Crestone Peak is located in the heart of the Sangre De Cristo Range which means the "blood of Christ" in Spanish. In one of my photos below its obvious why they gave the range this name. Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle make up one, if not the most impressive rock faces of any Colorado 14ers. The photo below is Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Peak (right) from near the summit of Humboldt Peak. The Crestones are considered to be some of the harder Colorado 14ers. Access to South Colony Lake is gained by following a rough 4wd road for 5.2 miles from the South Colony Trailhead. The road is rough, it took about an hour to go the 5.2 miles. Many people choose to park at the trailhead and backpack up the road to the lake to save their vechicle the punishment.
August 15th, 2003
We left Boulder around 2 p.m. hoping to be able to backpack in to South Colony Lake before it got dark. Traffic outside of Denver and in Colorado Springs slowed us down and we didn't get to the South Colony Trailhead until around 7:30 p.m. Proceeding up the rough road we realized we probably wouldn't reach the 4wd parking before dark. The road has several pretty sketchy sections but the 4runner was able to make it to the end of the road just before 9 p.m. Since we would only gain 1.4 miles if we hiked into the lake, we decided just to camp out at the trailhead. Despite the road being called one of Colorado's roughest, the 4wd parking lot was full of vehicles. We set up camp in back of the 4runner and hit the sack around 10 p.m.
August 16th, 2003
We weren't sure how easy the trail to Broken Hand Pass was to find from South Colony Lake so we opted for a later start so we wouldn't be looking for the trail in the dark. The alarm sounded at 5:15 a.m. and as we ate breakfast and got ready, the skies began to lighten. We signed into the trail register and began hiking right around 6 a.m. The road and trail up to South Colony Lake is really mild and only 1.4 miles. The early morning sun was hitting Crestone Peak and gave us a spectacular view. Crestone Needle is one of the most impressive looking Colorado 14ers I've ever seen.
We arrived at the South Colony Lake area after about 40 minutes and right before South Colony Lake there is a sign indicating the standard approach to Crestone Needle and Broken Hand Pass. We began up the trail at a decent pace passing several parties. Below is the route up Broken Hand Pass from South Colony Lake.
Towards the top of the pass the trail turns to scree and some minor scrambling is needed to gain the pass. The photo below shows the scrambling involved to climb the pass. The pass had the loosest rock we would encounter all weekend. For the most part the rock in the Crestones is really solid.
We gained the top of the pass at 12,900 feet and gazed westward. There was fog everywhere and the upper portion of the peaks were shrouded in fog. We started down the pass and reached Cottonwood Lake after about 20 minutes. There were several bighorn sheep hanging out around the lake as we passed by.
We finally reached an open basin that gave us the first views of Crestone Peak's south face. The book noted that the couloir in the center of the face is the key to route. Below shows Crestone Peak's south face and our route to the summit. The book noted that its easier to climb the rock to the right side of the couloir at the inset, and then enter the couloir around 13,500 feet.
As we headed towards the face the trail starts to fade until we gained a grassy bench to the right of the couloir. The was a purplish band heading up the face and the climbing looked simple enough, so we decided this would a reasonable way to gain the couloir.
The climbing was super easy as we were quickly introduced to the conglomerate rock which the Crestone's are comprised. The rock makes for awesome hand and footholds everywhere and resembles larger gravel cemented into the rock. Below is Amy climbing up the lower portion of the south face, I think we were a little off-route and got into some class 4 climbing, but it was still super easy.
After climbing a couple hundred vertical feet we travered left over into the red couloir. We had to hop over a little stream running down the couloir and the photo below was taken around the 13,500 foot level.
The climbing up the couloir was extremely easy and it became obvious why they named the mountain range the Sangre De Cristo ("the blood of Christ"). The photo below is clear water running down the rock which really does look like blood due to the color of the rock under the water.
About midway up the couloir we passed an older couple who was still climbing the rock to the right of the couloir. They stayed on the rock way too long and were doing a really tricky downclimb into the couloir when we passed them. My advice is to gain the couloir early, on the descent we climbed down the couloir entirely and it was extremely easy. The photo below is Amy making her way up the red couloir, note the clear sky and nice green grass below.
In a matter of minutes from when I snapped the picture above, I looked back again to check on Amy's progress. The fog was coming up the couloir and visibility was reducing rapidly. The photo below was taken from the red notch between Crestone Peak's east and west summit. We were a little apprehensive about the weather conditions but it was still early in the morning. We decided to drop our packs and make a dash for the summit.
From the red notch to the summit the scrambling is really easy and it took about 5 minutes to reach the summit from this point. We reached the summit at 9:15 a.m. and were estatic to be on top of Crestone Peak even though the views were less than desirable. Actually we could hardly see anything at all and only stayed long enough to sign the register and take a couple summit photos. We chose to climb Crestone Peak first and were hoping to scope out the traverse to Crestone Needle from the summit. Since we never allowed to see the route over to the Needle, the traverse was definitely out of the question.
Like I mentioned early, we descended down the entire red couloir, actually by accident, I missed the turn where we were supposed to head back over to the rock on skier's left of the couloir. The descent down the couloir went pretty fast and right at the bottom you come out onto a large rock slab. The photo below is Amy making her way down this rock slab which was extremely grippy but might not be too fun if the rock was wet.
Since we didn't stay on the summit long enough to eat anything, we opted to take a short break at Cottonwood Lake to pound a Snickers Bar before heading back up over Broken Hand Pass. As we neared the lake a bighorn sheep was spooked by our presence and took off at a sprint. He was running straight at side of the lake and we watched him jump over the water that had to be about 15 to 20 feet wide without breaking stride, quite impressive. The photo below shows the backside of Broken Hand Pass that must be climbed on your return from Crestone Peak. We sailed up the pass and regained the top in about 20 - 30 minutes.
It was 12:00 p.m. and the weather was still foggy but not really stormy looking. The summit of Crestone Needle is only about 1000 vertical feet from the top of the pass so we decided to at least proceed to the couloir where the scrambling begins on the Crestone Needle. After about 20 minutes we got a view of the couloir on the Needle and it was decision time. There were still several parties heading up the Needle but the skies were getting darker and not looking too good. We opted on the side of caution and decided to bail on the Needle. The photo below shows the conditions when we decided to turn around, it seemed like a no-brainer.
We made our way back down to the pass and began our descent to South Colony Lake. Midway down to the lake we were "thunderstruck" that the skies had cleared and the summit of the Needle was visible again, the first time since 6:30 a.m.
The blue skies didn't last long however. We made it back to the 4wd parking at about 2:30 p.m. and the clouds were rolling in again. Not long after we got back the hail and rain began. Although there wasn't any thunder or lightning, we were still really pleased with our decision to retreat off the Needle. We were happy to have gained the summit of Crestone Peak and spent the afternoon eating and resting for our attempt on The Needle and Humboldt Peak that would be starting early tomorrow.