Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,299 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,196 feet
Date Posted:  01/29/2014
Modified:  01/31/2014
Date Climbed:   01/26/2014
Author:  Yikes
Additional Members:   Mickeys Grenade, SnowAlien
 Crestone Traverse in Winter   

Route: Crestone Needle, traverse to Crestone Peak; Cottonwood Creek
Date: Jan 25-26, 2014
11.6 miles, 6500' vertical
Team: Natalie (nkan02), Jeff (Mickeys Grenade), Jim (Yikes)

A continuing dry winter has opened the possibility to climb some of the tougher Winter 14ers. This past weekend, Jeff suggested Pyramid and Natalie threw out the idea of the Crestones traverse. My schedule didn't allow for a 3 day weekend and I needed to drive through Salida to pick up my camping gear, so we settled upon the Crestones. We were concerned at the last minute that the Sangres would receive 5-7 inches of snow from the recent storm, but it appears the area was spared. We also knew that Abe and Kay had been up the Needle recently and were hoping the trench was still in good shape.

Jeff and I hiked to camp on Saturday. Our winter packs were loaded down with tents, sleeping bags/pads, avy gear, snowshoes, stoves, ropes, crampons, ice axes, etc. Slowed down by the extra weight, I think it took about 6 hrs to reach the nice campsite at 11,400, longer than we were expecting. The "winter" bypass goes up through a talus slope and across the slabs. It took a while to ascend the talus field, trying to follow the off and on again footprints of Abe/Kay. I was concerned that we would lose the trail as it crossed the slabs and have to trench the remaining distance, but fortunately we found the trench on the other side. Natalie showed up after dark, having trenched the "summer" route which took more time than she expected.

We decided upon a 5am wake up call, thinking that would leave plenty of daylight on the mountain. That ended up being overly optimistic. We followed Abe/Kay's trench up the initial steep hill, where we quickly lost it. Trenching up to the lake on the right side of the valley avoided most of the willows encountered on the summer route.


Snowy Basin

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Approaching the Basin



Sunrise on Needle


Red Gully

We followed Abe/Kay's advice and did not ascend the summer trail to Broken Hand Pass, but instead hiked directly up the steep slopes to gain the ridge. A quick break and we headed over to the east gully on a mostly dry trail. We climbed the east gully to the top, avoiding the crossover to the west gully. There were a few stretches of ice, but they can be bypassed by climbing the rock to the side. We summited at 11:30, which was later than we preferred.

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Hiking up the slope towards Crestone Needle

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Start of the East Gully

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East Gully

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East Gully

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East Gully

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East Gully



Crestolita


Ice1


Ice2


Cold enough to wear the puff


Humboldt

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East Gully

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East Gully

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Natalie topping out

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Jeff resting on Crestone Needle summit

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The Crestone Traverse


The traverse has always intimidated me. Many years ago I hiked up the Needle in a drizzle with the intention of traversing to the peak. At the time, we decided it would be unsafe to attempt the traverse in wet conditions. On a later trip, we had difficulty finding the start of the traverse from the Red Gully and saved the Needle ascent for the next day. When Natalie suggested the traverse in Winter, I felt it would be beyond our reach, but I left open the possibility. This is more of a Mad Mike than a Jim Yaich hike (nice, it all rhymes). Hating to hike all the way back up in Winter for Crestone Peak, we all decided to give the traverse a go. Natalie and Jeff had been on the traverse before, so I wasn't too worried about route finding. I was also feeling pretty strong, which doesn't happen as often as I would like when doing the 14ers.

It was a little tricky getting over to the rappel station in the high wind, and the ropes knotted and wrapped around every knob as they were tossed down. There were two piece of webbing that looked somewhat decent and Jeff donated a couple of quick links to complete the anchor. We had a few misdirections in the Z traverse. The mini-knife edge was interesting, I backwards straddled since it is downward sloping. The 5.2 downclimb was absent due to the snow built up at the base (and there was a short rope to hold onto). It took us a long time to get over to the Red Gully.



Jim testing the anchor


Jim committed to the rappel

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Rapping down



Traverse

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Traverse

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Knife edge

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Downclimb made easier by snow


Traverse
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traverse

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traverse


Traverse




Traverse


Traverse


Traverse (overview)

Finally reaching the gully, we dumped the excess weight of snowshoes and ropes and started up. The snow was a mixture of breakable crust and hard unbreakable. The final stretch from the pass to the summit went quickly and we topped out at a late 4:30pm.


Red Gully


Red Gully conditions (bulletproof)


Red Gully


Red Gully (Jim)


Red Gully


Kit Carson


Adams & friends

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Heading up the Red Gully

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Heading up the Red Gully

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Heading up the Red Gully




Jim on summit


Going down - red Gully


Sunset

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Last photo before dark; heading down the Red Gully


Now we had to get off the mountain as quick as possible. The descent down the Red Gully is tough in the dark. Half way down, I stepped on a patch of ice and went for a short uncontrolled ride, fortunately stopping myself before it became serious. In another spot, we had to downclimb some steep rocks onto bullet hard snow, requiring focus.

We were happy to reach the floor of the basin, except for Natalie who suffered some serious posthole hell getting back to her snowshoes that she cached at the lake. Jeff and I hauled our snowshoes over the traverse to deal with the eventuality. It took a little while to locate our trench from the morning; the high wind having covered in our tracks. We slowly made out way back down to the campsite.

