break in the rib.

From the rib, you'll overlook a gully with red-colored rock. Not to be confused with the Red Gully used to climb Crestone Peak, this red gully is nearly half way across the traverse. Look across the red gully to see your next obstacle - another rock rib - 6. Drop about 150' into the red gully and cross it ( 7) to reach a shallow, rubble-filled chute/gully which climbs east up the next rock rib - 8. Take your time and look for cairns which lead to the base of this new gully - 9. It has some obvious, angled slabs on the right side. Climb the gully for about 150' and it becomes less-defined, with some large rocks in the center. Stay left and continue a bit higher as the gully becomes more-defined for the last 100' - 10. Continue on rubble to the top of the gully and a small break in the rock rib, near 13,700'. What will you see from here? Well, another rock rib, of course - 11. Traverse down slightly and hike over this next rib ( 12) where the view changes dramatically - 13. You're done zigzagging along the first 2/3 of the traverse and now have to deal with the difficulties below the Needle's summit.

Locate the prominent Black Gendarme which rises up from a low point in the ridge, to the east/northeast - 13. Without losing too much ground, traverse below the Black Gendarme - 14. As you cross this area, locate a steep, narrow gully on the right (east) side of the Black Gendarme - 15. The gully contains a "bulge" which requires the most difficult climbing moves (Class 5.2) on the entire route. Pass beneath the gendarme until you reach the steep base of another gendarme, turn left and ascend to the bulge - 16 and 17. Many people have difficulty making the initial moves on the bulge so they look for an alternative to the left but this puts you on more-exposed rock. Take your time, look for holds on top of the bulge and to the left and make your moves - 18. Above the bulge continue up the steep, narrow gully ( 19 and 20) to reach a wall. Angle slightly right and climb onto the wall to see that it's a small, exposed knife-edge. Turn right and scoot about 10 feet along the knife-edge before gaining easier ground - 21 and 22. Climb left onto a jumble of rocks ( 23) and scramble a bit higher where the view opens up and you can see much of the remaining route to the summit - 24. Look for cairns and locate the white rock in 24 because you want to traverse over to that area. Drop slightly, scramble across ( 25) to the area of the white rock and then up to your left to reach another small gully - 26. Climb about 100' in this gully and just before reaching the ridge crest, turn right onto a ledge - 27. Follow the ledge to a flat spot ( 28) and turn left to see the remaining route - 29.

Scramble up a bit higher and the final pitch (and crux of the route) is obvious - a steep, exposed, Class 4 wall - 30. Yes, this is it. The infamous traverse wall and it's no joke. The final, 100+ feet up this wall is very steep and a fall would likely be fatal. Hopefully you're prepared, the rock is dry and the wind isn't howling. If you made it this far, you probably have the necessary skill to climb this pitch but there's also that exposure. Most climbers swing left a bit and climb fairly close to the ridge crest because that area seems to have the best holds. Pick your line, take your time and climb - 31, 32, 33, 34, 35 and 36. Regardless of the line you take from the area in 30, you need to aim for the ridge crest up to the left - do not climb to the right side of the crux wall. If you looked at 36 and thought "Hey, that's some big exposure," well, you're right and it feels even bigger when you're up there. Near the top of the wall, you'll reach easier rock and probably a rappel station - 37. Scramble a short distance to reach the summit - 38. Descend via the standard route on Crestone Needle.


This route should only be attempted when it is dry and the winds aren't expected to be too strong. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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