Threading the Needle with Cotton Kansas

Threading the Needle with Cotton Kansas

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 2, 2006
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer


Crestone Needle (14197')- CO Rank 20
"Obstruction Pk" (13799')- CO Rank 107
Columbia Pt (13980)- CO Rank 56
11.3 miles RT, 6400' gain
September 2, 2006
from S. Colony Lakes 4WD trailhead
Participants: Jim and Karen Ohl, Kevin Baker

All Pics

My friends Jim and Karen Ohl have been working on the 14er list and are now coming to the harder ones. I gave them a list of the ones I would do again and a date was set to climb Crestone Needle, one of my favorite 14ers. I had never been up the standard route on the Needle since I did the traverse from Crestone Peak, so I knew this would be a treat to reclimb it.

We met in C. Springs and took two cars as the initial plan was for Jim and Karen to climb nearby 14er Humboldt Sunday while I drived back Sat evening. I was hoping to add 13ers Obstruction and Columbia Pt to the day if weather and time allowed. I was able to drive my stock Hyundai Santa Fe all the way up to the first stream crossing beyond the Rainbow Trail on the Colony Lakes Rd, one of the worst 4WD roads in CO. The improvements that were done this year on the lower part of the road were amazing. Jim graciously offered to drive us up the rest of the way to the 4WD trailhead, which saved us about 3 miles of hiking in the dark.

In the rush to transfer my gear to their car, I had somehow forgot my daypack as it was sitting in the back seat! I didn't realize this until we were unloading our stuff at the trailhead. I did have my larger pack as I anticipated hiking down to my car with tent, etc. since Jim and Karen were staying. Fortunantly, Jim and Karen had enough clothes and food for me to get by or it would have been a long walk back to my car! I was dubbed the nickname "Cotton Kansas" for the climb as I would have been hiking in jeans, no socks, and no essential gear if it wasn't for Jim and Karen. I was pretty oblivious to what should be worn on a climb while living in KS, thus the name Cotton Kansas.

Crestone Needle Climb

After a short, albeit calm night, we awoke at 4am under clear skies. The day was looking promising and coming in the evening before it looked like there was no remaining snow or ice on the peaks from last weekend's storm. We set out at 4:52am along the now familiar trail to the Colony Lakes. There were quite a few cars at the TH, so we were expecting to run across quite a few climbers. We passed one group heading up to Humboldt, but only came across three other parties on the Needle. This was my third time to climb Broken Hand Pass, and the CFI continues to make enormous strides with the trail. The section just below the pass that was so nasty now has some short switchbacks with nifty stone steps. The sunrise during the steep climb to the pass was stunning as the sun illuminated the clouds in the valley below.

Sunrise on trail to Broken Hand PassGlorious sunrise on the way to Broken Hand Pass.

After a short break at the pass, we began the ascending traverse to the base of the south couloir on Crestone Needle. After a short class 3 downclimb, we were at the base of the couloir. I didn't remember much about this couloir when I descended it last year because I was wasted from a long day of climbing and was not leading the descent. Jim quickly found the key crossover point where you leave the eastern couloir left to an easier couloir.

Crossover rib on C. NeedleThe key crossover point into the west couloir at ~13300'.

If you stay in the eastern couloir the route steepens to class four at a dihedral, but it looks like the dihedral could be avoided to the right. The exposed crossover to the western couloir wasn't bad, and we were soon on the summit ridge, topping out at 8:39. We made mental notes of the terrain we were climbing on the way up, so we wouldn't miss the crossover and descend too far.

Climbing west couloir on C. NeedleClimbing the west couloir on the south face of C. Needle.

The views on the summit were partial as some benign clouds had blown in to the north, obscuring any views of Crestone Peak. I took Jim and Karen down to the exciting finish of the Peak to Needle traverse. I would say the Needle is my 2nd favorite 14er to Longs and the climb on this day was a blast. After some snacks and pics, we headed down at 9:20. I paid attention to my GPS and we found the crossover point without any problems. There is some pink webbing marking the crossover. It would be very easy to miss this and cliff out below if one wasn't paying attention. We made good time on the descent and were back to the lower S. Colony Lakes around 11:40. We were all feeling strong, so Jim and Karen decided to do 14er Humboldt while I did 13ers Obstruction and Columbia Pt. We would go in opposite directions at the 12860' west saddle of Humboldt and meet back there.

Obstruction Peak and Columbia Point Climb

I knew Jim and Karen would be done much earlier than me, but I underestimated the time it would take to do these 2 peaks. I told Jim to expect me back in a couple hours, which was ludicrous given the uneven terrain I was about to encounter. It was only 1.6 miles direct distance to Columbia Pt from the saddle, but the seemingly endless ups and downs on the ridge to the Bears Playground plateau took a lot of time. I basically stayed on the ridge to the highest point of the ridge at 13290', then found a use trail that bypassed some difficulties for the most part on the north side.

Crestone Needle and neighboring 13ersSome serious eye candy on the climb of Obstruction Peak, looking south to C. Needle and some 13ers.

When I finally got my first view of the goals ahead, my spirits were deflated. This was going to be a long climb!

Obstruction and Columbia PtObstruction Pk (right) and Columbia Pt (right of center), still a long ways away!

I attacked Obstruction via the easier grassy slopes to its n.w. ridge. There wasn't an easy way to skirt it due to endless talus on its slopes below the summit, so I just decided to reclimb it on the way back.

I topped out on Obstruction, a bi-centennial, at 2:20pm. Columbia now looked fairly close but steep. The descent to the 13460' saddle went quick and the steep 500' climb of Columbia loomed. There was a faint, cairned route zigging up the face that I followed. The unproductive switchbacks became annoying, so I just climbed straight up to the summit of "Kitty Kat Carson", the sub-summit of Columbia. From here it was a short 8 minute stroll to Columbia, as I topped out at 3:08pm. Although I knew Jim and Karen would be waiting a long time for me, I had to stop and eat. I was now pretty much out of water as all I had were 2 gatorade bottles, so I knew the descent would be tough. The views on Columbia have to be some of the best in the Sangres, as Kit Carson and the Crestones are very impressive from this lofty perch.

The Crestones from summit of Columbia PtThe Crestones from the summit of Columbia Pt.

At 3:30, I reluctantly headed down for the grueling journey to the saddle of Humboldt. At this point, the weather had cooperated all day. As I made it back to Bears Playground, I began hearing distant rumbles of thunder as a storm looked to be approaching from the north. The clouds did not look that threatening though, so I wasn't too worried. I picked up my pace across the ridge as fast as I could hike, as there would be no place to hide from the storm on the ridge. The bailout options to the upper basin along the ridge were risky, as I could easily cliff out. Fortunantly the storm did not arrive until after I met Jim and Karen at the saddle at 5pm, who were relieved to see me! The journey had taken me 4 hrs, 5 min, so they were beginning to wonder what happened!

There was no time to rest on the saddle, so after some much needed water, we bolted down the trail. Graupel began to fall about halfway down and we made it down to the safety of the basin just as thunder began to rumble overhead. We were down to the tents and breaking camp in the rain at 6:20. Another productive day in the mountains as Jim and Karen pick up 2 new 14ers while I was able to enjoy 2 new 13ers!


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