Ah the Crestones…. I think I may have just seen the most beautiful piece of Colorado. I am sure there are many areas I have not yet seen, but this area is truly magnificent! Denise and I had decided to go with a Colorado Mountain Club trip to climb Crestone Peak, but the leader, Eric started to talk how large the group was and he was unsure of the abilities of the group. Hence, Denise and I became a loosely attached member of the group which suited us fine.
Denise accepted the challenge from me of driving up the South Colony 4WD road which we did with no problems on Friday evening, arriving at the 2nd stream crossing 1 mile short of Colony Lake at about 8pm. I pitched my tent, and she, her new OR Bivy Sack, (Her Bivy sack was impressive in its first field test), walked up the road to meet the other CMC group members and agreed to start at 5am the following morning. Waking at 4am, I cooked some oatmeal and hot chocolate although the evening had been clear and WARM — very unusual for being at 11,000′. It made getting started very easy as we could wear shorts from the start. We tagged with the CMC group up to South Colony Lake, and then began the climb to the “saddle” between Broken Hand and Crestone Needle.
This saddle is hardly mentioned in the guide books but I believe it to be more of a notch than a saddle as there is some 3rd class scrambling at the top. We were greeted by strong winds in the saddle so we wasted no time in descending from the 12,900′ marker down into the Cottonwood Lake basin. You lose about 900′ doing this, but it leads to the firm south face that makes enjoyable class 3 climbing. We regrouped at the base of the great red couloir that divides the south face. A herd of about 10 big horn sheep were grazing on the hillside and many pictures were taken. A group from a New Mexico Mountaineering club also reached the base of the couloir at the same time so Denise and I told Eric we were going to start climbing on our own to beat the rush … and the rock fall. Rock climbing helmets were donned and up we went… and up, and up, and… I think the entire couloir is about 1200′ long of consistent climbing.
A small waterfall cascades down the center and usually you climb to the left of this feature. The lower sections are slab climbing that are fine when dry, the middle section turns to knob climbing on conglomerate rock, and the top is talus and rock scrambling. We lead the way up staying above the the string of people below us.
You just have to watch where you put your feet and rock fall can be avoided… almost. We reached the top of the couloir after about 1.2 hours to a dramatic view down the sheer north side. The New Mexico group was regrouping before the final climb to the summit so I just kept going traversing the final 250 feet to reach the tiny summit of Crestone Peak. I actually thought it would be smaller according to the books, but it was actually about 8′ round. It does however drop away on ALL SIDES! Denise joined me and we were able to sign the register, enjoy the view in peace before retreating slightly back toward the saddle to allow others to summit. Here we sat in the alternating sun and rising mist eating a bite, watching others climb up, and generally soaking in the tremendous views. A guy and gal passed us within 15 ‘ of summiting their final 14er (out of 54) and we heard yelps when they final stood on top of Crestone Peak. What an accomplishment… one that I can appreciate as this summit was my halfway point of 27 climbed within the 12 months I have lived in Colorado. Seems a long way to go… my wife and children agree.
We had talked about also doing the needle depending on weather and energy levels so we donned our helmets again, and descended from the ridge passing our CMC group at the top of the couloir. We bid goodbye and started down. The New Mexico group was doing the traverse to the needle and we talked about their route. They had a rope, we did not, but had they asked us to join them we would have went that way. The offer did not come so down we headed reaching the base in about the same time it takes to go up. They are a couple of places where it is tricky, but straight forward. The big horn sheep were still there when we arrived back at the basin.
Back pass the lake and now with the temperature in the high 80’s even at 12,000′ the 900′ slog back to the saddle into South Colony Lake area was a bit draining. We sat at the saddle debating the weather and what we wanted to do. The ridge to the needle was to our left and the summit was only about 1200′ and a mile away. It is however about a 3 hour round trip back to the saddle. The weather was partly cloudy; it could hold or it could turn on us. We were tired and decided that since we had not done Humboldt on this trip that we had to come back and the needle and Humboldt would be a nice 2 day trip. So we descended down to the lakes and our campsite. After cooling our heels in stream, we loaded up and took off on the 1 hour 6 mile jeep trail back to the valley. Interesting road, but doable in a sturdy 4wd. Got back to Colorado Springs at 6:30pm. We both felt that Crestone Peak was the one of the finest climbs on a 14er we had done and are ready to go back tomorrow to do the Needle and Kit Carson. Just a lot of fun on mainly solid rock!
Beta: Approach: South Colony Lake Route: South face II, Class 3 Distance: 6.6 miles RT, 3850’ elevation gain with that saddle to return over… Time: 9 hours