Crestone Needle Cairns

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Hjelmstadlt
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Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by Hjelmstadlt » Sun Jul 01, 2018 9:36 am

I was up in the Sangres this past Saturday and climbed the Crestone Needle from its standard route for the first time without snow. I knew the general way from past experience letter boxing up and down the steep gully but without snow I was alarmed at the horrendous amount of poorly cairned routes. This route is classified as class 3 on the route description but many of the cairned routes require a couple of class 4 moves and are very difficult to follow. In just the short amount of time I was up there I witnessed a group have to arrest a fall of a lesser experienced climber attempting a class 4 down climb as well as 3 climbers go down the wrong gulley including my own partner because of poorly placed cairns. I luckily caught my partner but the other group of two hiked all the way down the gulley and unfortunately cliffed themselves out and had to get rescued by other climbers. I feel, due to the heavy traffic on this route that a problem such as this should be addressed to prevent further accidents. I would recommend a better designated route or an upgrade of the route from a 3 to a class 4.
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by Mtnman200 » Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:57 am

Often, cairns just mean that someone's been there before and may not indicate, as you noted, the best route. It's good to view cairns with skepticism and evaluate whether their route make sense to you.
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by justiner » Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:06 am

Correct.

There are individuals that think there are official route... ...people that prep a route like the Needle and place cairns during some off season. There's not.

It's climbing on a high peak. It's dangerous.

I recommend people taking on the route do so with the correct experience, capabilities, and equipment.

The other option is to mark the route up like the Keyhole Route on Longs which, I guess I'm sorry, would go against Wilderness Ethics.

Anyways, carin all you want, people will still have accidents.
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by pfiore1 » Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:10 am

Thank you for the update on the misguiding cairns on the route. Too many people "think" they've found a better route and mark it by placing cairns making the actual route very confusing. It seems almost every week someone places a cairn where one shouldn't, either for their own personal note or to try to help others when all they really do is create confusion.

I and some others will go up soon to work on improving the route's markings and remove unnecessary and some downright dangerously placed cairns. In the meanwhile for everyone planning to climb the Needle, just like on other peaks, do not rely on or completely trust cairns. Visually memorize the route and use photographs when necessary.

Also, thank you for informing some people about the correct route to descend and stopping them from continuing down the west gully. Sounds like you and some other climbers prevented some injuries and having us called out. We have been fortunate so far this year with minimal call outs on the Crestones but it seems like a lot of near misses and self-rescues.

Thank you, Pat
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by Wish I lived in CO » Sun Jul 01, 2018 2:19 pm

While some, even many standard 14er routes benefit from cairns where the 14ers.com route descriptions do not out line every single part of the way, Crestone Needle does not have to be one of them. If you follow the route description, and especially be diligent to look for the cross-over from the east to west gulley, you would not need a single cairn as essentially you going up defined gulleys.
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by jladderud » Sun Jul 01, 2018 4:55 pm

Descended that route today. Used the gpx track from the .com in conjunction with the cairns and some common sense and was just fine.
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by pfiore1 » Mon Jul 09, 2018 3:56 pm

Custer County SAR went up Crestone Needle Saturday to check things out without being involved in a mission. We checked fire rings, posted some fire ban posters, handed out LNT cards, picked up a lot of trash, trained some new members and spoke to many people. Overall it was a great day. We also went up to observe any cairns that may have been poorly placed and honestly I didn't see any. Just a reminder, there are two routes up the south face and both are marked with cairns. It is up to the individual to understand and decide which route is for him or her. Once you have climbed Broken Hand Pass and followed the trail all the way to the start of the East Gully, you can either go straight up the direct start or descend slightly to the west and start at the very bottom of the East Gully. Once in the gully there is one set of cairns that lead you to about 13,650' or where the crossover to the West Gully is. There are well marked cairns that lead up and over the crossover and continue up the West Gully to the summit. There are also well marked cairns that continue up the East Gully all the way to the summit. Some people call this Class 4, but to me it's difficult and very exposed Class 3. Although there are plenty of fourth class sections, they are avoidable. It is possible to move around left and right to avoid any Class 4 and keep it at Class 3, maybe high 3 but 3. On the east side of the summit looking down there are two routes with cairns, the same ones going up. One set follows an immediate descent of the East Gully and another set descends the West Gully to the crossover. This may be where some are confused. Take whichever path you are most comfortable with. If you take the West Gully down, there are well placed cairns marking the crossover and there are none that continue down the West Gully below the crossover. Personally, I prefer the East Gully all the way, avoiding the crossover and the narrow rock and roll bowling ally called the West Gully. With multiple people in the West Gully above the crossover it is a dangerous place to be when rocks fall, there is no side to side exit for the falling rocks. In the East Gully above the crossover, it is much wider with some small aretes to climb on top of and falling rocks have plenty of space to hopefully miss a climber below and are not funneled towards climbers below like in the West Gully. We built on some cairns but did not dismantle any.

The biggest issues we had going up the Needle on a weekend was that about 50% of the 40+/- climbers did not have helmets nor did many feel they needed to wear one. Just a reminder, we recover an average of two bodies per year up there and rescue countless others injured where the wearing of a helmet no doubt saved their life. Just because the Crestones are known for their solid conglomerate rock, there is plenty of loose rock to fall and it does, often. While we were up there, many people knocked many rocks down on climbers below, which of course is expected and normal, however very few actually yelled out "ROCK!". If you or a partner knock a rock free, whether you know someone is below you or not, yell "ROCK!" multiple times very loudly until you see it stop, then yell "CLEAR" so we know to stop hiding for cover. I was hit several times and no one yelled anything from above or they casually whispered "rock?". Not cool.

