The South Colony/Crestones area is one which you don't forget. After a climb of Crestone Needle in July 2001, I was determined to come back and do The Peak and Humboldt. At that time, my experience and fitness were limited and the Ellingwood Arete of the Needle kicked my butt. As a result, The Peak and Humboldt would have to wait.
Neither were on my agenda for this season. However, I'm always looking for an excuse to "blitz" off to the hills, and Kane gave me the excuse to do just that. Kane's generous offer of the Humboldt Peak page was excuse enough for me to get away for a couple of days, stay acclimated and fit, and bag at least two other peaks this season. I attempted to talk Jackie and my 15 year-old son into coming with me, but with no luck, so I planned on a solo trip. That is, until Andy heard about the trip and agreed to meet me on Saturday for a Crestone Peak attempt. So with only a couple of days notice and a guaranteed climbing partner, I quickly gathered gear and headed out from Oklahoma.
Ten hours later I was at the lower trailhead and sitting in my red 2WD Toyota pick-up looking at the daunting task before me. The road to South Colony Lakes is notorious for being extremely rough and has claimed many a vehicle. Although it is only 2WD, my pick-up is a PreRunner model and has the clearance of the 4WD version. Two years prior, I faced this same decision in the same vehicle, and opted to hike the entire road. But this year, I remembered Aaron Johnson's theory of trailhead access which I learned on our Elbert trip. That is: Why hike to the trailhead when you can drive? I thought, 'Good theory', as I began to churn up the road. The first crux of the drive is about a mile in and appears shortly after coming into the trees. It took me three tries, but I made it rather ungracefully. Old Red made it about four miles further when I reached a steep rock stab which just wouldn't go, no matter which way I tried. Four attempts proved futile and I was defeated. I resigned to hiking the last mile or so, when "Tony" picked me up and gave me a ride. I was quite proud of the little red truck for making it that far.
The Lower South Colony Lake area was filled with people, kids, dogs, and you-name-it. I found my old campsite from two years ago, still tucked away in the bushes. It is impossible to see from any trail or point in the area. Unless you know where it is, it is very difficult to find. But it is a perfect campsite, hidden, sheltered, close to water, and ten yards from the trail to Broken Hand Pass. I set up camp, ate, and went to bed to the sound of screaming kids.
Up at 5:00 AM to bag Humboldt. I probably didn't need to be up that early, but I wanted to beat the weekend crowds. I summited at 7:30 and had the entire mountain to myself. I drug out the topo and identified all the peaks around me. I snapped the obligatory photos, signed the register (which was full), and headed down. On the ridge, I met Tony again. We sat, chatted, and had a snack. My stomach was not 100%, so I didn't eat much, and headed on down. Humboldt was a nice morning hike.
After a couple of naps, I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon watching people fish, hike, kids scream, etc. I didn't see anyone climbing or descending the harder peaks that day. The day before, I left a FRS radio hidden under my pick-up for Andy. At about 5:30 PM, I got a scratchy call on the radio. I directed him to the secret campsite and we exchanged greetings while it began to rain. After a hasty tent set-up and a period of time to dry off, I went to bed with a 4:30 AM appointment with The Peak.
I awoke to the sound of Andy's tent zippers and knew it was time. The anticipation of the day was making my stomach churn, but I was pumped. I like climbing with people like Andy who have their shit together. We were gone in ten minutes. This day was different than the day before. We observed one party about 30 minutes ahead of us and two other parties stirring in their campsites getting ready to go. The real climbers start early.....the bozos would come later.
The climb to Broken Hand Pass was in the dark. However, Andy had this monster flashlight that lit up the entire north face of Broken Hand Peak, so we had no issues with finding our cairns or the trail. We hit the left chute of Broken Hand Pass just as it was light enough to turn off the headlamps. A little scramble and we were facing Cottonwood Lake, then heading down the west slope of the pass. The Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) is doing a lot of work on the west side of Broken Hand Pass. These people are working very hard to make the trails better and safer. Thank them if you see them.
We passed the RMFI base camp at Cottonwood Lake and stashed our trekking poles under the watchful eye of Crestone Peak. The Red Couloir is very distinguishable, even in the early morning light. We made some Gatorade in our extra water bottles and stashed them with our trekking poles. This would be a welcomed treat upon our return. We could see another party of two about a half-hour in front of us and we began our climb through the tundra leading to the couloir.
The Red Couloir is a blast. This is a classic class three route and a lot of fun to climb. We basically wandered from side to side in the couloir, avoiding loose rock, scree, and the cascading water. Although we wore helmets, rock fall was minimal and the route was very safe. From their perch in the notch at the top of the couloir, a couple of guys watched us finish the couloir. They had waited for us to finish before their descent to avoid kicking rocks on us. True gentlemen climbers. The summit pitch is the best part of this climb. Airy, exhilarating, and open, the summit is a kick in the pants, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was 8:45 AM.
Two other climbers soon joined us on the summit. One was from Omaha, Nebraska and he was a hoot. With every other word a vulgarity, he informed us of his plans to try to climb the Needle later that day from the standard route. We advised against it, saying he should have started a heck of a lot earlier. So we took some photos, ate a snack, and headed down. "Omaha" was still muttering about trying the Needle and he soon left us in the dust. We met two other parties coming up the couloir and soon lost "Omaha". About halfway down, Andy pointed out "Omaha" on the left above the couloir. I hollered at him and asked him what he was doing. He yelled something about finding another route and I watched him almost bite the big one when he slipped next to a 30 foot cliff.
The rest of the descent was uneventful and we enjoyed Gatorade while we watched the other parties summit The Peak. Neither of us were looking forward to our trudge up Broken Hand Pass, but that's part of it. We had originally considered a bag of Broken Hand Peak, but we were both very happy with the day so far and felt The Peak was enough. On top of the pass, we met a couple of guys arriving at the pass from the South Colony side: Bozo Party #1. It was around 12:30 PM and they were headed up to climb Crestone Needle. I pointed out a storm system about 20 miles to the west and strongly advised them to not attempt it. They all laughed and said they were fast, and headed up anyway. After talking to a couple of gals from the RMFI, we headed down, negotiated the chute, and met another party also heading up to climb the Needle. They had two dogs and minimal gear. It was now 1:00 PM. I warned them about the seriousness of their attempt and advised them to turn around. You guessed it....Bozo Party #2 continued on up.
At 1:30 we arrived back at camp. Nine hours round trip and we both felt good. We decided to pack it up, drive out, and get the biggest hamburger in Westcliffe. A couple of hours later, we heard thunder as we were hiking toward the truck, and we talked about the bozo bunch, and hoped they had the sense to turn around before the weather came in. Old Red made it back with minimal difficulty. Driving down highway 69, I could see the storms over the Crestones, and thought about being up there earlier that day. The biggest hamburger in Westcliffe was soon devoured and Andy and I parted ways.
I had a great weekend in the mountains. Kane was my inspiration, Aaron was my advisor, and Andy was my partner. To most, SummitPost may be about the mountains, but to me, it's about the people. Thanks guys.
Great report. I know what you mean about the "bozos"! Even on walk-ups I start in the dark, I like to summit and be well on my way back down before noon. Plus, there is nothing like watching the sunrise from a summit.... or having the luxury of staying up there for an hour and enjoying the view.....because it's early and there's nothing but blue skies all around you.
I know the Sangres well. I bought 35 acres, just north of Westcliffe a few years ago.