The shortest approach is by way of the South Colony Lakes Trailhead. You can also get to this route via the Cottonwood Creek, Spanish Creek, or Willow Creek Trailheads as well. Nonetheless, you need to gain the summit of Crestone Peak to begin your route. This is most easily done by way of the Northwest Couloir or the North Buttress. Now The fun begins.
This route is one of the four great fourteener traverses out there.
From the summit of Crestone Peak, drop down a south-facing couloir until you are about level with the obvious saddle between the Peak and the Needle. (Tip: spot the saddle while on or near the summit of the Peak and pick your "level" landmark that you will drop to. Once in the couloir, you will lose sight of all that is east of you.)
As you reach your landmark, head east to begin your traverse. Skirt along the feet of the huge buttresses and continue aiming for the saddle. Tag the saddle for a great view, or pass just below it. Between you and the Needle now stands a sizable peak in the ridge (13,940 ft). Take an inviting ledge system down and around the foot of this peak and head back up for your final push. Keep an eye on your chosen line up to the Needle as you approach. Also note where your line is with relation to the "three Gendarmes"
Navigation here is key. Use caution when crossing the couloir tops and gullies after the gendarmes, as the broken rock is loose and handholds are very limited. Alas, the crux awaits you. Climb a well studded and very stiff 4th class pitch to the Needles summit.
For you 4th Class thrill seekers, this climb will not dissapoint you! "This is Crestone knob climbing at it's best." (Colorados Fourteeners; 2nd ed., Gerry Roach. 1999)
Again, quoting Roach, "the key to this traverse is to stay well below the ridge on its southwest side." Riding the ridge would make for a long and dangerous endeavor.
- The view of this traverse and the Needle is spectacular, as is the rest of the scenery.
I also recommend nothing more than a medium to LIGHT BACK-PACK
. Particularly so if one is new to fourth class scrambling or unfamiliar with technical rock climbing.
Some opt to carry a ROPE?
for the potential short rappel conditions that exists. However, if doing the Peak-to-Needle traverse (and you stay off the ridge), you will climb the typically rappelled section and a rope is not necessary.
Other than the above mentioned, use your best judgment & pack your usual high country essentials. The traverse is a 1 to 3 hr commitment depending on your speed. Safe escape from the ridge requires finishing it or returning to the couloir on Crestone Peak's south side. With this, mind your weather and DRESS OR PACK ACCORDINGLY
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