Mission: Climb Crestone Needle
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.|
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...
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.|
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.|
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.
|Winter is on the way.|