Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Humboldt Peak  -  14,064 feet
Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Date Posted:  08/05/2012
Modified:  08/06/2012
Date Climbed:   08/04/2012
Author:  thebeave7
 Crestone Five in a Day  

Crestone Group in a Day
8/4/12, Eric J Lee

This summer two big link-ups were on my must do list; the first being Capitol and Snowmass which I accomplished on 7/21/12 (new FKT), the second was the Crestone five peak combo. My last attempt at the Crestone group was foiled by horrible smoke from the fires in June, so on 8/3/12 I drove down to Westcliffe. I reached the new South Colony Lakes TH at 9900ft at 11pm (no problem for my Subaru Forester), just enough time for a little sleep before my 4:30am wakeup call.

When the alarm went off at 4:30am I thought long and hard about going back to sleep for another hour, but was able to rouse myself; eat breakfast, pack my bag, and double check all my beta for the day. I rolled off on the trail toward South Colony Lakes at 5:12am under a near full moon, making hiking without a headlamp possible. I fast hiked/slow jogged up the road, reaching the first of the South Colony lakes at 6:12am, one hour after starting, not bad.

Early morning on Humboldt

From there I continued up the trail toward Humboldt Peak, my first 14er of the day. I'd opted to do the loop counter-clockwise in order to up-climb the most difficult sections of the route. I felt a bit sluggish as the pitch began to steepen and the air grew thinner. In spite of how I felt at 7:15am I crested the top of Humboldt Peak only 2h3min after starting out. While the climb might not be anything spectacular, the views from the summit in all directions are phenomenal. Knowing I had another long day ahead, I didn't dwell long, and jogged off down the trail back to the saddle at 12600ft.

From the saddle I left the official trail and scrambled up and over point 13290ft, dropping into the 'Bears Playground'. This broad open tundra bowl marks the connecting points for the ridges from Humboldt, Kit Carson and Crestone Peak. From there I picked up a cairned traverse that skirted around point 13799ft, dumping me out at the 13500ft saddle leading to Kat Carson. The final scramble up to Kat Carson seemed to take forever, and when I summited I was greeted by the final scramble down Kat Carson and back up Kit Carson. I picked my way down the class 3 gulleys to the Kit/Kat saddle, then made a B-line up the final push to Kit Carson.

Kit Carson from Kat Carson

At 9:16am, 4h4min after setting out I reached the broad summit of Kit Carson Mt. The traverse from Humboldt had taken over two hours, much longer than anticipated. I still had three more peaks to go, and was worried that if the weather didn't hold I might not make it over to the Crestones. From the summit of Kit Carson I back tracked just a little bit then descended down a steep class 4 gulley that dumped me right onto Kit Carson Avenue (not recommended unless you're comfortable with sustained class 4). I was surprised how broad the Avenue was, seemed more like a class 1 trail than class 2+. I powered my way across the Avenue then up the short stretch to Challenger Point, topping out at 9:48am.

I was feeling much better after the quick trip up Challenger, keeping my hopes up that the weather would hold for the Crestone Traverse. After a short snack break and taking a few photos for another group I jogged off toward Kit Carson and the long traverse back to the Bears Playground. The traverse went fairly uneventfully as I found a much cleaner, quicker line back to the Bears Playground. As I looked over at Crestone Peak, I tried to envision where the North Buttress route ascended, but the muddle of spires, gendarmes, and broad gulleys gave nothing away. As I approached the base of the North Buttress (or where I thought it would start) I glanced up at the myriad of options and decided to make my way into the NW couloir. While the climbing in the NW couloir wasn't as superb as what the North Buttress is supposed to be, I felt more comfortable knowing exactly where I was supposed to go.

I stayed toward the sides of the NW couloir (now snow free) and found some decent rock, avoiding most of the loose stuff in the middle. I even found a slow trickle of water from which I was able to fill my water bottle. As I neared the peak the massive walls of the East summit loomed overhead. Just before the top of the NW couloir I swung right up a fun class 3/4 rib which deposited me within 30ft of the Crestone Peak's summit. At 11:44am I was at my highest point of the day, it was all (mostly) downhill from here. I looked over at the several parties standing atop the Needle, reviewed the notes I had made on the Traverse, and began my descent down Crestone Peak's SE gulley.
Crestone Peak East summit and the top of the NW couloir

The footing was loose, so I tried to stay on the solid rock to the East of the gulley, but ended up cliffing myself out, doh. I gave in and carefully tiptoed down the nasty chute until I saw a cairn around 13600ft at which point I hung a hard left and off I went on the Traverse. I followed the cairned ledges to the best of my ability, but more than once found myself staring at a 50ft vertical drop into a deep gulley, only to notice the cairn below me pointing to easier terrain. Finally I dropped below the final set of buttresses to 13400ft and began my ascent back toward the saddle and Crestone Needle. The grassy ledges on this final section provided some nice easy terrain, a welcome relief from all the rock and talus.

