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Monday, October 8, 2012

Crestone Needle Sucks!

Date: September 22nd, 2012
Mission: Climb Crestone Needle
Who: Solo
Length: 11.5 miles
Elevation gain: 4400 ft.

Climbing Crestone Needle is not fun.  It's not even challenging.  If you are looking for a fun mountain, this is not it.  I hated this climb from the moment I started at the trailhead and it just gets worse as you go. 

Crestone Needle as seen in the afternoon after descending back to South Colony Lakes.

Good morning!

Ok, hopefully many people just read the title and the first few sentences of my blog and decided to never climb Crestone Needle.  GOOD!  I want this mountain to remain a secret.  It just pains me to think that someday Crestone Needle will be overcrowded like so many 14ers are lately.

The Needle is easily the favorite mountain I've climbed.  I just love class 3 and class 4 climbs.  The longer the class 3 and 4 sections the better in my opinion.  Exposure just makes it more fun. 

After sleeping in the Jeep, I awoke about 4:45am and began my hike up the old 4-wheel drive road from the current South Colony Lakes 4-wheel drive trailhead in the dark. 

It's a peaceful and quite enjoyable stroll through the forest, with little sign of the challenges ahead.  On the way back through here in the daylight I would be shocked by how much bettle-killed evergreens there are.  

Now I immediately have back to back adrenaline rushes.  First this sign (below), which just tells me the rest of this hike/climb is going to be massively fun.

After 2.7 miles of a forest hike, you are greeted by this sign.

Then I see this...

Fresh mountain lion tracks in the mud at about 11,700'
EDIT:  See comment below

After briefly strategizing on how I'd beat the fuck out of a mountain lion if it attacked me, I continue on my way with a knife in hand for a bit.  I quickly realize that I am more likely to hurt myself with a knife in hand while hiking; so I put it away and then tell myself that a mountain lion would have plenty of other choices of critters to eat in this area and would likely not choose to munch on a 37 year old bad-ass mother fucker like myself.  We all know mountain lions don't like the taste of a Patagonia R1 Hoody.

Sunlight on Humboldt.

As I pass some campsites, I set my eyes on Broken Hand Pass, just as the sun is lighting up Humboldt.  I still haven't been up Humboldt after two failed attempts in the winter of 2011, I vowed to not go back until this coming winter.  Humboldt, you are on notice.... I am coming for you in a few months. 

Snow on Broken Hand Pass, looking back at South Colony Lakes.

Broken Hand Pass was uneventful with careful route finding in the snow.  After reaching the top of Broken Hand Pass it's a short walk over to where Crestone Needle's east gully begins. 

Looking up the east gully, climber pictured in center.
The route on mentions one should switch from the east gully to the west gully about halfway up to keep the route at class 3.  Apparently you can reach the summit by taking the east gully the whole way, but it becomes a more difficult class 4 route.  

I was solo and decided to do the switch to the west gully, and even found the correct switch over spot (I thought).  I thought it was before the dihedral seen in the picture below.  In fact, this picture was taken from where I thought the cross over was. 

Climbers on the class 4 east gully.

What I realized later, is I didn't go far enough through the cross over.  Instead I just took a different route up the east gully.  I ended up meeting back up with these climbers maybe 100 ft. up.  Either way I was having fun, a TON of fun.  The holds were good, I was fearless, and I could have climbed another 3000 ft. like this.  I never once stopped when climbing like this for fatigue, only to study the route ahead, look for the next handhold or foothold.  I didn't even take many pictures through here, because it was just way too fun to stop.

Me loving life on the east gully.
One picture I took along the east gully with my newly met climbing buddy pictured.

I was having a blast making climbing moves, wondering why anyone would ever dislike anything about this mountain.  My mind was in a zone similar to how all random thoughts stop when I am riding my motorcycle through the canyons at speeds fast enough to get me arrested.  I was seriously wishing this climb would never end.  Then suddenly, the fun is over and I am on the summit. 

Upon the summit, I realize that others apparently had been coming up the west gully, because a few people just started appearing on the summit from a spot that I did not come up from. 

My new friends arriving on the summit.

Summit panorama.

On the summit, I discover my new climbing buddies I met in the east gully are a pair of brothers that are climbing the top 7 of Colorado's hardest 14ers.  This was 6 of 7.  Pretty awesome stuff.  Anyhow, I fuel up and decide to descend the west gully.  It was on my way down that I discovered my mistake on the gully switch on the way up.  Whatever, I wouldn't change anything about this day if I could.

Token summit photo of yours truly.

Looking down the west gully.

On descent, looking back up the west gully.  Two climbers seen top center of the photo.

After getting out of the gullies and back on the trail towards Broken Hand Pass, I decide to just lay down on a rock and take a 15-20 minute nap.  I am awoken around 1pm when 5 or 6 hikers ascending are coming up the trail.  It's pretty late for an ascent, considering they haven't even got to the class 3 or 4 part yet, and they look ill equipped, but I kindly answer questions about the route, and then I am on my way again. 

Down Broken Hand Pass I go.

Looking back up Broken Hand Pass (left side of photo).
Tired now, the adrenaline has worn off.  I decide to just take my time and enjoy the lonely stroll through the changing aspens.
Colorado beauty.

Winter is on the way.