| Crestone Needle - Finishing up Unfinished Business
I've been wanting to climb Crestone Needle all year. We turned around in May after climbing the Peak due to a combination of timing and icy conditions up high when we were planning on the Traverse; Par for the course in shoulder season climbing I suppose.
Feeling strong, I wanted to do it as a single day climb from the upper lot. As the forecast was reasonable (30% precipitation), Kyle and I opted to be a bit more conservative and start at about 2:45AM and take it slow hiking up. After getting the Wilson Group peaks done earlier in the week, I was feeling better acclimatized now being above 7,000 feet almost five days from New York so felt more acclimatized each day.
Hiking up from South Colony, we were met by a pair of eyes in the night...then another pair, then another. I was thinking Mother bear and two cubs. Here we are at three AM in the middle of the woods...trailing a savory scent of Clif bars and Gu gel that every bear in the county could probably pick up... we stood motionless waiting for one of them to move, hopefully in the other direction.... until... we realized it was not a bear...but Bambi and two friends. We move on.
A porcupine waddled across the trail further up, looking satiated. Perhaps he had his fill of radiator hoses at the trailhead and needed to sleep it off.
We made good time to the place I camped in May. By now, false dawn is approaching to the east. The silhouette of the Needle frames the basin to the west (in the pic below, behind me to the right).
We soon were climbing Broken Hand Pass in the loose, somewhat miserable rubble and talus from the disintegrating peaks above. Climbing this in the snow was more fun. Lower down there were actually some trail fragments which came as a pleasant surprise. They wouldn't last very long though.
High above Broken Hand Pass, we spotted a small herd of Bighorn Sheep on impossibly steep terrain along the east face of the Needle in some small patches of greenery up there. I was thinking, La Sportiva should replicate their sole material from bighorn hooves.
Kyle with Humboldt in the background
Climbing up some mild Class 3 Rock, we topped out on the Pass. I was thankful we didn't have to descend the back of BHP to the other side this time to go after the Peak. If so, I'd probably have to join the marmots in taking a nap by Cottonwood Lake this time.
The day before in town, I heard from a couple of folks in Westcliffe that with the recent rains, some of the gulleys experienced bad washouts near or on the route(s). Having no clear idea of what the terrain up in the gulleys was like and not knowing if we were going to have to climb something harder off route to get up, we thought that bringing rope and harnesses would give us more options. As it turns out, we didn't need the rope at all.
After taking a breather and a quite bite on the grassy knoll, we kept a good pace towards the entrance of the first (east gulley) heading up to the Needle.
A look at the South face of the Needle. The route essentially goes right up that face, crossing over if you so desire between gulleys.
A closer look. It doesn't look it from here, but it is over a thousand vertical feet to climb.
Great views start to unfold looking into the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Range with the San Luis Valley off in the distance. Now I remember why I climb that talus...
As soon as we leave that nice short stretch of grassy terrain near and to the west of the top of Broken Hand Pass, the landscape transforms into the quintessential Crestone conglomerate that defines these peaks. In a word, rugged.
The rock is steep and unforgiving. Luckily, the quality of the rock here is better than the Wilsons where I had just come from, so it was a pleasure to climb on.
The magnitude of rock here to climb is huge. Immediately you're faced with huge towering walls all around you. It's an awesome site. The trail is gone, it's all climbing from this point on.
Views do not disappoint. I stop periodically to just take it all in.
The "route" steepens straight away and up we go. There is definitely some decent exposure along this climb. Some places I pause going up as there are a few no fall spots you need to take care on. I was secretly wishing I had bighorn hooves as feet.
The waning gibbous moon nestled between to rock towers. The route we took is up is the diagonal natural groove to the right.
Kyle saying "That's a long way down there!"
...making his way across the terrain. Funny how a human is just dwarfed here relative to the rock and mountains surrounding the area.
Showing the steepness. The rock here though was solid.
Climbing, climbing, climbing
A shot showing the gulley and runout below. This part reminds me of Crestone Peak next door.
Climbing higher, wondering where the turnout is for the final moves to the top.
Getting there, just a little higher!
After several hundred feet of continuous climbing, the summit abruptly appears!
A grand view of the Sangre de Cristo Range awaits. The Blanca massif and the Great Sand Dunes are off to the south east (top right in the photo). I can imagine Lake Como Road way down there, beckoning me to walk up again...owing to the fond memories I have of doing so...uh, yea.
Just to the North, Humboldt Peak rears up showing off the lines of her west ridge in the morning light. My Brother-inlaw Kevin and I stood on her summit exactly one year ago this week. I wonder if the bighorns we saw this morning are the same herd we saw on the slopes of Humboldt back then.
Crestone Peak rises up to the west flanked to the northwest by my old nemesis Kit Carson, with Challenger next door.
Kyle, with the Blanca Group in the distance.
Me with the Needle's close sibling, Crestone Peak behind
We didn't stay too long on the summit, though the skies were perfect. Patience pays off in waiting for a great forecast and for once I didn't have to run off a peak. I savored my summit Snickers.
The climb back down was a bit slow, as there are several spots you need to take care on the downclimb as well as paying attention to where you're going.
Broken Hand Pass was a welcome sight, though the descent down into the basin was NOT very welcome and I was eagerly looking forward to being near the lake again and stable ground.
Nice shot of Humboldt Peak again, framed with a huge Cairn near the base of the route.
Closeup of the Crestone Needle from the East.
Parting shot of South Colony Lakes basin backdropped by the Needle making for a postcard finish.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):