A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Crestones (Needle and Peak)


  • Route: Standard Routes from South Colony Lake
  • Distance:
    • Approach (South Colony), 8 miles round trip
    • Climb, 6.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain:
    • Approach, ~1,700
    • Climb, ~5,500 feet
  • Start time: 7:00 AM
  • Time:11 hours
  • Climbers: Alan, David, Seth, Angela, Sandy

I reminded myself that loosely made plans are always fun. With that Alan and I left the trailhead at 7 PM, knowing that the Texans would be hiking up in the dark that night, finding our site, making camp and then be ready for the Crestones the following morning.


Lets go for hike! Alright, but only if we can dress the same!

We were 5 minutes down the trail when I looked left and noticed a bear. As trained we immediately raised our packs above our heads, made noise and stood close together to appear larger…that is a complete lie. In true tourist fashion we immediately reached for cameras. We were fast, the bear faster. All we got was one blurry image, which could actually be a yeti.


That black blurry thing in the middle? Bear, thankfully running away.

We found a great campsite. The Texans found us. Morning arrived. We hiked.


Left to right: David, Seth, Angela, Sandy, Alan, Crestone Needle

The climb up to Broken Hand Pass was dry at the base but snowchoked as it neared the top. Crampons were unnecessary, but an ice axe needed. As an admitted gearhead, standing in such a beautiful basin, necessary equipment and knowhow at hand and watching friends move across the snow as the morning sun gathers strength, it is impossible to not smile.


David and Angela on the first snowfield of the day


Sandy crossing snow


Alan as the climbing steepens


The team atop Broken Hand Pass

From Broken Hand Pass we followed the obvious trail and were quickly in the East Gully. The crossover to the West Gully is easy to find, especially with the photo from the 14ers.com route description. The gullies both had a thread of snow, which could be avoided and/or were located in areas where they were of little consequence.


Alan skylines himself while route finding

As someone who is comfortable with exposure, I found the climbing fun. This peak was a little intimidating as the last time I was in the area there was a fatality on the Needle. This was always in the back of mind, but also served to sharpen focus, but anxiety turned to joy with each upward step.

We spent 30 sun soaked minutes on the summit. We had seen one climber descending and otherwise had the Needle to ourselves. As the trailhead lot was full it begged the question: Where was everybody?


Alan on the summit, with the next objective, Crestone Peak in the background.

The original plan was to do the traverse from Needle to Peak, but we did not have 100% buy-in from the group, and frankly I did not want to carry a rope, so I used this an excuse to call it off. Instead, Seth, Alan and I decided we would leave from Broken Hand Pass and climb Crestone Peak via the standard route.

The descent back to Broken Hand Pass was uneventful, but an exercise in methodical downclimbing.


Sandy and David on the descent


David, Angela and Seth crossing over a rib

Alan and I have gotten a lot of hiking in this year and Seth is the type of guy who runs ultra-marathons and occasionally wins them. We meshed perfectly as we dropped off the pass, quietly consuming distance, cruised by Cottonwood Lake and made the hard right towards the Red Gully. Snow streaked, flowing with water and the snow softening in the sun, we quickly discussed the route and then ascended without pause.


We stayed in the rocks to the left side in the lowest snow field, switched to right midway, crossed an unavoidable snowfield and then cut back left, ultimately reaching the summit left of the upper snowfield. This kept us out of soft snow, but put us on steep terrain.


Approaching the base of the Red Gully, note the running water


Hugging the left side of the lower snowfield


Alan and Seth high above the basin floor


Seth and Alan crossing a small but steep snowfield, en route to dry rock

Two hours after departing Broken Hand Pass we reached the summit. We laid into our food supply, finished our water (damn it!) and drank in views of neighboring peaks, the Sand Dunes and the expanse of the San Luis Valley. Then summit goofiness began.


Alan throwing down the “farmer flex shot” with a hat he found at 14,000 feet.


The classis pose, note the socks, so much for “waterproof’ boots. The Full Monty showed up too but is not safe for viewing as it requires immediate administration of eye bleach.


Seth and Alan


Kit Carson and Challenger

The descent was a thirsty affair, luckily the exposure was such that one did not notice the dry and scratchy throat. After the initial scramble we were able to transition to snow and plunge step.


Alan downclimbing


Seth and Sandy plunge stepping


Water water everywhere

We filtered water at Cottonwood Lake, climbed back over Broken Hand Pass and hit camp for ramen and rest. Tempted by the lure of sleeping in our own beds, Alan and I packed and drove back to Denver.


Climb complete


Cottonwood Lake


The sun slips behind the Crestones


The road home


Second dinner!


  1. Yikes, it would appear as though very little in your second dinner was derived from a living organism. The hike and the scenery are quite impressive though.

  2. Better living through chemistry!

    Loaf and Jug in Florence, CO definitely lacked whole food options. Which is good as I would have felt guilty bypassing them for everything above...

  3. The female half of "The Texans"June 28, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Great pictures and narrative. Many sweet viking pictures left out, unfortunately. Had a great time with you guys, even if you did abandon us for Loaf and Jug.

  4. To the female Texan contingent...I still want a copy of those viking pictures and the group flexshots! As for Loaf and Jug, you, Seth and David are great company, but we can all agree that doritos after a day like that are tough to beat...

    Do keep in touch and let us know when you two will be up here as we would be glad to meet up, whether it be in Denver or in the high country.