Going up the South Colony Lakes road was a familiar beginning to the climb I planed on the Creston’s. Having been up the same road several years ago to climb Humboldt I already expected a rough ride. I got to the first crossing of Colony Lakes Creek where I had stopped before and elected to continue driving. My Pathfinder held its own and I was able to make it 2 miles up further to the second creek crossing where the road was blocked by snow.
I was off in sort order and in about 45 minutes I had reached the footbridge at South Colony Creek. The snow as solid from here and I donned my snowshoes and took off toward to the lake. There we a couple of sets of foot prints in front of me and I was wondering why anyone would be so foolish to be up here LOL.
It was not too much further up that I decided that it would be faster to go without snowshoes, so back on the pack they went. The day had started out sunny and clear but soon after I was out of the trees a dark cloud deck began to move in and the wind began to rise. Reaching the lake I started looking for a campsite. I investigated several options including digging a snow calve. After running out any viable options and since the wind was picking up I headed back to the trees. I found several of the regular campsites along the trail that were free of snow, relatively dry and made short work of setting up camp.
The winds continued to increase and the clouds surged over the ridge so I made sure that my tent was guyed out and firmly anchored. A quick trip to pump up water at the creek and diner was being made. I decided cook up in the tent since the wind gusts were in the 30 plus miles per hour range. Having the JetBoil stove made the job so much easier; this would have been impossible with a gas stove to cook in the tent.
The winds continued to rise to the point I was concerned that the tent might fail. After sever incredible gusts I was sure that it would hold. Shortly after dinner I attempted to catch some shut eye and get rested for the next days climb. Sleep was a rare commodity since the every time a dropped off for a few minutes the wind would wake me. Nature called and I had to get out o the tent around midnight and a gust of wind almost knocked me over. I decide to abort the climb the next day and turned off the alarms on the watch. I woke at 6 a.m. and the winds still had not let up. I finally got up around 8:30 and the skies were clear but the wind was still high and I debated a late start. About 9:00 the wind suddenly died and I began to chastise myself for not having stated earlier. I decided to go for it and would turn around if the conditions or weather warranted.
Leaving camp at 9:45 in the morning is not my idea of an “alpine start”, the skies were clear and the wind was luff, however the sun had been of the snow for some time and I was concerned with the firmness of the climbing surface. Much to my pleasure the snow was a nice nevee that made for easy climbing and kick stepping. Following the tracks up the steep section of snow that had been left by some skiers in the previous few days I made it to the Col between Broken Hand and Crestone Needle in about an hour. From here the route finding became more difficult. Large sections of the trail were covered by snow and many of the cairns were still buried. It took nearly another hour to traverse the trail to the couloir that leads to the summit pitch. The snow in the couloir proved less than forgiving. Warmer temperatures of several weeks ago left sections refrozen as verglas, which I had to be bypass by climbing on the rock face on ether side. In spite of the shade in the couloir, post holing and burring my ice axe to the hilt became the norm. As I ascended the couloir the snow climbing became more strait forward as the shaded snow firmed. At about 12:45 I stopped to check by bearings and according to my GPS I was a mere 312 feet from the summit. The couloir had become more shallow and was now bathed in sunlight.
This was to become the hardest 312 feet of climbing I had undertaken. With the summit ridge in sight I began the arduous task of ascending the steep sun softened snow. Post holing sometimes hip deep, plunging my fist and my axe into the wet snow to help get a better purchase it seemed like the summit would never arrive. After nearly an hour I reached the summit ridge and made the easy scramble across to Crestone Needles highest point.
To my dismay, there was no USGS summit marker to be found; nor was the summit register in sight. I assume that the summit register may have disappeared off the mountain as a result of one of the storms that had passed through the range over the past winter.
I was pretty tired so I did not linger long on the top. Some food, some drink and I shot a short video with my digital camera 5.1 MB Video and it was time to descend. In my haste I turned down the wrong couloir. I descended a couple hundred feet before I realized my mistake. Rather than climb back up I elected to traverse to the correct line to descend. Little did I know that I would find myself in some Class 4 territory. Some of the climbing was moderately exposed but the solid rock of the Crestones and the frequent ledges made for a relatively event free traverse. At one point I spotted a rappel sling that had been left behind. I was thinking “I have to rap here?” From the edge of the second couloir I was able to clearly see the route and my foot tracks and laughed that “You can’t get there from here”. I began to descend the Left Gully and that is where the fun began. The snow would go from soft to hard making for some unsteady footing. I had to self arrest several times but none of the slides went very far since soon my legs were swallowed in soft snow again. I became conscious of how automatic the process of self arrest had become and never felt as if I was in danger. At the bottom of the Left Gully it was just a few feet up to where the Right Gully nearly intersects it and I was back in my foot tracks again.
Following the route back to camp posed some interesting climbing. The snow had softened significantly and the weather was starting to build to the west so I wanted to get over the Col between the Needle and Broken Hand quickly. Post holing through extended sections of the route was not the speediest method. I found it much faster to traverse on the Class 4 rock face just above the trail. A fall here would have landed me is soft snow just a foot or so below.
I was glad to reach the Col and stopped to examine the trail work that was being done. It appears that there is an attempt to standardize and improve the trail to stop some of the erosion caused by all of the people climbing the Crestones. A large cache apparently of trail maintenance materials covered with tarps is stored near the Col and there is some interesting use of aluminum pipes to block people for climbing between two rock formations just below the Col.
A quick glissade down the main couloir back to my foot tracks sped the trip back to camp. I had already determined that I was going out so once in camp I made short work of packing up. Before I left I chatted with a group of climbers who were heading to the Ellingwood Arête the next day. I wished them luck and started making for the car knowing that I had threaded the “Eye of the Needle”…