Black Gendarme and the final push to Crestone Needle. Note the yellow and orange specks in the middle.

As I neared Crestone Needle I watched a large group of climbers descending the final class 4 pitch from the summit, good to see the home stretch so near. I noted two of the climbers wearing neon orange and yellow, and wondered if it was my two friends who were on Ellingwood Arete that day. As I approached the group I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was my two friends, who had just finished Ellingwood and were now headed off to Crestone Peak. After a short bit of chatter we parted ways and I began the final push up the fun knobby class 4 to the summit of Crestone Needle.

I took a direct line up the final crux pitch to Crestone Needle, thoroughly enjoying the knobby conglomerate rock. Soon I was taking the last few steps onto the summit of Crestone Needle, 12:58pm, 7h46min after starting out. The traverse had felt really good and I was very happy with how I'd rallied after a sluggish morning. I had the summit all to myself, so sat for a few minutes to take it all in. All that was left was a descent down the South Ridge to Broken Hand Pass and a jog down to the trailhead.
Looking back at Crestone Peak

As I began to descend the South Ridge I quickly realized this would not be a walk in the park. The terrain was steep, with a mix of knobby scrambling and loose boulder hopping. I zig zagged my way down the ridge, finally dropping into the eastern most gulley. Having not climbed up the route I had to stop about half dozen times to scout out the best way down. Finally I was able to work my way down to the trail to Broken Hand Pass, ahhhhh trail how I've missed thee. I was finally able to jog my way down to the pass where I was somewhat dismayed to see several hundred feet of loose scree and gravel descending from the pass. I gently picked my way down the hill to the traverse where the trail picked back up again. I set out at a full gallop down the trail, reaching the lower South Colony Lake at 1:53pm. As I jogged down I noticed that I had been deposited on the round about traverse to South Colony Creek rather than the direct shortcut from roads end. Oh well, an extra mile and a little more time on the trail. I cruised on down the trail and road finishing off my day at 2:29pm, 9h17min after I'd left that morning!

I was tired, but surprisingly not sore or in any pain. My time of 9h17min TH->TH and 7h41min round trip from South Colony Lakes had set a new FKT (as far as I can tell), breaking the old South Colony Lakes RT of 9h44min. Once again I had been blessed with fantastic weather, mostly good route finding and some phenomenal climbing/scrambling/views. I couldn't have asked for much more out of the day; capped off with some salty chips, a beer and some peanut butter cookies. What a way to tick off the five Crestone 14ers.

1:00:20 to Lower South Colony Lake
2:03:22 (1:03:22) Humboldt Mt
4:04:12 (2:00:49) Kit Carson Mt
4:32:22 (0:28:10) Challenger Point
6:31:45 (1:59:22) Crestone Peak
7:46:25 (1:14:40) Crestone Needle
8:41:16 (0:54:50) Lower South Colony Lake
9:17:05 (0:35:49) South Colony TH

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

 Comments or Questions

08/06/2012 04:35
...may not be that of a human. Usain Bolt is jealous.

Craig Cook

08/06/2012 04:39
You seriously make the rest of us look bad!


08/06/2012 04:40
I thought Peak/Needle and Humboldt was crazy. You redefined crazy though. More importantly, congratulations on this amazing route!


Good Job.
08/06/2012 04:48
I guess you don't get a lot of vacation time.


08/06/2012 05:35
You didn't hit Obstruction Peak along the way? Now you'll have to go back for it. ;-)


08/06/2012 06:49
My feet hurt and lungs burn reading this.

Powerful Eric is Powerful.

Well done, man.


08/06/2012 14:17
Schnikes!!! That is absolutley insane and yet so awesome.


08/06/2012 14:35

08/06/2012 14:53
we were the group of three (two guys/ one lady) you passed coming down off broken hand pass. we wondered aloud - where did that guy come from - now we know. Congrats, that is a very impressive feat!

FYI - I also posted in the camping etiquette - I guess you were the car that came in at 11pm at night. Thanks for being quiet and respectful, lol.


08/06/2012 15:34
Image #11... wonder if that is our group or the one after us? Do you have a larger resolution photo and timestamp on that?

Oh yeah and, your a beast. Seriously, impressive work.


08/06/2012 15:45
guys/gals, it was one hell of a day no doubt.
Jasayrevt, yep Nolans is a go on Aug 31st, hopefully all 14. No blog, but I'll have my SPOT on, and will def post a TR after.
Climbdent, def was me rolling in at 11pm, brushed my teeth and bedded down in the car, nice and quietly of course
DJKest, I do have a higher res version, the two guys in yellow and orange were friends of mine coming off Ellingwood Arete, I believe there was a party of 3-4 in front of them as well. Taken around 12:45pm.


08/06/2012 19:54
Hey Eric,

Nice job lowering the FKT. Gonna head up to the Crestones myself on Wednesday. I planned on doing this from the Willow Lake side, but time constraints on my partner have us trying the same route you did.

I just want to make sure I got this right - the ”red gulley” is the south gulley. You went up not that but the NW couloir I believe. If you could do it again, would you try the buttress or the couloir again?

Jason Halladay

Nice one
08/06/2012 20:38
Solid outing, Eric! I did that linkup in 2001 (including Obstruction, ”NE Crestone” and East Crestone) but from a high camp in Spanish Creek Basin. Even still, we took ~12 hours. Your C2C time is impressive. Sounds like you're primed for Nolans.


NW Couloir
08/06/2012 21:11
Doggler, my bad, I went up the NW couloir, NOT the Red Gulley (south gulley). The NW Couloir is just so red when there is no snow I assumed they were the same, oops. If I were to do it again I'd probably climb the North Buttress, just needed a little more beta to feel comfortable with the route.


08/07/2012 01:45
I was also in group of 3 you passed on Broken Hand Pass. As you passed, you stated ”no worries, no rush”. Lolz. Nice work. Super impressive.

Ridge runner

Solid day
08/07/2012 02:44
Nice job, Eric! You should cancel whatever plans you have for next weekend and just go for the Chicago Basin FKT. Tapering is overrated. By the way, I came nowhere near your time on the 4 Pass Loop, though I did add Buckskin BM at the end.


08/07/2012 03:03
Great job on an impressive route. I've been looking at this route with Rjansen77 but right now it's just a pipe dream, and we'd hike into South Colony Lake the night before. Great splits, too! What were the final distance and elevation gain?


Great trip report and photos
08/07/2012 13:00
I've said this to Doggler in one of his trip reports but, you also have more balls than a bowling alley. Great route and descriptions. I like reading those split times so, I can evaluate how far behind I am.

Premium speed and endurance. Great job Eric and thanks for sharing.


No Way Steph!
08/07/2012 13:43
It's rest time for me, 6wk of 80mi/23000ft per week, Nolans is looming large so while I'd love to head back to Chicago Basin, it'll have to wait (the FKT is now 11:21).
MountainMedic, the final distance estimate was 18mi and my altimeter watch read 9500ft of gain/loss, so fairly steep.

Thanks for the motivation!
08/09/2012 22:45
I had planned to do this linkup all summer as well, although from the west. Your timely report came just 2 days before I went for it, and gave me a time to shoot for. I was targeting your 9:17 TH to TH time, although from my way it would be further, in distance and in elevation...

Anyway, I started at Willow Lake TH and ended at Cottonwood Creek TH in a time of 10:17. I went up Challenger, did an out and back on Humboldt, which did take way too long, and then the Crestones same as you. I was ahead of where I thought I needed to be until the return trip from Humboldt to Crestone Peak, where I ran out of gas. Went too hard for the first half of the day and paid for it on the second half. Out of water, couldnt eat, fighting exhaustion on a very steep mountain, it was good fun!

Anyway, just thought it might be interesting to compare. According to my garmin I did 20.8 miles and just over 11,000 vert, but that includes adding a little bit on the end of either trailhead. Thanks for the motivation, and Good luck on Nolan's!


08/10/2012 21:00
I commend you.

My partner Jake and I did the same route on Wednesday. From the TH to Humboldt, I thought we had it no problem as we were there in 1:50 comfortably.

What killed us, though, was getting to/from KC, especially the double-climb of Columbia Point to get there. When we hit KC's summit, we were shocked to find we had lost nearly an hour. We made one error by losing the cairned traverse across Obstruction and ended up dropping down to 12,900' at Bears Playground, but we thought maybe that cost us 15 minutes.

