| Mr. Bluebird or Waterboy take your pick
Distance: 12 miles, 6,500 ft. from Cottonwood Cr. TH
Time: 12 hours rt from camp at 11,200
Resource: Kevin's trip in December
Kevin got in touch with me about doing the Crestone traverse. I was hoping to go. With such a low snow year, good weather, and Kevin doing the route in December, it almost sounded easy. The Sawatch could wait. I could Nolan them later. What about the approach up Cottonwood Canyon? I was not totally sure I could go on the trip since my wife and I had made plans for the MLK weekend. I was going to have do some heavy trading to get away. After plans for Huron fell through again, I decided to go put in a trench up Cottonwood Cr. If I could not use it, I'm sure someone would. It seemed silly at the time to drive 3 hours, break trail for 3 hours, then drive back home, but at least we would know what the conditions were like, and how much trenching remained. I was able to get to 10,700'.
This way to the promised land
I got the official OK from my wife Saturday morning, after begging, groveling, cajoling, and flattering. We met at the TH at 9am on Sunday, started hiking around 9:40. At 10:00am Kevin stopped to check if he had his headlamp. He had done Mt. Elbert the previous day with a different pack, and wanted to be sure. Turns out it was missing. We decided he would go back to the car and get it, while I putted up the trail to stay warm until I got in some sun where I would wait for him. After what seemed like an hour, Kevin finally returned with some "good news, and bad news." Good news was he had his headlamp. Bad news was we did not have a pot to melt snow in, but he did have a tin can that once held peanuts. I happened to bring a 0.75L stainless steel water bottle that we could melt snow in if we needed also. We thought about going back for my pot, but decided it would take too long. We really needed to break trail to above treeline to get a shot at both peaks during daylight. We decided to press on, knowing we may be screwing ourselves. Maybe we would run into a creek that we could get running water at? We decided to set up camp at 11,200 and try the snow melting there while one of us broke trail up the slabs instead of trying for a high camp at 12,000'. I stomped out a platform, and put up the tent while Kevin got his stove going. It was being way too temperamental. Finally it started working, but at about half throttle. Time to try the tin can. I neglected to take in that the peanut tin had cardboard sides! The tin blew out in about 15 seconds. I gave the SS bottle a try, but it was slow. Kevin went to go break trail while I melted snow. Kevin did a great job getting up the slabs to a clearing at 12,000' and got the first views of the Needle and Peak. I nursed the SS bottle for 3 hours to melt 3.5 L of water. The bottle's diameter at the base is only 2.5 inches and would not stand-up straight on the pot supports of his Wisperlite. It was precariously balanced. Adding snow by hand caused it to tip, and water would run down the sides flaring up the stove. I ended up spooning in snow to keep it steady and the flames going. This was taking way too much time and patience. I'm glad no one came by and saw what I was up to... I think they would have found out what mountain we were going to climb, and then hightailed it to a different one. I would have sold my winter soul to them for a real pot. Maybe I could get Kevin to sleep with a few bottles of snow to melt them during the night? No way. Kevin returned with the news he heard running water in the creek higher up. Boiling water for dinner was out of the question. We were really pissed to not eat our freeze dried dinners and eat the Pizza that Kevin carried up instead. I hoped the rest of the trip would be trouble free.
Waterhole - our salvation
We set the alarm for 4:45 and were hiking by 5:30. I downed .75 L of water and carried 1 liter. Kevin downed .5 liter, and refilled at the water hole to have a full liter for the climb. He wanted to bring more, but a .75" white cap to his other water bottle could not be found among the snow.
We arrived at Kevin's high point to watch a beautiful sunrise. We stashed our snowshoes just before Cottonwood lake so we would not have to carry them on the traverse. I hoped we did not have to posthole too much on the descent from the Peak.
Sunrise on Crestone Peak (photo by Kevin)
We worked our way above Cottonwood lake on snow that would mostly support us.
We ascended the first gully we saw that went to the ridge. We were on some snow, but mostly rock. The first views of the South face were very encouraging.
View of the south gully and approach (photo by Kevin)
We followed the summer trail to the bottom of the south gully, started up, climbing on the rock. We decided we would go to where the crossover was and decide on a route from there.
Crestone Needle South slopes
Greg working his way up the south gully (photo by Kevin)
Kevin on the lower slopes of the south gully
Kevin approaching the crossover
Crossover loaded with snow
We arrived a the crossover to find it filled in with snow. It took us about 3 seconds to decide not to go there. We could either put on the crampons and ascend the east gully snow, or go up the 4th class rock to the right of it. Rock won out. The climbing was great scrambling on solid Sangre conglomerate. It was a lot of fun. The low snow pack made for easy and safe routefinding.
