Rank: 8th / 20th
Height:14,294 / 14,197
Date: 3 September 2002
Ascent: NW Couloir from Bear's Playground
Descent: Traverse To Crestone Needle then down South Face of Crestone Needle
Difficulty: Moderate Class 3/4 Climb
Base: 11,073 (est)
Elevation Gain: 3,221 feet
From 4WD Trailhead to Summit: 2.5 miles (est)
Summit of Crestone Peak to Crestone Needle: .5 miles (est)
Crestone Needle To 4WD Trailhead: 2.7 miles (est)
Total Distance: 5.7 miles (est)
Start 6:00 a.m.
Summit Creston Peak 10:30 a.m.
Summit Creston Needle 2:15 p.m.
Finish 6:30 p.m.
Total Trip Time 12.5 hours
Trail/Route: I drove the South Colony Lakes road using an Arctic Cat 300 ATV to traverse this tough jeep trail with a vehicle. I left the Suburban at 5:00 a.m. and arrived at the 4WD parking area at approximately 6:00 a.m.
I hiked from the trailhead past Lower South Colony Lake on the northern side and subsequently Upper South Colony Lake on the southern side, and then climbed directly up the south-facing scree gully to the southern ridge of Bear's Playground. I then climbed south along a talus ridge towards Crestone Peak, using a strong climber's trail. Just prior to intersecting the NW Couloir, I met a two-man climbing party and a solo climber. The solo was from Dallas, Tx and the other two were from Gunnison. We agreed to form a climbing group for the ascent of Crestone Peak and the subsequent traverse to Crestone Needle. We then entered the NW Couloir and climbed for approximately 800 feet to gain the Red Saddle.
After arriving on the saddle, we up climbed an easy, Class 3 route for the final 250 feet to the peak. Excellent views were had in all directions and we could watch the progress of those who were laboring in the South Couloir. After about a half hour on the summit, we down climbed to the Red Saddle and then prepared for the traverse to Crestone Needle.
We initially descended about 300 feet in the south-facing couloir of Crestone Peak and then scrambled SE over broken terrain. The trail was not well cairned and we were off route most of the time. We stayed on the south side of the ridge, but were too high on several occasions, and we actually were very near the summit of the 13, 940 foot peak of the saddle between the two mountains. I made a wrong turn and had to retrace my route several times. The entire traverse was characterized by challenging Class 3 scrambling. The final steep climb to the needle was visible as we approached the three gendarmes on the needle's NW ridge. The northernmost gendarme, the Black Gendarme, confused us, but after two missed attempts at route finding, we finally ascended to a ledge for the final Class 4 crux pitch to the summit.
The Class 4 crux pitch was scary because there was considerable exposure, so we formed a three-man rope team. The solo climber from Dallas did not have equipment. We climbed the pitch using a belay and three cam anchors. Once we scaled the 100-foot cliff, the remainder of the climb was a Class 3 scramble up broken terrain along the ridgeline. The summit of Crestone Needle was as impressive as described in the guidebooks.
We spent a half hour on the summit and then began the down climb of the south couloir to Broken Hand Pass. This involved Class 3 down climbing over rocky stubs and knobs and was quite fun, despite the tired legs. There were several airy sections, but nothing approaching that of the north face of Crestone Needle. Once at Broken Hand Pass, we traversed a descending climbers trail through a scree gully back to the South Colony Lakes. At a point approximately 1/4 mile from the Lower South Colony lake, our party disbanded, with each group going their separate way.
For my part, I returned to the 4WD trailhead weary, but very content. Out of water, I ate my last orange, mounted the ATV, and headed for the cold beer that awaited me at the Suburban. I picked up a hiker on the way back and gave him a ride. He was from Grand Junction and had climbed all the mountains in the Crestone Group over the long Labor Day weekend. Good for him. I was very satisfied with this outing, as it completed my Crestone objectives.
Conditions Weather Sunny; no wind; Temperature: 55 Degrees @ trailhead; 60 degrees at summit; great weather bright and sunny
Climbing Companions: Koich from Dallas; Tad and Chris from Gunnison