Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Post Date:  12/05/2012
Date Climbed:   12/02/2012
Posted By:  Kevin Baker
Additional Members:   KMurph147, dsunwall, SarahT

 The Crestone Traverse: Dec Grid Slots!  

Crestone Needle (14197í)
Crestone Peak (14294í)
Via Needle Standard Route/Traverse to C. Peak
December 2, 2012
12 miles RT, 6000í gain
From S. Colony summer TH (9880')

Participants: Dominic & Sarah Meiser, Dwight Sunwall, Keegan Murphy, & Kevin Baker

Ah, the Crestones. It doesnít take much persuasion to head down to the Sangres to climb them. I was on the Needle at the gathering back in May, and returned for a trip up Crestone Peak in Sept to hit NE Crestone, one of the most spectacular sub-summits in CO above 14K. I tried luring some folks into leading me on a technical climb thatís been high on my list for some time, but I got no takers. Sarah and Dwight decide on the Needle with a possible traverse to the Peak as a backpack at the last minute on Friday. I waver and decide to not mess with last minute, late night packing. I need to find a sucker to dayhike it with me. Keegan is always up for a beatdown! We head out Sat afternoon in hopes of sleeping at the summer trailhead in Dec.

We drive up the familiar S. Colony road, which is not near as rough as it used to be. Weíre discouraged to find snow over the road before we even get into the trees. The snow is sporadic on the road until we come to a steep hill that turned back Dominic, Sarah, and Dwight earlier in the day. Time to put the 4Runner in 4 low and see if we can get up this bad boy! Apparently we have better conditions and make it up by keeping momentum. Thereís another steep hill that we get up, but Iím worried how it will be going down that! We arrive at the 9880í new trailhead and are amazed to see an Outback there!

The plan is to meet the rest of the gang on the east side of the lower S. Colony Lake at 6:30am. I discover I donít have my headlamp! Luckily, we have a full moon tonight, so I donít even need the light of Keeganís headlamp. We catch a few zís and head out at 3:40am. The road is well tracked with probably no more than a foot or so of snow in the trees and we make decent time to the lake. We pace ourselves enough to not get there too early so we donít freeze our butts. Itís actually probably no colder than the mid-20ís, although the wind really picks up as we hit treeline.

The Needle looms

We have no problem finding the tents as I got a text from Sarah letting us know where to look. I refuel with a piece of pizza and an energy drink in anticipation of a huge day. I know that at some point, Iím gonna hit the wall! We set off at 6:30 a bit ahead of schedule and catch the trail to Broken Hand Pass. We are treated to another spectacular light show on the Needle.

The moon over Crestone Needle

Glorious sunrise

Alpenglow on the Needle

Normally this a route that is avy prone in winter conditions, but thereís not enough snow yet to be concerned. The normal route when avy concerns are present is Cottonwood Creek.

Heading to Broken Hand Pass

There is some trail breaking to be had, but not as tough as it could be. We stick to the right side of the rock bands and scramble on rock when we can. We make good time up to the pass and are greeted with a stiff wind, although the south face as expected is holding little snow. Other than the cold temps and wind, the rest of the climb up the Needle wonít be much more difficult than summer.

Keegan on the crux to BHP

The dry south face

The climb up the twin gullies is familiar and goes fairly quick as weíre all moving well. The crossover ramp does hold some snow getting out of the east gully, but the critical moves are dry. There is some snow in the center of the gullies, but it is easily avoided.

The east gully

Sarah at the crossover

Keegan at the crossover

We top out on the summit ridge and are hit by the wind again, although probably no more than 30 mph gusts. Hopefully the wind wonít be an issue on the traverse. We top out at 10am and the wind is sustained enough that we canít take a break. Keegan decides to head down, while the rest of us go for the traverse as it looks fairly dry since the majority of it is on west facing aspects. I know the bonk monster is lurking for me because I have a cold, havenít been above treeline in a month, and I was in MO last weekend. Weíll see what happens!

Crestone Peak!

