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Route #1) Crestone Needle - South Face
4,400 feet starting at upper 4wd TH (9,900') 5,550 feet starting at lower 2wd TH (8,800')
12 miles starting at upper 4wd TH (9,900') 18 miles starting at lower 2wd TH (8,800')
South Colony Lakes
San Isabel, Rio Grande
Sangre De Cristo
Take Colorado 69 south from Westcliffe. Drive 4.5 miles and turn right on Colfax Lane. Drive 5.5 miles to the end of Colfax. Turn right and drive 1 mile on a dirt road to a junction. Continue straight up the 120 Road for 0.3 mile to the Lower 2WD Trailhead at 8,800. To reach the Upper 4WD Trailhead, continue 2.7 miles to parking/camp spots before the first river crossing, near 9,900. In 2009, the South Colony Lakes road was permanently closed here (gate) and this is the current trailhead. The trail starts next to the trailhead kiosk, in the parking area.
From the gate closure at 9,900, cross the foot bridge and walk 2.5 miles up the old South Colony Lakes road to reach a junction - Photo #1. Turn left, cross the river on a log bridge and reach what used to be the 4WD trailhead, before they closed the upper road. Continue past the gate (Photo #2) and walk 3/4 mile to 11,400 where the old road ends and smaller trail begins. Hike through the bushes and into the trees - Photo #3. Follow the trail as it turns left above 11,600 and parallels the stream below the lower South Colony Lake. Near 11,650 and before the lake, turn left on the trail towards Broken Hand Pass - Photo #4. Follow the well-marked trail as it climbs south up the slope before turning west into rugged terrain, below Broken Hand Pass - Photo #5. Ascend steep terrain to reach a narrow section (Class 3) with few options - Photo #6. Scramble up through the rocks and hike another 200 to reach the pass at 12,850.
Taken from a short distance to the east of the pass, Photo #7 is a view of the remaining route up the South Face. Turn right, hike a short distance on a defined trail, climb up through some rocks and continue toward the south face. Photo #8 looks back on the hike from the pass. As you cross this slope, much of the remaining route quickly comes into view - Photo #9. Your goal is to traverse into a large gully, climb a few hundred feet, cross west over a rib, and ascend a second gully to the summit ridge. Ill try to make it as simple as possible by naming the two gullies "east" and "west." The east gully does go to the summit (see variation, below) but if you want to keep the difficulty at Class 3, switch to the west gully during the ascent. First, you need to get to the east gully Continue on the trail toward the south face. Near 13,300, down climb a short, steep pitch and descend approximately 75 to enter the east gully - Photo #10. In early summer, there will likely be a bit of water running down the lower half. The remainder of the route to the summit consists of Class 3 scrambling on good rock.
Climb approximately 300 in the east gully (Photo #11 and Photo #12) to reach a section where the center of the gully becomes deep and narrow. Above this area, the gully forms a dihedral - seen in Photo #13. Just below the dihedral, look for the easiest way to drop left into the center of the gully and then scramble up onto a rib which separates the two gullies - Photo #14, Photo #15 and Photo #16. This is the crux of the route. Aim for a notch located to the right of an angled rock tower, where youll likely find a cairn. When you reach easier ground on the rib, climb slightly higher (Photo #17) and drop into the west gully - Photo #18. STOP! Look carefully at this area so you know where to cross back over on your descent.
The west gully is fairly straightforward and leads to the summit ridge. Climb steep, stable rock (Photo #19, Photo #20 and Photo #21) for nearly 400 and the gully ends, near 14,000. Continuing in the same direction, scramble up a few more steep sections (Photo #22 and Photo #23), to reach the summit ridge - Photo #24. Scramble along a narrow section and turn left to reach the summit - Photo #25.
CLASS 4 VARIATION - Climbing the entire east gully:
This variation follows the entire east gully to the summit ridge. Its more difficult than the route described above but provides a more direct climb to the top. From the point where the above route crosses over to the west gully, continue climbing just right of the dihedral in the east gully - Photo #26. After a short, steep pitch, re-enter the gully and continue climbing in its confines- Photo #27 and Photo #28. Continue up the obvious gully to 13,900 where it opens up a few hundred feet below the summit - Photo #29. Stay on the east (right) side, next to a wall, and follow the remaining gully (Photo #30) up to the summit ridge - Photo #31. Turn left and scramble up to the summit.
This climb involves a lot of Class 3 rock climbing and careful route finding. It becomes much more difficult with snow. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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