Where the east gully gets steeper
Kevin topping out on the steeper part of the east gully
Before long we arrived at the last slopes before the summit.
Upper slopes to summit
Kevin on summit ridge
We arrived at the summit at 10:50. What a treat to be here in winter. The weather was good. Temps in the low 20s with 10-15 mph winds. Oh ya, and bluebird skies.
Summit of Crestone Needle
View south to Little Bear, Blanca, Ellingwood, Lindsey
Now to decide about the traverse. With the snow conditions we were encountering, and Kevins previous experience on the route,he thought it would be faster to do the traverse and descend the Red Gully, rather than retrace our ascent route. Just the answer we wanted.
The Crestone traverse from the summit of the Needle (photo by Kevin)
We made our way down to the rappel station on the northeast ridge. There is a convenient 2 foot diameter conglomerate with a new 1" tubular sling from December. We brought a 3.9# 50M 7mm rope to rappel knowing we would have to downclimb the last 10 feet. It worked out great. The downclimb was on excellent knobs with not much exposure.
The traverse as seen from the bottom of the rappel
We started the traverse to find excellent conditions. Clean rock to scramble on to connect gullies of well consolidated snow. This was my first time on the traverse. Kevin was an awesome guide. There are a couple of short steep sections to cross, and one larger slab with about 75 feet of solid conglomerate knobs to cross, but with decent exposure. Kevin was coming across when all of a sudden his water bottle comes out of its parka attached to his hip belt. It started tumbling like a rag doll with no arms or legs. The top exploded off after two somersaults in spectacular fashion, spewing its contents everywhere, then disappearing out of sight. The look on Kevin's face watching his bottle take an untimely descent was priceless. I even heard a three letter word muttered. No more water for Kevin. It was then that I dubbed Kevin as waterboy.
Don't fall now, or lose a water bottle (photo by Kevin)
Greg watching Kevin about to start the catwalk (photo by Kevin)
Soon we were down to the saddle, and out of the hard part of the traverse. All that was left was some class 2-3 traversing on snow and rock to get to the Red Gully. Kevin was bummed about losing his water bottle, and was starting to feel the effects of the day's work so far. He wanted me to go ahead and keep moving so I had a chance at the Peak. We would rondezvous at the Red Gully. If we had sight of each other in the gully, he would go ahead and start breaking trail down the gully.
The route to the gully was a mix of snow that was consolidated and knee deep, or hardpacked where one wished one had crampons on. I tried to follow the rock that was at least consistent. It was relatively easy going until the last part before the Red Gully. Where were the easy slabs to get into the gully? They did not seem to exist. I did not spend too much time looking for them, and just did a 30' traverse on some easy 5th class rock to get into the gully.
The meat of the Crestone traverse
I left some gear where I entered the gully, and started up. The legs were getting heavy. I was hoping the snow would be more consistent, but it was not. I linked sections of rock by postholing, then having to chop steps in a few places. Soon I was on top of Crestone Peak at 2:05pm. I wish I could have lounged for a while, but I could not see Kevin or new tracks heading down the gully.
View up the Red Gully from where the traverse enters
Do I have to smile mom? Forcing a smile on the summit of Crstone Peak
I retraced my route down the snowy ledges of the summit ridge, then a more direct line into the gully proper with some good steps and ice axe self belays. I wanted to glisade so bad, but I could not take the chance of hitting one of the hard snow sections and gaining too much speed. About half way down I spied Kevin looking for an easy way into the gully on snow ramps. We met at the spot I stashed gear. I wondered what Kevin thought about the traverse vs. downclimbing the Needle now, but I did not ask waterboy.
Kit Carsons lower slopes and summit
We put on crampons so we could at least go straight down the Red Gully, but still no glisading.
Descending Red Gully
View of entire Red Gully
Soon we got back down on the flats with the snowshoes in sight. We still had to do some mid thigh postholing to dull the senses before we got there though.
Almost back to the snowshoe stash
We witnessed an inspiring sunset, then returned to the waterhole to fill up once again. We both drank a liter easy. We carried one liter for the trip out. All that was left was to descend to camp, pack up and hike out. The TH was a welcomed sight at 8:15 pm for almost a 15 hour day. I tried to drink some water that was in my truck, but it was frozen. Where is my waterboy!!!
Sunset on the peaks
Thanks to Kevin for being a great guide, partner, and friend. It made the trip a lot easier given our challenges. Please don't call me for a trip over Presidents weekend.....My wife will hurt me.
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