On Monday August 22, 2005 Jared Scott joined me in Silver Cliff Colorado to make an attempt on Crestone Peak. The weather for the past several days had been dicey. Afternoon storms had fired up with increasing ferocity placing our plans in jeopardy. Jared arrived shortly after noon and we headed up to the South Colony Lakes trailhead.
Having been up the road on two other occasions, I knew what to expect. I had previously stopped at the first creek crossing and had been stopped by snow on a second trip to climb of Crestone Needle. Driving a stock ’97 Pathfinder it proved once again why it was 4X4 of The Year when it was produced. This time I was not to be denied the high parking area.
From the there we were off in short order. Within 2 minutes it started to cloud up and began to rain. We were fortunate that a group of climbers had setup a large tarp shelter just at the gated entrance to the trail. They invited us in out of the rain where we waited out the storm chatting about what else… climbing. The storm abated after about 30 minutes and we were once aging our way up to the Lakes. It was only a short 50-minute walk before we reached the edge of the tree line were we set up camp. By then the clouds had cleared out and the winds lessened slightly. We went about the ordinary business of setting up camp, pumping up water and cooking dinner. We soon had a visitor inspecting our camp, a snowshoe hare. He was quite bold and approached within inches of Jared’s feet. One quick whack and we could have had bunny on the barbee!
As night fell we were greeted to a spectacular view of the Milky Way and the star filled sky. A few meteors coursed the sky and we watched as a satellite cross from one horizon to the next. We turned in about 9 pm with a planned wake up a 5:00 am.
I slept ok considering my recent arrival from 520 feet above sea level. I could have used a slightly warmer sleeping bag but the addition of a down jacket kept me comfortable most of the night. I woke just before the alarm went off and within minutes water was boiled up for hot drinks. The morning sky greeted us with a few thin clouds but the weather did not look foreboding. We were out of camp about 45 minutes and on our way up to Broken Hand Pass. The sun produced a beautiful show for us; the alpine glow on the Elingwood Arête of Crestone Needle and the orange and red glow off of the clouds hovering over the Wet Mountains was quite a site.
Near the pass we paused to inspect the apparatus at has been set up by the Rocky Mountain Field Institute
that is used to wench supplies up to the pass. They have been doing trail building and restoration on both sides of the pass. The South Colony Lakes side is steep and has been eroded by the increasing number of climbers heading to the Crestone’s.
Jared spotted a cairn to his right and made a beeline for it. “Hay dude, that’s the way to the Needle” I called out “We go this way” pointing down toward Cottonwood Lake. “Better save that for another day” he replied. I gave him a little on-site beta from my previous climb of the Needle and we were on our way.
The trail over the pass had been magnificently built by the Field Institute; it was like a staircase all the way to the bottom. Expertly placed stepping-stones made crossing the marshland a dry event. Jared pointed out a group of Bighorn Sheep in the distance on the way down. We watched as they moved up the slope and it was not long before they disappeared into the maze of rocks and cliff bands.
The route is well defined along Cottonwood Creek Lake. The valley is surrounded by a myriad of peaks adding to the pristine setting of the high mountain lake. It is a short hike past the lake before making the turn up toward the main part of the rout… the South Couloir. The couloir, which leads to the Red Saddle, should be more aptly named “The Red Couloir” considering the distinct red color rock that lines nearly it’s entire width.
Shortly after heading up we spotted two climbers above us on the last of the grassy bands before the base of the couloir. We ascended the last of the easy sections quickly before getting on the sold rock of the couloir. I was definitely feeling the altitude and Jared’s youth and long legs made the assent look easy. We were both impressed on how solid the rock was; it was like climbing a stairway to Crestone Peak. The holds were massive; the footing was excellent adding to the fun factor on this climb. We soon caught the two climbers that were ahead of us and it was not long before we reached the Red Saddle. We paused the to take in the view before proceeding to the summit. It is a quick scramble along some ledges reminiscent of Wetterhorn Peak to the small summit. I noted the time 9:14 am and was pleased with our time, 3 hours 25 minutes from South Colony Lakes. The two climbers we had passed quickly joined us on top. The space on the summit was ideal for our group. We spent about 30 minutes on the summit, taking photos, chatting, having drinks and fueling up for the return trip. I pulled out one of the cards I carry with a quote from Anatoli Boukreev and read it aloud and then placed it in the summit register. When looking through the register I spotted the familiar name of David Connell from Texas who had been on our ice climbing trip to Ouray this year. He had been there only 9 days before.
The return trip was uneventful. We met two climbers on their way up who had already summited the Needle. Pretty impressive since they were camped near us at South Colony Lake. I did note their distinct lack of helmets, in my book a must on anything Class 3 or higher. We left our co-summiteers at their camp at Cottonwood Creek Lake and said our good byes. We stopped to chat briefly with some other climbers coming down the valley. One of them was from Hawaii and was on his first climb in the 14’ers. From there we just had to re-ascend Broken Hand Pass and then back down to camp. 6 hours 59 minutes round trip including breaks and summit time, a good day.
We broke camp in about 45 minutes and within 30 minutes we were back at the Pathfinder for the true crux of the trip…the return trip back down the South Colony Lakes road.
Looking back upon leaving the 4-wheel drive road we cold see the storms building in behind us… good timing. A few hours later after the storm passed Silver Cliff and the view of the Sangre’s had cleared, a light dusting of snow that had been deposited around 13,000 feet and higher was evident.
Finally, I would have to rate this as a great trip and one of my favorite 14’er climbs.
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