Back on the Summit: Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle

Linnea and I were finally able to get away for an elusive weekend of climbing 14ers as Grandpa and Grandma M were in town and had agreed to watch the boys. After much discussion, we decided on Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle from the Cottonwood Creek approach. These 2 were on Linnea’s remaining few before completion and I had climbed them 6 years ago but from the South Colony side. Cottonwood creek is much less traveled, and we made the 3 hour drive toward the unique town Crestone and past the all the mountain zen and retreat centers to the small trailhead. We were relieved to find a parking spot on the busy Labor Day weekend and after signing the log book, set trail at 11:30a. We were careful to pace ourselves up the 4 mile, 4,000 ft trail, not wanting to wear ourselves out for the main event. The trail itself was beautiful, but straight up, and after 2 miles really began to climb through big rock slabs and waterfalls. A climber on his way down was much less amused, calling the trail “just stupid.” After some minor bushwacking through willows, we reached our destination below Crestone Peak at about 3:30p. We found a nice site for the tent below the Red Gully and set up camp. Not having climbed anything with exposure for a while, we decided to pass on the traverse due the airy headwall and climb both the peak and needle from their standard routes.

Weather was perfect, so at 4:30 pm, we headed up Crestone Peak via the Red Gully. The climb is basically like 2,000 ft of stairs straight up over the course of 1 mile. It felt good to have our big packs offs, and we made pretty good time weaving back and forth across a little waterfall in the heart of the gully. We chatted with another climber coming from the traverse who and down climbed the headwall from the Needle with no ropes. An impressive feat. At about 6:00p we reached the top and took in the summit with views of the Needle, Humbolt, Kit Karson and Challenger, the Great Sand Dunes, and Blanca and Ellingwood. This would be number 51 of 58 14ers for Linnea and she was feeling great. On our way back down, we were treated to some nice alpenglow on the surrounding peaks and we made it back to camp just after sunset. It was a long but rewarding day and we capped it off with some chicken and rice and hot apple cider before turning in for the night.

The next morning, we were up a little before 6a, ready to tackle the Needle. No need for a super early start as it was about a mile and 2,000 ft up from camp. There were a lot more climbers out early, must coming from South Colony and Broken Hand Pass. Our plan was to take the South Face route, head up the East gully and cross over to the West gully, a less steep route to the top. The crux of the route is right after a feature called the dihedral and involves a couple exposed moves to reach a spine that connects into the hidden West gulley. It was well marked and we had fun getting our climbing legs under us again with the exposure. I could tell it had been a while and felt a few stomach butterflies before hitting the notch. From there, it’s straight up to the summit ridge and fun class 3 climbing. We reached the summit at about 8a and enjoyed the views again while chatting with a few others. It was a little breezy, but overall perfect weather. On the way down, we were careful to get in the West gully again and had no problem finding the flagged crossover. After a little downclimb through the crux, it was smooth sailing back to camp. We took a much needed rest while watching climbers up high navigate the traverse. At about noon, we pumped some more water and made our way back down the arduous Cottonwood trail. It was slow going over the steep sections and through the willows, but we made pretty good time. Down lower we stopped in one of the many pools for a quick dip. The water was ice cold. The final 2 miles seemed to last forever back in the heat, but we finally made it back to the car at about 3p. Of course we had to stop for burritos in Salida before making the final leg home. Overall it was a fun and rewarding trip and Linnea now only has 5 remaining 14ers to go.