Weíve all done the traverse before, but not in recent years. Dominic heads down the exposed n.w. ridge to some webbing about 100 feet down the ridge. Itís intimidating going down to this spot with the wind blowing across this catwalk in the sky! Weíre in the shade here, so we setup the rappel quickly with twin ropes tied together. Dwight goes first and instead of tossing the rope, we give him slack as he descends so the rope doesnít go flying down the wrong face! The rappel is exhilarating knowing that just off to the left is a huge drop. The banshees are still finding us as weíre still on the ridge crest, and we quickly pack up the ropes for the traverse.

Dominic rappels down the nw ridge

The first time I did the traverse in 2005, we did it from Peak to Needle. I remember the routefinding being trickier the closer we got to the Needle. I felt like the scrambling was a bit tougher this time as we were downclimbing more of the 4th class, but I felt the routefinding was easier going Needle to Peak.

Let the fun begin!

We dropped down a gully from the ridge crest and traversed across knobby slabs that were dry. The route seemed pretty intuitive. If youíre on anything harder than 4th class, youíre off route. The two cruxes of the traverse if rapping from the summit is the little knife edge and and awkward chockstone. I think the knife edge can somehow be avoided, because I donít remember doing it the first time! Dwight and Dominic made it across quickly, and I didnít like the looks of it because it was downsloping with a huge drop on the right. Sarah and I ended up straddling the ridge as the holds were minimal!

Dominic on the knife edge

Kevin on the knife edge. Pic by Sarah Meiser

The chockstone crux soon came and there was a little cordelet with loops in place that made it a whole lot easier.

The chockstone downclimb. Pic by Sarah Meiser

The rest of the traverse is mostly 2nd class with some scrambling sections and is a bit of a letdown after the exciting start. The wind wasnít near as much of a factor the rest of the way since we were well below the ridge crest.

Looking back at Crestone Needle on the traverse

As expected, I tank as we start the uphill part of the traverse. We havenít breaked much all day because of the wind, and Iím going to have to dig deep to get up the Peak. We take a bit higher of a line than I remember the first time and are on some snow when all of the sudden I posthole all the way to my crotch! Letís just say it was a bit painful in a certain area! I hate it when that happens. We end up dropping about 100 feet to get closer to the standard line into the Red Gully. I downclimb to the cairned route, while the rest of the gang traverses some 4th class slabs into the gully.

General location of the start of the traverse from the Red Gully

I have to cross a few snowfields to get into the gully. Dominic and Sarah are moving well up the gully, while Dwight and I implore the old rest step. This gully seems a lot looser when youíre beat!

We finally make the summit ridge and Dominic and Sarah are heading down. I give them my keys so Keegan can get his stuff out of my truck in case he wants to ride with them. The exposed summit ridge has just a few snow patches to deal with, and we stagger onto the summit at 1:20. We stay long enough to down some food, but Iím starting to lose my appetite. Itís gonna be a LONG way down!

Crestone Needle from Crestone Peak

The descent down the Red Gully seems to take forever, although weíre able to plunge step down snow as we get lower. Itís not even close to continuous snow in the gully. Iím relieved to finally be out of the gully and we break for the slog back up Broken Hand Pass. I have 1/2 liter of water less than what I thought I brought, so I go without water all the way to S. Colony Creek! This may shall we say turn into a legitimate death march! I feel like grandma slogging up to Broken Hand and sunset hits as I near the saddle. Iím too tired to get the camera out as the wind has really picked up now.

Sunset over Cottonwood Lake

Late sun on Crestone Needle

With darkness looming and no headlamp, the scrambling below Broken Hand Pass is a bit more intimidating! Luckily, Dwight is the hero and has left me his spare. Darkness sets in once on the trail below the snowfields and thereís a lot of tripping in the trap door snow. Thereís a lot of cotton picken and Nazarene f bombs (fricken) going off in the wind! The banshees toy with me, but I press on. Dwight is ahead of me and breaks camp. I told him higher up that I was just going to hit the closer trail and meet him at the truck. Itís a bit longer, but would deposit me on a wide road quicker. Surely I would cruise on that? I find the trail OK, but itís not broken near as well as the Humboldt trail. I quickly lose it and try to relocate it to no avail. Why do death marchs seem to never end? The fat lady hasnít sung yet!

