| S. Colony traverse - Needle/BH/Milwaukee/13161
Crestone Needle - 14,197'
Broken Hand Peak - 13,573'
Milwaukee Peak - 13,522'
unnamed point 13,161' (north ridge of Marble Mountain)
Date Climbed - 7/25/2010
Climbers - doggler (and emcee smith, Kerry from LA, and Zollie from OK on the Needle)
RT milage - ?
RT gain - ?
RT time - 9 hours
What a weekend! This TR will focus mainly on the 'traverse' I did from Crestone Needle to Milwaukee Peak.
I did the Peak-to-Needle traverse (jackass-style) with crossfitter and hollamby on Saturday the 24th. (emcee smith joined us up the Peak but went back to camp) Crossfitter promises a TR on our fun time soon...if he ever quits climbing mountains!
lets just say it IS possible to ascend the Needle via its SW face. Not advisable.
By the way, that kid(crossfitter) is an animal. hollamby and I topped out on the Peak's eastern summit just as he reached its northeastern summit. We watched him take on the exposed descending traverse like it was nothing. Unfortunately, that wasn't the hardest climbing crossfitter would do on Saturday...
emcee smith and I had driven up to the TH together and had set up camp next to each other. He felt a little regret for not climbing the Needle upon re-ascending Broken Hand Pass from Cottonwood Creek like Cathryn403 had done. I really had no firm agenda for Sunday, so I decided to go up the Needle with him and maybe add on Broken Hand Peak on the way down. My TR starts from this point.
My day's work lying in front of me.
As emcee smith and I descended the gullys of Crestone Needle, I decided I still had some legs under me and decided to add on to an already enjoyable morning. Before emcee and I split off at Broken Hand Pass, I shared my plan with him: to try and stay as true to the ridges as possible from the pass until point 13,161', which directly overlooked our campsite by the old 4WD TH. He topped me off with water, wished me luck, and we parted ways.
looking ahead at Broken Hand Peak
Getting to the top of Broken Hand Peak was quick and painless. Furthermore, the view of the surrounding peaks was astounding. Throughout the day, the incredible vistas would be a common theme.
In case you've never seen the Broken Hand
Some difficult up-and-down scrambling followed, as I attempted to stay on the ridge between Broken Hand Peak and Milwaukee Peak. While there was virtually no rain, no lightning, no thunder, and little wind, the one weather difficulty that was present all weekend long was the variable clouds/fog that swept up through some of the valleys and covered whole ridgelines on a whim.
Looking ahead at the ridge
Large spires made traversing the ridge tricky. Escape to either the South Colony drainage or the upper Cottonwood Creek drainage were sketchy at best, meaning I had two directions in which I could choose from: forward or reverse.
These things were tricky
The intermittent fog
When not on top of the ridgeline, I found myself more on the left (South Colony side) more than the right. Most of the scrambling was up or down...very little ridge-walking. I put in a few tricky moves, but for the most part, the climbing was class 3-4. The challenge I had was trying to figure out if I would be able to keep the ridge the whole way.
My planned exit was the point on the left, just north of Marble Mountain
Once I hit the Broken Hand/Milwaukee saddle, it became clear that I wasn't going to maintain the ridge. To my left was a possible escape into South Colony. (right where the road turns into trail) To my right, though, was a better option. I vaguely remembered something from Coopers scramble guide about the Milwaukee Pass trail. Supposedly, if you do the Milwaukee-Asilado traverse, you either have to retrace your steps (and need to rap down Asilado, and hit some tough terrain 2x) or you can drop into upper Cottonwood Creek and take a trail back up the the pass. (a notch just a few hundred feet below the top of Milwaukee Peak) I decided to drop down into the drainage and see if I couldn't find either that trail or a better way to get back up to the ridge after the major difficulties.
The Cottonwood Creek drainage splits...this half lies at the base of Pico Asilado and Milwaukee Peak
Eventually, I DID find a faint trail! By this point, I was quite happy for it, as I had been scrambling for a few hours straight and appreciated the mental break.
View of the south colony 14ers from the Milwaukee Pass trail
Another example of the trail
It's always difficult to give up hard-fought elevation, but once I dropped back down into the basin, I actually made some forward progress! Eventually I approached the notch that signifies Milwaukee Pass.
