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Aug 242015
View of the Sange De Cristo from the summit of the Needle

Climbing in Colorado is always special. On August 22, 2015, my buddy, Andy Westmeyer and I climbed two of the more difficult 14ers via a traverse: Crestone Peak to Crestone Needle. Both of the 14,000′ peaks have difficult reputations and the traverse, all above 13,600′ amplifies it.

We hiked into South Colony Lake Friday night, set up camp and set the alarm for 2:30 am. The wind was blowing pretty hard so we hit the snooze alarm for an hour and left camp at 4 am for Crestone Peak.

We crossed Broken hand Pass as the sun was rising, descended to Cottonwood Lake and begin the climb of the Red Gully. Water was running down the middle of the gully but overall it was sustained climbing on smooth rock. We soon reached the summit of Crestone Peak, 14294′, about 4 hours after leaving camp.

We were rewarded with stunning views of the Great Sand Dunes, Crestone Needle, the Sange De Cristo mountain range, and the traverse.

We down climbed to 13,650′ to start the traverse. The first 3/4 is easy class 2 hiking but then it turns ugly. The routes goes up and down over rocky outcroppings, crosses steep scree gullies and dead ends into rock walls. At one point the route takes you over a challenging move that some classify as 5.1 – it’s only one move but can make one question if you are on route.

We climbed a steep gully that ended with a drop-off of a thousand feet. At that point the route turns back on itself and leads up narrow rock ramps and again into steep walls. The first was a difficult class four that lead to more ups and downs but finally came to an abrupt stop at the final 100′ wall just below the summit of Crestone Needle.

I would easily classify this as 5.0 meaning that if you fell, your hair would be seriously messed up. Some people rappel down this wall instead of up climbing it thus making the traverse Needle to Peak.

The final stretch to the Crestone Needle’s summit, 14,197′, was an airy walk but once again rewarded us with amazing views all around. The down climb from Crestone Needle is not to be dismissed. It is more steep, loose scree down long gullies all requiring challenging route finding. Choosing the wrong gulley can cost lives as has been shown in previous years.

We arrived back in camp, took a power nap before hiking out that afternoon for the long drive back home. All in all we have been on the move for 19 of the previous 24 hours. My old knees were talking loudly as the day ended!

This was my second climb of the Travers and third summits of the Peak and Needle. While this is one of the more difficult 14ers in Colorado, it is rewarding to those who try.

Climb On!
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  One Response to “Colorado 14er: Crestone Peak to Needle Traverse”


    Love it! Thanks for the story and photos. Ya know, I climbed all the Fourteeners once, 2/3 of them twice, some 5 times, slept on 10 of them… Without ever doing any of the classic traverses! Not that I/we didn’t occasionally give them a try, but finding them just too hairy and dangerous, never completed any.