With one day to climb and our fingers crossed for the weather to hold, we headed south in the middle of the night to the South Colony Lakes Road. We drove about half way up, to the first stream crossing above the Rainbow Trail junction (roughly where the FS is apparently planning to terminate the road after this year), and were hiking by 5:05 am MDT. Having climbed Kit Carson six weeks earlier, this was our bid to finish the Crestone group.
Clouds came and went, and we actually heard one peal of thunder as we made our way to the base of Broken Hand Pass. On the way up, we finally saw some other hikers. One group was coming up behind us, and the other was descending. The latter pair said they had turned around at the top of the pass, as they thought the clouds to the west looked to dangerous. We decided to press on anyway and hope for the best.
By a quarter to nine, we had reached Cottonwood Lake, where we stopped to eat and drink and rest briefly. It was still cloudy, but nothing seemed to be building. In fact, the clouds kept breaking apart in spurts, showing a little more sky each time. So, after a few minutes, we started up the Red Couloir.
We were surprised to find a clear and well-cairned trail all the way up the grassy ledges. The cairns continued, never hard to find, after we entered the rocks. Clearly, route finding was not going to be as much of a problem as we had feared it might.
We stayed almost exclusively to the left (west) of the small amount of water running down the drainage. We found only a few difficult spots, where one might classify the climbing as Class 4 instead of 3. What looked scariest were the sections of smooth, outward-tilted slabs. But what actually was hardest were the occasional moves over some of the boulders and up some of the small headwalls, which required large steps with exposure. Careful selection of handholds were needed on these, along with occasional instances of smearing for good traction. We found that the slabs, on the other hand, consistently offered amazingly good traction.
So after slabs, walls, boulders, and ledges in stages and no particular order, we finally made it to the top of the couloir, and stepped onto the small saddle between Crestone’s two peaks. It had taken us over two hours from the lake, but, no doubt, more experienced climbers could trim this time by quite a bit. From there, there is an obvious route, consisting of a series of good ledges and still well cairned, that leads up on the climber’s left (south) of the ridge crest to the summit. After finally reaching this crest, we had to traverse the small saddle which is, I think, at the top of the northwest couloir before reaching the small level area of the true summit. What a summit it is! Clouds still mostly enshrouded us, with only occasional moments of clearing, but the views we could see were spectacular to say the least.
After a few minutes to take pictures, eat and drink, and sign the register (the tube cap was missing, so I enclosed the register in a zipper bag), we went back down to the saddle.
There, we dropped our packs and, taking only the camera, scrambled up the obvious gully on the right (again, south) side of that ridge crest to the east summit. There, the clouds finally cleared substantially, allowing some good landscape photographs. The east summit is no harder to reach than the west one. In fact, both final stretches are easier than most of the Red Couloir, so there’s no good reason not to bag both.
The trip down was uneventful, punctuated only by encountering a group nearing the end of the Needle-to-Peak traverse, and discovering that we could, indeed, simply walk over the slabs through the section (just above 13,000 feet) where we had crossed and re-crossed the stream to avoid just that. Had it not been for the rain and hail that began pelting us just after we cleared the difficult parts of Broken Hand Pass, there would have been nothing at all to tell of the rest of the day. Tired and wet, we didn’t make it back to the car until about 6:30. Still, it was a great day and a great peak.
Pictures are at: