Colorado Rank: 600
Quad: Snowdon Peak
Parent Lineage: Twilight Peak
Weminuche Wilderness: in 1993 Congress expanded the Weminuche Wilderness to include the rugged West Needle Mountains, wedged between a deep gorge of the Animas River and Lime Creek south of the Molas Pass. Only one trail, Crater Lake Trail, penetrates this segment of the wilderness.
The trail starts from Andrew's Lake, it skirts along its west shore, crosses a meadow and then you enter switchbacks in tree covered hillside. It gains 450 feet in 1.2 miles. Views from meadow around Andrew's Lake, along with intermittent views from switchbacks include West Turkshead Peak and Grand Turk to the north, Twin Sisters and Jura Knob to the west and Snowdon Peak to the southeast. From the top of the hill the trail drops 240 feet into a drainage traversing pretty meadows. A second climb gains 370 feet reaching the top of a hill at 2.4 miles. You start to get views of Engineer Mountain, and as the trail swings east views open to North Twilight Peak to the south. At 4.0 miles you enter heavy timber and you stay in the woods. At 5.1 miles the trail drops into a small depression, skirts a marshy area on the east side and then climbs over a hill to the basin holding Crater Lake. Crater Lake is located at altitude of 11,640 feet and at 5.5 miles. North Twilight Peak rises to the southwest and forms a perfect backdrop for this nice lake.
There is a smaller trail leading on the east side of Crater Lake up another hill and there the trail disappears, but it is pretty easy going on grassy hills with low willows. If planning to summit Twilight Peaks, head for the saddle between North Twilight Peak and Twilight Peak, if West Needle Mountain is your objective head south towards the saddle between South Twilight Peak and Unnamed 12932 Peak. From this saddle you will get your first view of West Needle Mountain - it does look impressive. There are several options for summiting West Needle Mountain. I opted for a couloir on its north side, it was already filled with snow, but so was the north face. The going was surprisingly easy with nice soft snow.
Once on the top of couloir, it was hard to identify which summit is higher - per maps the west summit is higher. I checked out also NE summit. I did built a small cairn on the west summit and left there a summit register.
Parking, hiking and backpacking are free.
Crater Lake area and West Needle Mountains are part of Weminuche Wilderness, so wilderness rules apply. Leave no trace.
Summer and early autumn are obviously the easiest times to explore this area. The trailhead is accessible year round, but the approach would be long in the winter. If traveling in winter times, check North San Juan Avalanche report.
There is great backpacking along Crater Lake, and also along the Crater Lake Trail. Developed campground would be at Molas Pass.