Saturday, July 05, 2014

Crestone Trip - The Needle

The Crestone Needle

The next morning I got up at 5:30. I made some coffee and started packing for Crestone Needle. Sheri had been telling us all that she probably wouldn't be going to the summit. She had seen the steep snowfields on the route from Humboldt the previous day and she didn't want anything to do with them. She said she'd start up and stop when she didn't like the conditions. We left camp at 6:40 a.m. and soon found our way across the outlet of Upper South Colony Lake and onto the standard route for the Crestone Needle. We followed this trail up the slope, then across talus, and eventually the feared snowfields, all the time heading for Broken Hand Pass, to the south of the Needle. We brought two pairs of trekking poles with us and that allowed each of us to have a pole for the steep snow. I went last to provide some measure of security for Sheri. Danny led the way, followed closely by Derek. Things went well and we stashed the poles just below the pass. By the time we returned to these poles the dang marmots would have stripped the poles of our hand grips! 
Climbing up the crux section where we're switching gullies.
The climbing above the saddle starts off easy, on a climber's trail, but it gets progressively steeper the higher you go. The first real tricky section was a near vertical wall that we had to climb down! It was only twenty feet tall, but caused us to take some care. We then traversed into a rock gully and followed that for three or four hundred vertical feet before switching one gully to the left. This was in fact the crux climbing.

The climbing in the Crestones is great in general and particularly outstanding on the Needle. While we encountered nine other climbers above us in the gully, there was little danger from rock fall since the mountain is very monolithic. We were not climbing talus, but solid conglomerate rock. Follow such a large group in the Elk Range would be tantamount to suicide.  

Descending the steep upper couloir
We passed one ascending party of five in the final couloir and another party of four descending. Hence, we had the summit to ourselves for a few minutes. The weather was great, though a tad breezy. The climbing had been a bit out of Danny's comfort range and I'm sure he had a bit of trepidation for the upcoming descent, but we still took time to relax and eat lunch. The other party topped out and shared some home-baked cookies with us. We snapped photos for each other and then we started down.

The descent of the steep upper section took nearly as long as the ascent, but Danny was noticeably more comfortable on the terrain. Sheri has been doing this stuff for a long time and isn't bothered by such terrain. The roles were reversed though when we had to descend the steep snow. The boys and I were quite comfortable to stand over our feet and use one pole to stabilize ourselves. Sheri was intimidated and quite apprehensive, causing her to lean into the slope too much. She went down in painstaking fashion, using her hands in each footstep, while Derek guided her feet to the next step. It is certainly correct to be very respectful of steep snow for an unchecked slide into the talus below would be extremely dangerous and not doubt result in serious injury. She didn't panic, though, she did what she needed to do to feel safe. Once below that one section we hiked along easily, returning to camp 6.5 hours after we left. We ate, drank, and took a little nap before deciding to pack up and hike out.
Downclimbing the steep snow section
Kevin was gone by the time we returned to camp. He was going to hike up to Colony Lakes, only a couple hundred feet higher, but decided to just head out. His legs were hurting him a big and his sleeping spot wasn't as level as he had hoped. Still, it was good first trip for him. Unexpectedly Erica and Nick were also gone. Erica wanted to go swim in the lake. I can only conclude that either Nick was able to stop her and then rushed her to a mental hospital or that Nick failed to intervene and that they were on their way to the nearest hypothermia recovery center. Sean and Jenny had spent the day fishing, like they did the first day, and decided they were done as well. Though we'd only been in there one night, it seemed longer since we'd done two peaks.

Taking a nap back in camp
On the hike out, a ways down the road, Derek suddenly snapped his head to the right. He leapt to the side of the road, dipped under a branch and stuck out his arm ramrod straight indicating something in the woods like he was a hunting dog pointing at a hidden pheasant. He said, "Long-eared Crestone Rabbit!" This rare species of blue-gray rabbit, a giant twice the size of a normal hare, was the reason the road was now partially closed - to protect the habit of this majestic beast.
On the summit of Crestone Needle with Crestone Peak in the background
These were the 23rd and 24th Colorado 14ers for Danny (he's done two California 14ers) and the 22nd and 23rd 14ers for Derek. On the boys like to form numbers with their bodies to indicate the peak number. Sheri and I slowly getting through all the 14ers again with our boys.
Forming "24" on the summit of the Crestone Needle

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