| A Long Day on the Peak and Needle
The plan was to park at the 2 WD TH, hike in to South Colony Lakes, get up Saturday morning and go for Crestone Peak, do the traverse to Crestone Needle and back to the campsite with a tale to tell.
I must have gotten mesmerized by the long road hiking in as we missed the pack trail at the former 4 WD TH which would have provided a short-cut to the lakes. As this dawned on me I started cursing myself until we passed a good Samaritan who recommended an excellent campsite that we wouldn’t have found if we went the other way.
Friday night was spent getting set-up and ready for the following morning’s outing – it was going to be a big one!
The view from our campsite – it doesn’t get any better than this.
Below getting started early-ish on Saturday morning (6 am) – a cairn mimics the Needle!
Heading into the valley on the way up to Broken Hand Pass we encountered our first marmot. There’s always a marmot.
Making our way up to Broken Hand Pass I stopped to snap the below photo of Tom and to get and a view of the steep loose trail. You can just make out the trail we came in on heading off at the top right.
We were hit by some strong winds as we made it to Broken Hand Pass. Our first look down to Cottonwood Lake and the continuing trail to Crestone Peak.
Some interesting morning shadows as Tom heads down to Cottonwood Lake.
The intrepid pair at the lake.
It seemed late in the season to be still seeing the columbines. The below was a small foreshadowing of the composite rock we were to see a lot of in the Crestones.
The rock was to get even weirder as we went on – in a strange way we were reminded of the rock on Long’s Peak. Hard to believe but below is a shot looking up the route.
Further up on this bizarre rock I caught the following photo of Tom – strange, strange stuff indeed…
Summit #1 for the day – Crestone Peak!
I suppose altitude really does do funny things to your brain. Crestone Peak was my 35th, not my 53rd, 14er! Oops…
And yet, no rest for the weary. A “Babe Ruth” type of look at our next goal – Crestone Needle.
So, the original plan was to do the traverse from the Peak to the Needle – but our primary goal was to do both peaks – the traverse we recognized as a secondary goal.
Having accidentally left some of our maps and route information on the traverse in the car and considering if we got a ways in on the traverse and had to turn around we would have ended up doing nothing but wearing ourselves out further and burning valuable time, we decided to go back the way we came to Broken Hand pass and then head up the standard route on the Needle.
A look back up from whence we came.
On our way back down to Cottonwood Lake we encountered some locals.
The route back to Broken Hand pass was uneventful – as well was the route to the base of the east and west gullies leading up to the Needle. Once in the gullies is where things started to get interesting.
The standard route description talks about entering the east gulley then traversing over to the west gulley. We had maps, we had descriptions and we had photos... On the way up we looked and looked but we didn’t find a clear cross-over from one gulley to the other. So, ultimately we stayed with the east gulley all the way to the ridge, turned left and headed for the summit.
Crazy rock encountered in the gullies.
On the way up, both the time of day and the sky getting darker was becoming more and more of a concern. We checked ourselves to make sure we weren’t letting summit fever cloud our judgment about continuing on. Making an educated guess that the weather would hold we continued on to the summit.
Made it – summit #2 for the day – on top of Crestone Needle!
The smile belies my nervousness of getting up to, and now having to get down from, the Needle.
We summitted far later than I am usually comfortable with – roughly 4 pm – had a quick snack, snapped a few photos and were off to head back to the relative safety of lower elevations and our prime campsite.
A look down at the chaos of the gullies!
We had read about a 70 foot drop-off at the bottom of the west gulley that climbers typically belay from. We knew we were in trouble when we reached the bottom of a gulley and found climber’s webbing and secured ropes. Back-tracking we finally did find a way to cross between the two gullies, but in our case it was sheer dumb-luck.
Getting back down into the valley below Broken Hand pass we encountered an ominous sign.
Still… having made it back to camp safely after summitting both Crestone Peak and Needle (12+ hours round trip) and with a night of good sleep and a few solid meals in our bellies we found we were able to get back a light-hearted mood before leaving this beautiful area.
Stuffy says so long…
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):