Crestone Neelde - Standard Route
Date: July 2, 2011
Trailhead: South Colony
Time: 3:00am to 4:00pm
Team: BobbyFinn (Bob), KatieFinn (Kate), and dmccool (Dan)
Distance: roughly 11 miles
Bob, Kate, and I talked at the Spring Gathering about attempting the Needle and this past weekend fit both of our schedules. We drove to South Colony trailhead Friday evening for our Saturday attempt. The 2:30am wakeup call came and we were on the trail by 3:10am. We made pretty good time on our way to the Lower Lake.
Bob and Kate with our goal in the background
Sunrise from the BHP approach
Trail to BHP
Goats headbutting each other
I was in South Colony basin a few weeks ago for Crestone Peak and the snow has melted out significantly since then. There is still a snowfield heading up Broken Hand Pass and about half of the pass is still a snow climb.
BHP approach is snow-free for about the last 150 vertical feet
Bob and Kate on the approach to the East Gully
At look back at Broken Hand Peak
We reached the base of the East Gully and began our ascent. There was no sign of snow, but there was some running water down the rocks in a few spots. It’s avoidable, though.
Kate ascending the East Gully
As I studied the route over the past, oh, 2 YEARS, I always had some apprehension about finding the correct exit point into the West Gully. If you know what to look for, it’s actually pretty clear. According to Bob, “just look for the point where you say to yourself ‘What the hell?’ – and there you are!”
The exit should occur right at the base of a dihedral – which looks like an open book. There is solid ice at this point and should be crossed with great care.
Dan at the crossover point
Bob just beyond the crossover point. Dan above to show exposure
The West Gully is pretty straightforward and pretty straight up. It’s fun class 3 climbing with great holds everywhere.
Bob and Kate head up the West Gully
Bob nearing the top of the West Gully
The West Gully tops out about 100 vertical feet from the summit.
Bob and Kate summit together - awesome moment, Finns!
Bob and Kate on summit
In the distance we could see (and noticeably smell/taste) the smoke from the recent forest fires. It’s such a tragedy, but provided some interesting photos.
Summit view - smoke everywhere
zoom in on smoke
On the descent, we kept a close watch out for the exit back into the East Gully. We found it with little difficulty, but the route down took a combination of opinions from all three of us.
Finns study the descent route
Dan on descent
We ran into a herd of goats (maybe the same as in the morning). They were right on the trail down by the Lower Lake. As I envisioned a 15 on 3 Goat vs. Human “gore-fest”, they of course scattered as we approached. Nonetheless, they posed for me anyway. Thanks, gentlemen.
Goats on the trail
On our way back down Broken Hand Pass, we ran into a multitude of climbers. I’ve seen people begin their ascent of Bierstadt and Grays (etc.) in the afternoon, in jean shorts, with no pack, with no water, with no extra layers…but to see this on a mountain like the Crestone Needle blew my mind. I probably talked to 4 or 5 people who had never attempted a 14er before – as they headed up BHP for the Needle. We even talked to a duo that planned to do the traverse with no helmets and they had to ask us what mountain they were on.
I don’t want to come across as a “know-it-all” or anything close to that, but some of these shenanigans in the mountains are getting out of hand. Please, for the love of all that is holy, study the route. Study the mountain. Watch the weather. Bring proper equipment. Have an idea what you’re getting in to.
Bob described it well to one weekend warrior who wanted to make the Needle his first mountain summit: “I’ve done 47 of these peaks now and that mountain just scared the hell out of me.” Well put, Bob.
This was a special day for me in the mountains. The Crestone Needle is an amazing mountain and gave me the greatest feeling of accomplishment I’ve had in my 3 short years of climbing. Thanks to Bob and Kate – you guys are top shelf partners. It was an honor.