The logical plan is to just bushwack down to the creek and follow the creek out to the old 4WD trailhead. Easier said than done! The snow is 1-1í5 feet deep with lots of deadfall to weave over and around. I see a few beady eyes with my headlamp here and there and hope they are friendly eyes. I make a waypoint for the old trailhead and itís only ĺ mile. I get to the creek and donít worry about treating the water. I need water now! Iím rejuvenated and pick up the pace, but the postholing is more frequent around the creek. I near the road and thereís Dwight! I probably lost 30 minutes or more bashing around instead of just taking the tracked Humboldt trail. The last 3 miles down the road seem to take forever as the wind is now ripping. Iím worried a tree is going to come crashing down! We are down at 8:40 and Keegan is relieved to see us. I don't think I would have tried this as a dayhike if I knew it was going to take 17 hours!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

12/06/2012 05:53
That's about as cool as it gets, folks. Amazing


12/06/2012 13:48
What Dan said. Awesome job to everyone involved.


12/06/2012 15:05
What they said... Take me with you next time Kevin. Pictures 2 and 3 are why I live here. Great report.


12/06/2012 15:35
Awesome climb and thanks for sharing the sweet, sweet photo candy.


Long day
12/06/2012 16:05
Kevin, you sure do have a penchant for death marches. Anything under 15 hrs just ain't worth it, right? Curious how much postholing and/or bushwhacking it would take for the Nazarene f-bombs to turn into the real thing...

Looks like a sweet day out though. And great photos! Hope to see ya out there this winter.


Amazing ...
12/06/2012 16:09
How little snow there is (and very sad). I can relate to the intimidation of descending down to that rappel station in gusty conditions (been there, done that). You had a great group there. Congrats on repeating the traverse (that's one I would do again). Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


No Manager's Special Chicken???
12/06/2012 17:22
Congrats to all on a stout day in the hills. Well done. Photo #3 is pretty incredible, Kevin. Awesome TR.


12/06/2012 21:14
Very enjoyable read and photos. I feel your pain about running out of water and taking so-called ”short cuts”. Thanks!


12/06/2012 22:59
Great TR and photos. Congrats on one hell of a December climb!

Bean 2

12/06/2012 23:10
Me gusta este aventura

dsunwall es la mierda.

Viva Los Terneros de Frijole 2!!!


12/07/2012 00:27
Even though the snow has been minimal this year, it seems like this was still a very tough day. Congrats to all of you for a job well done. And nice music video!

Kevin, sorry I didn't get over to visit wit cha at the Golden Gathering.


12/07/2012 03:36
You know it's gotta be good when it starts with that simple word that means so much.

And this was good. Enjoyed the video, pics, and story telling. Solid effort by the team. Glad to see you found and enjoyed success. It's funny that no matter how hard the mountain, a dark walk out always turns up the volume just a little bit more.

I climbed the Needle and Peak separately this past summer. Fantastic peaks both, the Needle especially, as it became the most fun mountain I've climbed so far. Can't wait to get back there someday.


12/07/2012 04:52


Lovely report...approximate downclimb spot?
12/07/2012 05:31
Great report - loved the video and the photos. Did you downclimb pretty much right after the knife edge? That's how I remember the traverse from Pk to Needle. Earlier, I attempted your route, unroped, and with poor visibility (clouds) after the knife edge. I kept to the ridge crest until halted by a gnarly and massive tower (perhaps the black gendarme). I am not sure if there was another descent route further along the ridge crest. Anyhow, thanks!

Kevin Baker

12/07/2012 12:51
Thanks for the comments, folks. It sure was a great day on the Crestones. I just wish I would have eaten better!

Papi, no BV manager's special chicken this time, but leftover pizza and cookies from the 14erworld party fit the bill nicely.

Marmot, we dropped down an obvious gully after the knife edge, which quickly brings you to the chockstone downclimb. I don't think there's anything harder than 3rd class after the chockstone heading to the Peak. Give it another shot!

I Man

Very cool!
12/07/2012 15:29
Nicely done Kevin & Team. Great beta!
It was good to chat with you again on Friday, Kevin. I am sure I will see you again soon

Congrats again!

Ramsey Boys

Hard work in beautiful Colorado!
12/09/2012 04:15
That was quite the monster hike. The pictures were amazing. Love the one of the back side of Kit Carson. Glad you all made it safely.

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