- Date Hiked: September 17, 2005
- Miles Hiked: 8.8
- Elevation Gain: 6,114'
- Hiking Partner(s): Kevin Baker,
Layne Bracy, Jim Ohl, Karen Tiffany
- I made plans earlier in the summer to climb
Crestone Needle with Kevin since it was my remaining Sangre de Cristo
14er. As the middle of
September rolled around, Layne, Karen, and Jim joined our party. Layne rode with me to the South Colony Lake 2WD trailhead and
then caught a ride up the road with a co-worker of mine, Tom Milinowicz,
who was going to climb the Needle on the standard route. I caught a short nap in my Trooper before Kevin, Jim, and
Karen arrived around 8:00 pm.
- The first time I went up the South Colony Lake
road it was dark and raining. This
time it was only dark, and we made it up in one hour and 15 minutes.
Tom and Layne had secured a couple of camp spots for Kevin, Jim,
and Karen while I simply slept in the back of my vehicle.
Our initial plan was the Peak to Needle Traverse.
Layne suggested earlier in the week that we also add Broken Hand
Peak and Crestolita to our loop. Kevin
and I thought is sounded like a good idea at the time.
We went to sleep under an extremely bright full moon.
The wind blew noticeably throughout the night.
- We were on the trail to South Colony Lakes at
4:00 am and quickly found ourselves climbing to Broken Hand Pass.
As we approached the pass, the wind picked up considerably and we
hunkered down to add a layer. I’m sure my new nickname at this point is the
“Deserter”. My primary
goal for this trip was the Peak to Needle Traverse.
I made this point fairly clear to everyone over the roar of the
wind and decided that if it did not let up once we descended off the
saddle; I was going to pass on Broken Hand Peak and Crestolita.
Well, I didn’t bail because the wind did die down to a
- We made the summit of Broken Hand Peak with
extraordinary views of the surrounding area.
We headed west to the Broken Hand Peak/Crestolita saddle where we
took a short break. My
blood sugar was low, so I had something to eat.
We traversed across Crestolita’s east slopes to the prominent
North Couloir without dropping any additional elevation past the saddle.
It was bit tricky entering the couloir, but we eventually all got
inside and started to scramble. The
walls of the couloir were confining, and the rock was moderately loose.
I stopped twice to put on my sunglasses and remove a layer before
summitting. With a smile on
his face, Layne said, “Two down, two to go.”
- We made short work of the descent to Cottonwood
Lake and the base of the South/Red Couloir of Crestone Peak.
En route, we filtered water and took another short break at the
lake. Immediately upon
starting up the South/Red Couloir, I was feeling very weak.
I assumed the day was simply starting to take its toll on me.
Layne raced up the couloir without missing a beat as I struggled
to keep him in sight. Kevin
was kind enough to keep me company on our climb to the summit.
- Once on top, we reunited with Jim and Karen who
did not attempt the two other 13ers.
We celebrated (gross overstatement) with a few photos on top of
Crestone Peak. I had
climbed the Northwest Couloir of Crestone Peak this past spring, so it
was great to return to the same peak via a different route.
I took a slightly longer break and finally ate something of
substance. I knew that if my condition didn’t improve, I could kiss
the traverse and Needle goodbye. As
Jim and Karen went up the Crestone Peak’s east summit, Layne, Kevin,
and I started our descent back down the South/Red Couloir to find our
exit point to begin the traverse.
- We quickly found a cairn marking the start of the
Crestone Traverse. As we
regrouped at the cairn, I made my second pathetic (but honest) speech
about how I felt. I
indicated to Layne and Kevin that if I felt as weak as I did climbing
Crestone Peak on the start of the traverse, that I would have to opt out
and simply return over Broken Hand Pass.
Well, once again I didn’t bail and actually felt stronger on
the traverse and down-climbing the south route on the Needle than I did
earlier in the day. I guess
the food on top of the Peak boosted my sugars and got me back to
- As far as the traverse goes, I was surprised at
how far you have to drop. It
really seemed like we just kept going down and down.
Generally speaking, the route-finding was moderately difficult.
If we seemed to dead end, one of us would spot a cairn to point
us in the right direction to assure us that we were on the right route.
Teamwork helped greatly too.
On several occasions, we took turns scouting the route while the
other two waited for confirmation of where we should go.
- There was only one occasion where we got held up
for more that a minute or two. We
climbed up a gully that we thought was supposed to take us near the
ridge crest. As the gully
narrowed, we ran into a large overhanging chock stone.
I climbed a 20-25 foot pitch up a narrow chimney to the left of
the chock stone which I thought was easily 5.3-5.4 based on my limited
experience. Once on top, I
indicated that I thought that climbing was a lot harder than anything I
anticipated on the traverse and it looked like more of the same above
me. Layne made a scouting
run as I waited on top. Upon his return, we learned that we needed to go through a
small notch and continue traversing rather than climbing up the gully.
I carefully down-climbed and we pressed on.
- We found the correct gully to ascend towards the
ridge crest after traversing on some steep slabs. We circled around the bottom of the south gendarme and
another small point until we were standing at the bottom of the crux.
The wind was slightly stronger as we started up the ridge.
Everyone did great; however, we were fairly certain that
down-climbing the pitch was not likely in our future.
We signed in the summit register, and started down the Needle’s
south route. The wind on the descent was brutal. I had to brace myself several times during gusts.
Of course the fatigue likely magnified the effects of the wind,
but everyone agreed that it was still strong.
- We regrouped on the top of Broken Hand Pass and
began the death march back to camp.
It went quicker than I expected as we worked our way back down to
the lake and 4WD trailhead. I
think it was about a 14 hour day with the traverse taking us three hours
and 30 minutes. If we
hadn’t climbed the two other peaks and the wind wasn’t as strong,
I’m certain we could have cut some time.
We loaded up the Trooper and Tom’s 4 Runner and began the drive
down the road which took longer than the ride up.
I dropped Layne off at his vehicle in Colorado Springs, grabbed a
burger, and was home at about 11:45 pm.
- Overall, I thought the Crestone Traverse was more
difficult than both the Bells Traverse and Wilson/El Diente Traverse
with the latter being the easiest.
When comparing the Crestones to the Bells, it seemed like
route-finding was more difficult in the Crestones as the Bells route was
fairly straight forward on top the ridge.
From a technical aspect, they were probably fairly close in
difficulty; however, the Crestones simply had more of it.
The Crestone Traverse seemed longer than the Bells Traverse too.
I’m not sure how exact my stats are for this trip.
The traverse has a lot of ups and downs that would be difficult
to account for without a GPS.
||4WD Trailhead - Lower S. Colony Lake
||Lower S. Colony Lake - Broken Hand Pass
||Broken Hand Pass - Broken Hand Peak (+200' Per Roach)
||Broken Hand Peak - Broken Hand Peak/Crestolita Saddle
||Broken Hand Peak/Crestolita Saddle - Crestolita
||Crestolita - Base of Red Couloir
||Base of Red Couloir - Crestone Peak
||Crestone Peak - Traverse Low Point
||Traverse Low Point - Crestone Needle
||Crestone Needle - Broken Hand Pass
||Broken Hand Pass - Lower S. Colony Lake
||Lower S. Colony Lake - 4WD Trailhead
||Cumulative Elevation Gain/Grade/Miles
here to view a 2D
map of the area where this hike is located.