Approach to Curecanti Needle - swimming from Curecanti Creek
Morrow Point reservoir with Curecanti Needle in the backgroundCurecanti National Recreation Area
is located approximately 200 miles southwest of Denver.
Map of Curecanti NRP from national park service - click here
U.S. Highway 50 runs the length of Curecanti between Montrose and Gunnison, Colorado. The recreation area is also accessed from CO Hwy 149 and CO Hwy 92.
Public Transportation: complicated, by bus or trail to Grand Junction, and then hitchhike
Plane: Commercial airline service available to Gunnison, Montrose, and Grand Junction. You can rent a car at the airport.
is located on the south bank of Morrow Point Reservoir. The spire is directly west of the mouth of Blue Creek and directly across the river from the mouth of Curecanti Creek. Most visitors view Curecanti Needle from the boat tour starting at Pine Creek TH.
The U.S. 50 runs close by the Needle but there is no direct access. There is also no trail. The closest developed trail is the Curecanti Creek Trail, which follows the moderately steep descent of Curecanti Creek south to its entry into Morrow Point Reservoir. This trail brings you directly across the river from the Needle (see photo on the left).
Another option is to paddle to the Curecanti Needle from Pine Creek Trailhead. It is about 5 miles down the reservoir. Paddling down is easy since there is a good flow, but closer to the Needle the current slows down. Paddling back is a work out especially towards the end and your kayak is loaded with camping and climbing gear. Luckily, there is a trail along Gunnison river for the last mile and when you get tired, you can carry your boat and gear up the trail.
Another option is to hike down the Curecanti Creek Trail from Pioneer Point Overlook. It is accessible from CO-92, 5.7 miles west of its junction with US-50. The trails descends 900 feet (270 meters) in 2 miles to the small bay where Curecanti Creek drains into the Morrow Point Reservoir (= Gunnison River). You can either carry a small boat, or some other floatable device. Swimming across the reservoir is an option as well, but remember the water is very cold, released from the bottom of the dam. Wet suit is recommended for swimming.
: 7,739 feet = 2,359 m
Prominence: 700 feet = 210 m
Colorado Rank: 3057
Saddle elevation: 7,460
Parent Lineage: Fitzpatrick Mesa
There are several routes leading the the summit. We chose the most popular and best rated Northwest Rib 5.9-.
Northwest Rib 5.9-
Take a boat, floatables or swim (wet suit recommended) to the down river end of Curecanti Needle. Secure your boat. Scramble up the loose scree gully to the saddle. There is some brush at trees and higher sections. From the saddle go left along the ledge until you see a large grassy ledge with great views of the Gunnison River below.
Pitch 1: starts at the beginning of the large ledge. We spent a little time here to try to figure it out. The large wall with multiple opening cracks did not appear easy, aerated loose rock was hard to protect. We chose a pillar (see photo below) with many features and eventually crossed into a chimney with a tree. The tree had a sling around it - what an reassuring sign. The pillar was facing north, directly to the water. The route eventually lead to a another ledge with tree with slings. I would rate it 5.6, could be climbed more difficult as 5.7 - several variations right next to each other.
Pitch 2: Walk left around the ledge and pass the corner until you face directly the reservoir and find yourself across from Curecanti Creek Trail. Look up - there is a beautiful crack and "money pitch" of the climb. The hand crack is great with a clean rock, and there are also many features on the rock, so you have choices either climb a crack or use the face. There are several pitons in this section. At some point the hand crack becomes pretty wide, but if you reach deep inside there are holds there. There is a ledge with slings around a large boulder for an anchor. 5.9-
Pitch 3: Climb more cracks and traverse slightly left (very obvious). This pitch is short and is protected with pitons. There is another anchor with slings around it.
Final Scramble: it is still cca 40 m of scrambling to reach the actual summit, mostly 4th class with a few low 5th class moves. The exposure is immense and a mistake would most likely end up in a fatality. Consider staying roped up on this section. There was a large plastic summit register up there - we found it filled with water and no sign in register in it. The views from the summit are spectacular. I was posing for a photo and nearly got snapped by an eagle flying right above - my partners ran to me to scare the eagle away.
Remember you will be a tourist attraction on this route. People taking the boat tour will be stopping by and taking photos of you.
Descent: There are bolted rappel stations on the south side of the tower. Two double rope rappels and one single rappel will bring you down. Walk/scramble down between 2nd and 3rd rap for about 10-15 meters.
Gear: Two 60 meter ropes. Personal climbing gear. Camalots up to size 4 (one #4 is plenty), consider doubles for 1 and 2 (we did not require those, but our leader was very competent), nuts, slings.
Variation: Start climbing right from the river. Traverse above the water to start in a wide, left facing corner with a piton. Stay on the ridge all the way. There are some pins marking the way.
Curecanti Needle with a ay where Curecanti Creek drains into Morrow Point
Curecanti Needle with frozen Morrow Point Reservoir
Sunset over Curecanti Needle from Pioneer Point Overlook
When to Climb
Summer is the easiest - boating more pleasant. I have seen people descending the Curecanti Creek Trail in the winter and crossing over a frozen reservoir, but this poses a risk of falling through and drowning + climbing 5.9 route in winter conditions.
There is excellent camping at the end of Curecanti Creek trail with a camping table, and even a fire pit. Bear food container is there as well, but has been very dirty over the past 2 years. There is a dry vault toilet.
Another great camping spot is on the southeast side of the Curecanti Needle, you need a boat to get there. There is a small beach with a patch of grass. This is a primitive area. You cannot hike from here. There are no toilet facilities.
Camping at Curecanti Creek Trail
Nice private camping at Curecanti Creek Trail
Camping Curecanti Creek