There were also many climbers wearing cotton shirts and cotton shorts. Please don't. There was also a drone flying overhead. I found the owners and told them never to do that again and that it is unlawful to fly a drone in a designated Wilderness Area. If you do not know the rules, either don't fly or read the rules on this link... https://www.jmpeltier.com/2017/05/14/ru ... ng-hiking/

Since I started climbing peaks in the 90's, I am astonished by how many people are climbing nowadays. It is great, in fact awesome, that so many people are interested in climbing peaks, however be responsible and respectful. There are safe ways and dangerous ways to do so. Please climb safe for yourself and for others. You are not the only one up there and your poor decisions can greatly and negatively effect others.

Other than that, stay safe and make good decisions.

Thanks, Pat
Dissent Is Patriotic

Support your local Search and Rescue agency. Be safe and respect your wilderness.

Custer County Search and Rescue, Inc... https://www.custersar.org

Custer County SAR Facebook... https://www.facebook.com/CusterSAR/?fref=photo

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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by Woody610 » Tue Jul 10, 2018 12:06 am

Hey Pat,

Great write up on climbing the standard SE route of Crestone Needle. As a climbing guide for over 30 years in the Crestone's with over 50 ascents and a 30 year member of the Alpine Rescue Team involved in many missions on these peaks it is great to have someone talk about taking the East gully all the way to the summit ridge and then going to the summit. We would always take the direct route up the East Gully, (not sure if the arrow made out of rocks is still there in the flat grassy area) then after the initial 100ft of climbing we would traverse to the west under what I called the green rocks until you got in the proper East Gully and then ascend all the way to the top ridge. In our early days of guiding we did set up a fixed line in the steep section of the East Gully but later decided that it was safer to just have the kids climb close to each other so that we didn't have any rock fall danger. On our descent it was easy to just take the SE ridge until you came to the last gulley. By doing this we avoided descending the wrong gully that would lead you to the cliff bands above Cottonwood Lake. Most of the fatalities on this peak in the past 40 years have either been on the technical Ellingwood Arete route on the north side or have been because people descended the wrong route on the south side and got cliffed out above Cottonwood Lake. Lets hope for a safe season on these mountains and a shout out to the Custer County SAR folks who are there in case there is an emergency!

Woody
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by Tornadoman » Tue Jul 10, 2018 6:59 am

pfiore1 wrote: The biggest issues we had going up the Needle on a weekend was that about 50% of the 40+/- climbers did not have helmets nor did many feel they needed to wear one. Just a reminder, we recover an average of two bodies per year up there and rescue countless others injured where the wearing of a helmet no doubt saved their life. Just because the Crestones are known for their solid conglomerate rock, there is plenty of loose rock to fall and it does, often. While we were up there, many people knocked many rocks down on climbers below, which of course is expected and normal, however very few actually yelled out "ROCK!". If you or a partner knock a rock free, whether you know someone is below you or not, yell "ROCK!" multiple times very loudly until you see it stop, then yell "CLEAR" so we know to stop hiding for cover. I was hit several times and no one yelled anything from above or they casually whispered "rock?". Not cool.
Pat,

My wife and I set up camp just beyond the gate near the old upper trailhead late Saturday afternoon. Saw the SAR vehicles roll by a bit later, everyone gave us a wave and we got a positive comment from one group about seeing our helmets. Would have chatted with the team more but figured you were all tired after a long day out there. On Sunday we did the Needle. There are quite a few cairns but I didn't see any I would label as misleading. We ended up ascending a bit too far on the east gully (I forgot the route description and even though I saw the cairns leading to the west gully the entrance spot didn't match my memory). I inspected a bit higher and eventually we headed down and did the somewhat awkward crossover move. I really liked the west gully... there were only 3 other people up there at the time and we were all being careful about rockfall and didn't have any issues. The cairns on the way down are quite obvious if you are paying attention and shouldn't pose too much of a problem on the downclimb for someone experienced.

Overall people seemed to be experienced and well prepared on Sunday. We saw a group of 4 or so without helmets, but I think everyone else had them out of 15-20 people. The one interesting note is there was a couple who descended the Needle early Sunday who apparently spent the night there. From talking to other climbers they finished the Ellingwood Arete route in the dark Saturday and then stayed on the summit to descend in the morning light.

Thanks for all that you do at Custer County SAR! It is good to see such a great team out there in a county that has a small population!

-Andrew
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by Terminally_Chill » Tue Jul 10, 2018 7:18 am

I am pretty sure our group was on the Gully with Andrew and his wife on Sunday. It was surprising how many people I saw coming up Broken Hand without helmets and as late as 12 (noon). The mountains aren't a playground and need to be treated with respect. Hope everyone stayed relatively safe this weekend!
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by Tornadoman » Tue Jul 10, 2018 8:42 am

Terminally_Chill wrote:I am pretty sure our group was on the Gully with Andrew and his wife on Sunday. It was surprising how many people I saw coming up Broken Hand without helmets and as late as 12 (noon). The mountains aren't a playground and need to be treated with respect. Hope everyone stayed relatively safe this weekend!
True.. The folks higher up seemed to have helmets on... but I think 4 people were going up to BHP without them as it approached noon. Imo, BHP has the highest rockfall risk on those peaks and is helmet terrain!
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Re: Crestone Needle Cairns

Post by kingshimmers » Tue Jul 10, 2018 8:57 am

Thanks Pat (and Custer County SAR) for the work you do!
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