Start Time: 6:30
End Time: 3:00
Total Time: 8.5 hours
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 7500'
NOTE: This is a 2-part trip report. The other part will be posted by Craig (rambis_21) most of the pictures taken are Craig's as well. The group was Craig, Phillip, and I, all with 20-25 14ers of experience and 20-25 years of age.
We left the King Soopers parking lot in Golden at 2:30 AM and headed for the South Colony Lakes trailhead. A road was closed near Westcliffe (between Wetmore and Florence), but while I was sleeping the guys were able to sort it out and find a detour -- notably without the use of any smartphone (yes it is still possible!).
We got our stuff ready and left the trailhead around 6:30, preparing for the slog up to the lake.
Starting out on the trail to South Colony Lakes
This was surprisingly less miserable than when I hiked up to do Crestone Peak earlier this summer because it was morning and was nice and cool. We were able to snag a pretty decent camp site and setup one tent quickly before we took the trail fork at the sign that reads "Crestone Needle Standard Route"
The climb up to Broken Hand Pass has two variants: near the top there is a huge spike that one can either go to the North or South of. The North option (right when ascending) has a Class IV slab, and the South option (left when ascending) has a bunch of loose scree. We took the North option on our ascent and the South option on our descent.
Broken Hand Pass (North Side of large spike)
Once we got the BHP, we looked West at the weather and noticed few clouds. Although the wind was a chilly sustained 15-20 MPH, we agreed it was bearable and continued on.
From BHP, most of the physically demanding portion is over, and there is less than 1000' of fun climbing to do. We continued hiking on the good trail up to where the first gully begins, enjoying the fantastic views of the San Luis valley to the West. There is a short section where the climber must descend 20' or so and can either be downclimbed or crabwalked.
Well crafted trail up to the Crestone Needle East gully
Beginning of East Gully
Once we got to the East gully we started having a blast climbing the very solid Class 3 rock. The wind was not relenting, but it added a bit of challenge to our journey and kept us cool.
We kept our eyes peeled for the traverse to the West Gully, and luckily Phillip had done the route before and knew right where to cross (right before the dihedral).
The crossover to the other gully
The crossover to the West Gully is the crux of the route because there are some off-camber ledges with some exposure that encourage clinging closely to the handholds -- which are plentiful.
Me on the crossover
Orange marker showing crossover - very helpful
Phillip climbing West Gully
Looking down on West Gully
Ascending the West Gully to the summit becomes dramatic as the peak "needles" out and the gullies join. As one continues to gain the final short ridge there is a rush of excitement coming to terms with the feeling of accomplishing one of Colorado's finest mountains. The rock near the top is majestic and breathtaking, and finally leads the climber in a counterclockwise semicircle up to the proper summit.
Me on final pitch
Craig on summit - great view of San Luis valley
On top of the summit we met some other climbers, took some photos, snapped photos of us with the which wich bag, and ate some food. Next we walked over to the traverse to look at the route. The traverse was certainly not our plan for the day, but maybe some day there will be a return with roped climbing experience and more experience with more difficult climbing and exposure. Some day...
Image #12 (not yet uploaded)
On the descent we met some people who flew out from Wisconsin to tackle the Needle. We confirmed that they had taken the less technical route contrary to advice given to them by another climber.
We descended both gullies, the cross-over feeling less foreboding this time around, and then headed down Broken Hand Pass.
Returning over the crossover
About half way down Broken Hand Pass we saw a way to skirt the lower lake and head directly to the upper lake to intersect the Humboldt Trail. This is a decent shortcut, but it is crucial to drop low enough to avoid the cliffs around the base of the Ellingwood Arete on the East side of the Needle.
Hiking up to the upper lake
When we got to the upper lake, we refilled water. After some GU gels and the acknowledgement that it would be more difficult to add Humboldt to the next day's trek then this day's, we started chugging up Humboldt. I had remembered the false summit on Humboldt, and that the true summit was not far off, this time reinforced this memory, so don't be discouraged that what is seen on the ridge is a false summit, from there it is only 5 minutes to the actual summit.
The true summit taken from the false summit
On the top we stretched, took more which wich photos, snapped a pano of the Crestones, then headed down.
As on my last Humboldt trip, I again missed the turnoff to the lower lake. One would think that among the plethora of signs telling hikers where not to go, there would be one sign showing where to go. Hint: the point where there is a major junction with a big rock is too far, there is still a way back to the lake by taking a right here and doing a bit of bush-whacking and crossing the river, but the true turnoff is a right turn that is rather hidden by the bushes about 100 yards before the big-rock turnoff.
After we got to the camp we devoured our dry foods and went promptly to sleep at 6 to rest up for the next day.
The following are a few of my panoramas: