Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Date Posted:  04/09/2013
Date Climbed:   04/07/2013
Author:  pioletski
 Spring has Sprung, but Winter Hangs On   

Snow climb and ski descent of Crestone Peak via Red Gully, 4/7/2013
Crew: Ben (benners), Matt (pioletski)
3844' climbed and skied, about 8 miles round trip

Solving the Sangres Puzzle

Skiing the Sangre de Cristo range presents a unique set of challenges. It is remote, it tends to be dry, and springtime warms it up early. The race is always on for the snowpack to consolidate sufficiently for safe skiing before it melts out entirely. So a little creativity is required...

Our multimedia adventure began when I arrived at the trailhead on Saturday afternoon. I had brought my sled, hoping to save some time by towing my companions up the South Colony Lakes road to the old 4x4 trailhead. It's a little questionable whether we saved any time, but it made for an interesting trip. The lower part of the road was dry and rocky - not ideal snowmobiling terrain. I chained up my truck and managed to drag the sled past several snowdrifts and icy patches, almost to the beginning of continuous snow, and left it beside the trail for the night.

Ben and Brian (lordhelmut) arrived at what is now the 2wd trailhead around 2am. I was too comfortable to pay any attention. They settled down for what sleep they could get, and at 5am, we geared up and hiked about a mile to where I had stashed the sled.

Ben on tow

Motoring up the road presented a challenge or two. Let's just say that the South Colony Road is no longer in for snowmobiling, unless you happen to bring the Army Corps of Engineers along. The road is open to snowmobiles in the winter, and the gate was still open, but the creek crossing just past the gate had melted out. We set to with our avy shovels, and built a bridge in about 30 minutes.

Crossing the Rubicon (Ben)

From that point, the sled more or less justified the logistical problems it presented. After negotiating a couple more bare patches, and making a few stops to cool the motor, we covered 3 miles in perhaps 45 minutes, arriving at what used to be the 4wd trailhead (just shy of the wilderness area boundary) at around 8am.

At the old 4wd TH

Turning around, we remembered why we came. The Sangres are spectacular and the Crestones especially so.

The glorious Needle

I led my companions on a slightly crazy line through the woods to the campsites near Lower South Colony Lake, at the foot of Broken Hand Pass.

Broken Hand Pass

And off we went...

On the road again

... up Broken Hand Pass.

Ascending the pass (Ben)

At this point Brian split away from Ben and me. He wanted to explore a line on Broken Hand Peak, while Ben and I were angling for Crestone Peak. At this point the wind was howling, and we weren't all that confident of our objectives. Still, Brian set off, while Ben and I crossed the pass and descended to Cottonwood Lake, delighted (in this dry year) to see the Red Gully full of snow.

The Red Gully dressed in white

Not completely full, of course... We would ascend directly up the gully and climb over the rock band halfway up; on returning, we would break to skier's left onto the broad bands of snow to the side, thus staying on continuous snow all the way down.

We geared up to climb...

Ben with Broken Hand behind

... and we climbed. Here Ben is approaching the band of bare rock.

Approaching the choke

This required some front pointing and mixte moves.

Mixte climbing (Ben)

Note, two pictures back,that Ben's boots are sinking to the instep in the snow. Most of the gully, perhaps due to cloud cover and protection from the wind, was incompletely frozen. I had no concerns about stability, but it did make for slow and strenuous climbing. We were grateful for the windbreak afforded by the sides of the gully.

View from the gully

Gradually we closed in on the summit ridge, with its spectacular notches and windows.

Looking north

Ben near the summit

Did I bring enough gear?

View from the top (Ben)

Beta shot #1: KC and Challenger look about as in as I have ever seen them.

Looking very skiable

After the whistling gale on Broken Hand, the summit was surprisingly comfortable.

Brothers in arms

I never have had much success with action shots while skiing. Fortunately I have a GoPro. Here's a little POV of the first few hundred feet...

Ben is a bit handier with a still camera than I am.

Skiing the gully (Ben)

The snow was too hard in some spots and too soft in others. I guess you can't have it all...

Beta shot #2: As we began the re-ascent of Broken Hand Pass, we had this view of the south couloir of the Needle. I wonder just how narrow the snow is at the choke. I had entertained thoughts of going after it today, but the effort and time it took to climb the Peak didn't allow for it.

It's thin but it's in

Getting back up Broken Hand Pass was plenty of effort.

Climbing the pass, again (Ben)

Guided by our friend Carl, we had spotted this little couloir on the east side of Broken Hand Pass, just to looker's right of the pass proper (picture taken in the morning, of course) - which looked like a nicer descent route:

Couloir to looker's right

Looking down from the top:

Bonus Gully (Ben)

As with Carl's trip, it turned out to be the best skiing of the day. Here's Ben getting after it:

Jump turns

And a somewhat more flattering picture (sorry Ben, the last one was the best I got at the time).

Real turns

Descending the apron to Lower South Colony Lake, the sled, the trailhead...

Down to the lake (Ben)

Descending to the lake

We (I should say I) only got the sled stuck once on the way out, and our bridge was still intact. A big, beautiful... tiring day in the alpine.

Thanks Ben, thanks Brian - good to see you guys again. And thank you for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Comments or Questions

Awesome Day!
04/09/2013 19:26
What a great day, I really enjoyed the GoPro videos!


Bridge not required
04/09/2013 19:36
Sleds do great on water- just gun it next time!

Stoked you were able to ski this one, hopefully this current storm is helping things out in the Sangres and Long's for you!


Nice job!
04/09/2013 20:00
Nice TR and a great descent! Cool pics and videos!


Ominous Day
04/09/2013 20:13
with some icy turns down The Peak, but in hindsight I'm glad we stuck with it!

Thanks again for the invite Matt, and for hauling the sled down there to make our day a little easier. I agree with Frank, next time we should just hit the gas!


Way to get after it
04/09/2013 21:02
A buddy and I attempted this awhile back and were pretty destroyed by the time we got in the gully, not to mention having to climb back over the pass. Super impressed that you guys did it all in a day from the car.


04/09/2013 21:12
Good stuff everyone.


Nice Sangre adventure!
04/09/2013 21:59
Got the Peak and the consultation prize couloir off the pass. Looks like a solid day to me. Thanks for the Needle beta. Hoping we'll be able to put that to use together real soon.


Good work guys!
04/09/2013 22:10
Hope you're able to finish this year Matt!


nice work, great pics
04/10/2013 00:55
the needle line doesn't seem in yet, not only does the choke look narrow, but the bottom 1/3 looks like garbage, of course you could just make turns off the top 500 feet, bootpack down and check it off the list.


KC looking good
04/10/2013 01:06
Good pics and write-up. Teh POV makes the skiing look better than I imagine it probably was. Good luck on getting the last few. The Sangres could get crowded in the next few weeks.


Loved the footage!
04/10/2013 02:32
Gully looked awesome!


The one time you guys have a sled.....
04/10/2013 14:08 does that, haha. Well, like Matt said, you can't have it all.

But nice work getting out on it. I know this one had been on the list for a while, so good work to cross it off the list. Looking forward to seeing a BHP TR from Brian soon.

Antonio Banderass

04/10/2013 19:09
Brian, way to get after it! Especially after we did Bald on Sat. You're an endurance animal!


04/10/2013 19:13
So great to see this trip report and know you guys got the ski. Congrats! With the Needle having snow in the couloir and a recent dump since then, I suspect a certain someone is chomping-at-the-bit to get down there. Kit Carson looks good, too. Although Cole's will probably need to consolidate a bit since this last storm.

Brian, wanna get Little Bear in the next week or two?

Easy Rider

Oh Yeah!
04/11/2013 00:02
Nice work, and don't listen to GB's sled drivin' advice!


Strong Work!
04/14/2013 13:45
I've been waiting for the planets to align with my work schedule... your TR was super motivating! Looks like if you're gonna go after it this year it better be sooner rather than later!


Jump turns...
04/15/2013 01:39
Matt, I thought image 17 was superb. Jump turns are wonderful, and Ben aptly demonstrates perfection in this excellent capture.

Great work all the way around, gents.

This TR spoke to me on a slightly deeper level - these two are my remaining winter Sangres. I was particularly eying image #3...

Thanks for a great report and kudos on another fine adventure.


04/02/2015 19:45

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