The trail can be seen towards the top of the grass as it makes its way to the small notch, Milwaukee Pass
At this point, I still wasn't quite sure what I was signing up for. I recalled Cooper's book mentioning a ledge, but beyond that I knew I would be on my own.
I defer here to a TR done by Kevin Baker last week for pictures of said ledge. DEFINITELY worth checking out, as it's more exposed than any standard 14er move, and I was too busy getting over it to take any pictures. His description of that stretch is spot-on, too.
At the pass, contemplating my future
From the pass to the summit took a good half hour. I found this stretch to be some of the more difficult sustained climbing I have done, but was happy my routefinding led me up the last pitch without incident. The view, even with the fog and clouds, was indescribable. Upper Sand Creek Lake appeared pristine from where I sat. Makes me wonder why South Colony gets so many more visitors...just because of a few peaks, eh?
Both Broken Hand Peak and Milwaukee Peak had jam jars as their summit registers. Broken Hand's was empty, but Milwaukee had two small pieces of notebook paper in it. I was surprised to see just how few entries had been made. Someone had signed in the day before I was there, but the latest entry besides that was from '08. I wonder what percentage elect not to sign in on these less-traveled peaks? There were a few from 2006, and they all made mention of SAR doing a gear recovery for a body on Pico Asilado. Gulp!
Can you find the summit register?
Panorama from the summit - Pico Asilado, Broken Hand, Needle, Humboldt
Looking east towards point 13,161
I refocused and carefully downclimbed Milwaukee's summit block. At this point, I split east and followed an excellent trail until I got to the Milwaukee-Marble saddle. Again, this was welcome hiking after scrambling up and down Milwaukee. The saddle is where I regained full visibility of South Colony below.
A look up from the Milwaukee/Marble saddle. Point 13,161 is on the left, Marble Mountain on the right
View of the Needle, Kit Carson, and Bear's Playground
My route (roughly) up Milwaukee as seen from near point 13,161'
Standing atop my last peak, with my first one in the distance. A great tour de South Colony!
In no time, I was atop 13,161'. Had I been a little more ambitious, I would've made it over to Marble Mountain, but I finally could spot precip off in the Wet Valley and decided not to push my luck with a fairly rotten descent still in front of me.
About that descent. I must rewind here. This was my sixth trip to the South Colony area. I often times, upon approaching and setting up camp by the old 4WD TH, would scramble a bit up the scree wall to the south of the TH to catch a good view of sunset on the Needle. On Friday, I did the same, but ended up a bit higher than I had been before. So high, in fact, I realized I was well over two-thirds of the way to the ridge. I also realized that while it wouldn't be pleasant, one could make it the entire way up or down if careful with which lines one took. Part of the reason I even decided to attempt this traverse was knowing that once I got to here, I would be able to descend in relative safety. (I also hate that last hour or so of trudging back to camp - this kept it fun until the very end!) I'd lie if I said it was easy; there was one cliff band I had to pass through that required both some routefinding and some solid class 4 downclimbing.
One last look at the Needle
It took about an hour to descend those 2,000'. I eventually dropped in right by our campsite, where emcee had been waiting patiently for a couple of hours.
A view of my line from our campsite. You can see the cliff band in the center.
emcee had heeded the warnings of all you porcupine whisperers out there and had barricaded the dogglermobile. I'm not sure what a porcupine would want with a 96 Maxima; there were plenty tastier vehicles in the parking lot!
Porcies be gone!
Each part of the day had its own challenge, but I'm glad I did this circle tour. I got to see the Crestones in an entirely new light. I never get sick of climbing the Needle; it's such a fun mountain! Milwaukee Peak is not for the faint of heart. If you can put down the "must complete my 14er checklist" needle for just a second, you should consider Milwaukee from the Music Pass TH.
Thanks a ton to emcee smith, crossfitter, and hollamby for the time spent in some great mountains. Thanks to Kevin Baker for his Milwaukee/Pico Asilado TR. And thanks to the weather gods for keeping the Sangres so dry this weekend!
And of course, thank YOU for reading.
A look at my route (generated the low-tech way)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):