Trailhead: Cottonwood Creek
Elevation Gain: 6,284'
When Kevin invited me on this climb, I knew it was going to be a long tough day, with a possible turn-around if conditions were bad. But as FotH says: "Alpinism is the art of suffering". "Mountaineering is more than climbing, panoramic views, and wilderness experience. It is also challenge, risk, and hardship. And it is not for everyone. ... not everyone is willing to pay the price in hardship for its rich physical and spiritual rewards." How little did I know at the start, how well those words would ring true on this day!
With quite a bit of partner shuffling and rearranging, we finally came up with a strong team to climb the Peak. Ryan and his friend (also named Ryan) would join for the approach, but then branch off for the Needle. So Friday night, we head south to the booming town of Crestone to catch a few hours of sleep before the 2:30am wake-up call.
The dirt road to the trailhead is still open for vehicles with Subaru like clearance and traction. Some snow and ice, but not too bad. Just drive to the end of the road, and you're there. We geared up with lots of hardware dangling from our packs, making them much heavier than we'd like, but we ended up needing much of what we brought, except the rope and harness. But better safe than sorry! Most of us started out in microspikes, but after awhile, the trail became much snowier than expected, so the snowshoes went on instead. Apparently the Snotel station lied, and more new snow was on the ground than expected.
Thankfully Kevin had done this route 2 weeks previous, and knew where the turn off to go to Cottonwood Lake was, and we scrambled up and around on the class 4 slabs. Some class 5 bouldering abounds in this region, some can be avoided, others can not. Made for an interesting time on snowshoes. Quite a few squeals of "enjoyment" were had by all.
Kevin leading the way through the start of the slabs
Once above the tricky boulders and slab section, the steep uphill relented, and the trees parted for the view of a lifetime. I have never seen peaks up close that were so completely flocked by hoar frost! It made the trees and peaks so amazingly beautiful, we had to take a break just to soak it all in!
A pretty 12er
Snowshoeing up the basin, with the Needle starting to peek out
Pano of some 12ers
Crestone Needle flocked gloriously! Geology quiz time: What mineral does this look like? Answer later...
Crestone Peak looking rather white, uh oh!
One of the most glorious views I have ever had in my life
Ryan taking in the scenery
After the break, we make our way up and around and through to the upper basin below the Red Gully. The Ryan's also decided to join our group, instead of having to slog further up the drainage to Broken Hand Pass and more. The Needle will wait for them. The Peak looks like it has a lot more snow than when Kevin and Greg were up there last. I was a bit nervous to see what the avy snow conditions would be like. We had not seen any evidence for instability in the snowpack, nor could I spot any natural avy paths on any aspect. So I was hopeful for a green light up the gully.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, we were at the base of the gully and transitioning out of snowshoes and into crampons and putting on and testing avy beacons. Excess gear was jettisoned as we reveled in the heat of the day. A rare winter day that I wish I had a summer baselayer on!
Heather coming up the slope
Crestone Peak and the Red Gully
Prakash, Heather and Kevin admiring the Peak
Pano of the upper basin below Crestone Peak
As we neared the gully, I dug and tested and jumped on as much snow as I could, trying to get it to fail. But it wouldn't. The new storm snow, bonded pretty well to the old snow below. Of course there were pockets of windblown that did break apart the top inch or so, but these pockets didn't connect. We were fairly confident that the snow pack was giving us the green light to ascend. Though, we were not going to take any chances either, and decided to stick to the edge of the gully, and to travel one at a time through any questionable section, using safe travel techniques the entire way up.
Finding the jog in the trail to get into the Red Gully
Looking down the start of the Gully at Heather and Ryan 2
View up the Gully near the start
The first scramble section
Ryan 2 making his way up the rock
Above the lower, more rocky scrambling section, we were presented with the snowy white wonderland of the Peak above us and all the flocked rocks surrounding us. While Ryan didn't find the snow all that supportive, me and my Ghost Elf self, found it mostly good snow - considering it was winter. Now it was a stair-step work out to the top, with the guys switching off breaking trail. I couldn't quite catch up, until the very end. Not that my tiny feet would do much!
Heather topping out of a steep section
Hugging the left side of the gully
Ryan 2 making his way up the 'one at a time' slope - Photo credit: Ryan
Heather making her way up the "one at a time" snow slope
Above the one at a time slope
Me with a grin! - Photo Credit: Kevin
Kevin leading the way to the steepest snow slope section of the day, me hot on his heels
Sophie the wonder dog. Steve Gladbach's Cooper has competition!
The steep section of the gully, where we had to commit to the rock rib in the center
Almost to the saddle and the top of the gully!
The last snow slope to the top
Once at the saddle with the ridge, we were presented with the biggest challenge and risk of the day. Could we safely traverse the snowy ledges to the summit? We had carried a rope up here, for exactly this point. But it looked like we wouldn't need it, just carefully placed steps and slow steady movements. We helped each other by finding hand and foot holds as necessary, and soon enough we were on the summit!
Ryan 2 navigating the tricky ridge
Kevin leading the way up the ridge
The snowy ridge over to East Crestone
Me topping out! - Photo Credit: Kevin
Once again in winter, we couldn't stay long on the summit. We wanted to make it down the gully before sunset and dark. The summit was chilly with the wind, and so fingers were also getting cold quick, so only a few summit photos before we were making slow steady progress down through the very tricky ridge section. Then it was monotonous plunge stepping the long, long Red Gully to the base.
View to the south
Kit Carson and Challenger
View down Gully from ridge traverse
Heather finding a more elegant solution to a tricky section
Once at the safety of the basin below, we eat, drink and transition back into snowshoes for the long, exhausting, but hilarious trek out. We didn't want to deal with the class 5 boulders of the route in, so Kevin found a better way out. Though it did involve some fun power glissading and tree rodeo! I'm glad we could make each other laugh on the long de-proach! Though, the last couple miles of regular trail did get old, and the GPS seemed to be getting slower and slower in approaching the trail head, or was that us?
The night previous, Kevin and I met an older gentleman that was amazed we were hiking Crestone Peak the next day, and was reminding us how blessed we were to be able to consciously enjoy the beauty. Once above the trees, and seeing the spender, I couldn't get this song out of my head.
From a fellow SUNY Fredonia Alum - Natalie Merchant & 10,000 Maniacs
"These are the days
These are days you’ll remember
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it,
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you"
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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