We easily made it over to Challenger Point in the same time as you.

Our way up the NW couloir of the Peak was a little slow as well - we took extreme care not to knock rocks on each other. When we reached the Peak and saw we had lost another 43 minutes, we agreed to bag any time goals and just walked it in. We ran out of water shortly thereafter. By the time we got back to Lower S. Colony, the damage had been done...what had taken us 1:03 to come up took 95 minutes to stumble back down.

As you can see from our splits vs yours, the time between KC's summit and the base of Bears playground were the big difference.

TH to LSCL - 0:56/0:56 (1:03/1:03) -7
LSCL to H - 0:55/1:51 (1:00/2:03) -5
H to KC - 2:53/4:44 (2:01/4:04) +52
KC to Ch - 0:28/5:12 (0:28/4:32) 0
Ch to CP - 2:42/7:54 (1:59/6:31) +43
CP to CN - 1:46/9:40 (1:14/7:46) +32
CN to LSCL- 1:31/11:11 (0:54/8:41) +37
LSCL to TH- 1:35/12:46 (0:35/9:17) +60

We walked away with a few things - #1 firsthand appreciation of your effort, especially getting to and from KC. Respect. #2 despite our slowdown at the end of the day, we both agreed that climbing those five peaks in a loop was one of the more satisfying undertakings we've ever done. #3 - the Peak's NW couloir has tons of loose garbage in it - definitely NOT a place I'd like to be with anyone above me.

Some More
08/13/2012 16:34
A friend and I did this a couple of days ago. We cheated and camped at South Colony Lakes on Friday night before starting out.

Some thoughts on the route:

We decided to go to Challenger before Kit Carson and climbed the North Face of Kit Carson instead. From Humboldt we got to Challenger in 2:15, and it took only 15 more minutes to reach the summit of Kit Carson. The north face is very fast class 4 and goes straight up to the summit. I would guess this saves about 15-20 minutes from the way you did it. We had a little route finding getting back to the Bear's Playground but didn't lose too much time. Maybe 10 minutes.

We decided to go up the North Buttress of Crestone Peak. It turns out the North Buttress goes very much on the left sky line of the peak when viewing it from Kit Carson. Instead, we took a route straight up the wall just to the left of the Northwest Couloir. A beta shot on Mountain Project indicated this line. It turned out to be very sketchy class 5.4 (ish) rock up high. We easily lost 30-40 minutes on this section because of route finding, downclimbing, traversing, etc... Scary stuff. Never a good sign to be soloing and passing a piton along the way.

The traverse to Crestone Needle was pretty straightforward. I totally messed up going up to the black gendarme and we won't up dropping too low and getting a little off route, although it didn't cost us much. I also screwed up the descent off of the Needle and dropped down the wrong gulley.

All in all it was a good outing. 9 hours round trip from the lake. Without the mistakes it probably would have put us around 8 hours, so nice job with the 7:40...


Thanks Doggler and Alwetend...
08/13/2012 21:53
Doggler, my only claim to fame is I move fast across shitty talus and scree, have some weird knack for that stuff, might be the difference in those times To/From KC. Like I said in the TR I was super sluggish uphill that day, probably the weeks of training finally catching up with me. Agree on the NW couloir, luckily I was solo and no one near me, but I found some decent ways around the worst of it.

Alwetend, definitely agree on your observation to skip KC first, after having seen the North face I'd happily climbed that up, making for a more direct line (down climbing might be a bit spicy). I too looked at the North Buttress and just as you did, couldn't tell where the optimal line was, so bagged it for a more known, albeit looser option of the NW couloir. On fresher legs and now knowing some of the tricks I think sub 7h from the lakes is possible.


I saw some of you guys 8/8
08/15/2012 14:37
First off, nice trip report from thebeave. I am amazed at what you do!

My wife and I climbed Humboldt on Wed. 8/8 (yes Humboldt only, us flatlanders have no skills). Pretty confident that we talked to andyclimbs on the summit of Humboldt as he had already done Challenger/K.C, Humboldt and a couple 13ers and was going on to the Crestones. Nice job with the rest of your day!

Early on in the day two very fast moving hikers passed us down near the Lakes. By the time we reached the saddle on Humboldt, they had already summited Humboldt, and were on the way to K.C. This may have been doggler and friend? Anyway, nice job to all you speedsters, most of us can only dream of climbing so quickly!

Nice Post
08/22/2015 15:12
Excellent photos and description of this day, thank you!

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