14,197 feet, 4327 meter
The 'Needle' as it is often called is arguably one of the most difficult 14ers in Colorado. It is rated a Class 3 climb meaning you use both hands and both feet and crawl your way to the top! I would rate it a low Class 4 with some occasional exposure for the standard South face route. I found it a fantastic climb as my regular partner, Patrick and I made the summit on September 6, 2008.
Click on any picture to enlarge it.
We made the journey up the infamous South Colony 4WD road to the gate marking the beginning of the trail. Patrick and I climbed Crestone Peak in August 2005. Credit to some nice road work, it was much smoother now but still a very rough road that is best suited for vehicles with high ground clearance. I understand the road will be closed half-way up in Fall 2009 adding about 2.5 miles to any climb of the Crestones.
The lower South Colony lake area, at 11,600', is absolutely stunning with Humboldt Peak looming to the north and Crestone Needle guarding the west. The lake is what you always visualize for Colorado - surrounded by green grass, clear, deep and reflecting the surrounding peaks - perfect. After the short 1.5 mile hike to the lake, we found a nice marked spot close to a stream just as the winds picked up. This was to be the story of the weekend - constant winds at 20 mph with gusts over 40. However the sunset was spectacular
We left camp at 4:30AM Saturday morning with the plan to climb the Peak and cross over to the Needle via the Traverse. With headlamps shining out front we slowly made our way towards Broken Hand Pass, a small notch at 12,500'. Huge carins made the dark journey manageable. Thanks to the CFI who built these markers! The climb over the Pass is a low Class 3 and can be challenging for some. But we made it easily and were hit by even stronger winds just as the sun started to rise.
After a short discussion we descended to abandon the Traverse and go for the Needle only. The winds were just too strong for us to feel safe on the exposed ledges. No regrets, we will go back one day!
A well trodden trail leads away from the Pass towards the Needle. As the sun rose, the route came into view and we could easily see the east gully. There was a small flow of water, mostly frozen, in the center. Surprisingly, there was no snow on this south face. By early September, it is not uncommon to already have had a snowfall this high up in the rockies.
The lower part of the Needle involves some easy climbing around large rock faces. Since the rock in the Crestones is conglomerate, the hand and foot holds are plentiful unlike in the Elks where you never know if your solid handhold will let you down just when you need it. We made our way to the base of the east gully and began the climb. We put our helmets on at this point.
The route was fairly obvious - up. We were looking for a crossover point to the west gully and on to the summit. Small carins showed the route but it was the thoughtful placement of an orange ribbon that showed the crossover notch. It could be easily missed but was obvious once spotted. We made our way up. The climbing was straightforward meaning easy holds and minimal exposure but still required careful attention and concentration. It was in this area in the late summer of 2008, an experienced climber lost her footing and fell to her death. My thoughts were of her, her family and climbing partners as we passed this point.
The crossover to the notch required a big move across a sharp gully. The angle was quite steep at 40 degrees plus the rock was covered with ice so a slip would had been damaging. Now across the rib to the west gully we continued the climb along a narrow gully to the summit. Again the climbing was not too difficult but was sustained high class 3. We reached the high point and made the left turn towards the summit.
After following the ridge for a few hundred feet we were there! It was a great feeling of accomplishment but guarded since we had the downclimb ahead of us.
We took some pictures but with the winds still strong and gusting, we left after only a few minutes on the summit. A father-son team joined us and went on to do the traverse. The dad had competed it 20 years earlier! Impressive.
The return trip took about the same time - we had gone from tent to summit is 3:45 hours. We retraced our route up with little difficulty but were careful about dislodging rocks since several parties were just starting their climbs.
In summary, I had a great time as did Patrick. The climbing as fun and challenging. The views were breathless and the satisfaction on reaching the summit was excellent. But as we stood on the summit at 9:00 Am looking at Humboldt, we knew our Saturday was not over quite yet ...