We had an epic climb of Crestone Peak the day before and was weathered off of Crestone Needle about 700 vertical feet from the summit. Concerned that we would encounter the same strange weather again, we decided on a very early start for our climb of Crestone Needle and Humboldt Peak. The photo below of the Crestone Needle was taken from South Colony Lake the previous day on our climb of Crestone Peak.
August 17th, 2003
The alarm sounded at 3:15 a.m. and after a quick breakfast we were hiking just before 4 a.m. We were familiar with the route to Broken Hand Pass from our climb of Crestone Peak so we had no trouble ascending the pass in the dark. We reached the top of the pass a little earlier than we expected so we hunkered down to enjoy the sunrise from 13,000 feet. Watching the earth wake up from its slumber was a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. We also wanted to climb the couloir up Crestone Needle in the light of day instead of under the light of our headlamps. We witnessed the sky transform from dark blue to bright pink and after about 20 minutes we were cold and wanted to get moving again.
From the top of the pass its a quick 20 minutes to the bottom of the first couloir on the Needle's south face. Before you reach the bottom of the couloir there is one interesting downclimb that's only about 15 feet long. The photo below shows the route up the easternmost couloir.
The scrambling up the couloir is very fun on the conglomerate rock that is extremely solid. The views to the south of the Sangre De Cristos were awesome and didn't seem like we were climbing in Colorado.
The photo below shows Amy climbing up the eastern couloir before the routes leads over to the western couloir on the Needle's south face. There is a tricky gap to get across to reach the western couloir that is probably the crux of the route. Roach notes that the Needle is slightly easier to climb than Crestone Peak, but comparing our route up Crestone Peak's south face, I was starting to think the Needle was harder. Both peaks are still relatively easy, but the Needle was requiring more hand and foot scrambling.
About midway up the couloir, keep an eye for for several cairns on the rock rib on the left side, this marks where to change over to the western couloir. We crossed over to the western couloir shown in the photo below. The scrambling in this couloir was easier although as you gain the top of the couloir the rock becomes looser.
The two couloirs join near the summit where Amy is in the photo below. The weather was still foggy like the day before and the wind was getting quite fierce.
We gained the summit at 7:30 a.m. and once again the summit was shrouded in fog. I'm sure the views are quite spectacular from atop the Needle, we could tell the north face dropped straight off. The wind was strong enough that it almost knocked you over so we stayed just long enough to sign the register and take some summit photos.
Once we got back in the couloir we were protected from the wind and continued our descent. The trickiest downclimb occurs when you have to cross back over to the eastern couloir from the western couloir. The photo below shows this downclimb and it was really straightforward.
I breathed a sigh of relief once we reached the eastern couloir again, knowing the most difficult sections were behind us. We were back to Broken Hand Pass at 9:00 a.m. and down to South Colony Lake at 9:40. The photo below was taken midway down the pass and Crestone Needle stands majestically behind me.
The weather was still foggy but similiar to the day before, it didn't seem like anything was building up. We decided that we would start up Humboldt Peak and keep an eye on the weather. The photo below shows Upper South Colony Lake and the route up Humboldt's west side.
As we proceeded around South colony Lake we passed by a group of bighorn sheep that had a nice campsite established.
After about 10 minutes we reached Upper South Colony Lake and came to a junction. From here the trail departs from the lake and heads up the slopes towards a saddle between Humboldt Peak and Crestone Peak.
We were crusing up the trail and reached the saddle at 10:20 a.m., 40 minutes from when we left South Colony Lake. From here the trail fades in and out as you make your way through the boulders. We continued up the slopes but were definitely slowing down. As we neared what we thought was the summit all my energy was focused into just breathing and walking. I felt half drunk from the long day. We have had longer days with more vertical, but for some reason both Amy and I were hitting the wall.
We crested the highpoint only to realize it was a false summit. Oh well, the summit wasn't very much further and our motivation was the fact that if we got Humboldt, we could hike Kit Carson from the west and never have to drive up the South Colony Lake Road again. The thoughts of the road was all it took to kick it up a notch and make it to the summit.
We made it to the summit at 11:30 a.m., 2 hours from when we left South Colony Lake, and 4 hours from when we were on the summit of Crestone Needle. The view of the Crestones are amazing and the peaks look almost unclimbable from this perspective.
We took a much deserved break and hung out on the summit for about 30 to 40 minutes. Descending back to the lake was much easier and went pretty fast. Before too long we were back to the familiar trail down to the 4wd parking. We reached the car at 2 p.m. and wasn't looking forward to the ride back down the road. It took about an hour again to make it down the 5.2 miles of crappy dirt road, I'm glad I don't have to drive this again anytime soon. The Crestones are amazing peaks and have become some of my favorite 14ers. This brought our 14er total up to 15 for the summer and 39 for me overall. They definitely aren't getting any easier.