I had to be in Denver by 8am, so packed up and started down the trench. I thought that maybe Natalie's trench on the "summer" route would be easier than navigating the talus on the "winter" bypass. However, I ended up losing the trench part way down and suffered through some deep snow in the woods before I finally stumbled back onto the trench. The mileage wasn't very far, but even walking at a good clip it felt like I would never reach the trailhead. I didn't get back to the car until 1:15am, and spent the 4 hour drive back to Denver listening to the comedy channel doing a reasonable job of staying awake. Natalie and Jeff camped out for another night, and hiked out in the morning.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Comments or Questions
forbins_mtn
User
Excellent job!
01/30/2014 13:35
Awesome work!


Alpineair
Nice!
01/30/2014 14:00
Great TR.


Jay521
User
Wow!
01/30/2014 15:15
Incredible pics and an incredible climb. You all are animals!


goingup
User
Awesome JOB GUYS!!!!!
01/30/2014 17:42
I am glad my TR and our trench helped some. Natalie's break down is correct. How to underestimate the Crestones in the Winter could have been our TR title too. And YES there is no way around it that approach is terrrrrrrriiiiiibbbbbbbllllllleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

We ended up negotiating the whole thing in the dark of night on the way out. I am glad we day tripped so we didn't have all the extra gear but exhausting is an understatement.

Glad everyone is okay and great job once again!


MtnHub
User
Very nice, crew!
01/30/2014 19:56
Excellent job you guys! I still hope to try this come summer, but I definitely like the rock better than snow. Makes me very uneasy seeing you guys climb on that white stuff, and then to hear that you did slip! Glad to hear you're all OK! Some super shots, Jim! Thanks for sharing!


scramble
User
baller
01/31/2014 06:30
niiiiiiice


seano732
User
Awesome
01/31/2014 16:01
Great job by everyone!!!!


SurfNTurf
User
Thanks
01/31/2014 19:59
for allowing me to live vicariously through y'all. Keep these awesome TRs coming!


kushrocks
User
Well
02/01/2014 07:33
done everyone. I am extremely jealous.


piper14er
User
great job
02/01/2014 15:25
enjoyed this, way to go


moneymike
User
Nice work guys!
02/02/2014 20:59
Thanks for posting


DArcyS
User
Yikes!
02/02/2014 23:00
Well, that heading was pretty easy . . .

Awesome job, congratulations on a great effort!


Summit Lounger
User
Good work
02/04/2014 16:46
Thanks for posting the great TR. I still believe the traverse is the same difficulty as descending back down the needle in winter. But then if you get the Peak, you would miss out on the awesome approach again. It is not that bad.


blindmule
User
Incredible Job
02/05/2014 01:59
Great TR there Yikes. What a tough, tough, tough, sounding trip. Nice work pulling it off.


Jeremy Bauman
User
Great Job!
02/06/2014 02:51
Great pictures, thanks! Very impressive accomplishment!


nyker
User
Cool!
02/06/2014 04:14
Beats my hike through Central Park in the recent snow, hands down!


Lady McClimbsalot
User
WOW!!
03/11/2014 18:32
This is my favorite TR yet!! What a gnarly couple of snowflakes you guys got! I did both peaks in a day via the standard route in summer. Not recommended! It was a lonnggggg day with far less excitement than yours! Wow. I am beyond words! Pics 7 and 8 are breathtaking.... oh, and that one of Adams and company... oh, and all the scenic shots with the sunrise and sunset on the snowy mountains! I can't pick my favorite! Absolutely incredible, guys. Well done! I'd love to try the traverse this summer. Not quite up to doing it in winter conditions yet

Thanks for the great read!!!
Keep being awesome!!


SnowAlien
User
Thanks for the write-up
04/02/2015 19:45
The title of the report should be ”How to underestimate Crestones in Winter” This is the climb I'll look back on and wonder what I could have done better.

1. Cottonwood creek approach sucks. There is no way around it. It is hard enough in summer, but winter takes it to a whole new level of misery. I was wondering what the *ell I was doing on ice-covered slabs with 40lb+ overnight pack in snowshoes in the dark trying to get to the high camp! Not often one gets to use an ice tool on the approach to the climb...but this is how it ended up being 5.5 hrs vs 3 hours in the summer. Same $it on the deproach - taking the ”haute route”, and almost getting cliffed out. At least I wasn't in the dark on that. Main motivation for the traverse? So we won't have to do that approach. ever. again.

2. Weight vs. speed trade-offs. In the ideal world, I'd love to bring my 2 lb Grivels AND carry snowshoes all day, but I knew that weight would slow me down considerably. In the end, lack of crampons and snowshoes did slow me down anyway. While Needle's East gully was in perfect spring-like shape even despite the ice patches and crampons were desirable, but microspikes were sufficient, the Red Gully was mostly bulletproof snow. At least I had an ice tool - self-arrest on that slope with just an ice ax would have been problematic.

3. Sangres are pretty dry, but all the fluffiest, softest, deepest snow is concentrated between the mouth of the Red Gully and Cottonwood lake. Really?

4. Most importantly, Jeff and I are most glad that you are ok. That slip in the dark on the icy patch was terrifying to watch. So glad we all made it out safely, and in my tired state I couldn't be more thankful for the campsite and a sleeping bag at 11.3k. Thanks for being an awesome partner and thank you for your patience.

p.s. Jim, you forgot to mention that according to the tradition you dropped your water bottle down the Needle!


SnowAlien
User
Mr. Summit Lounger
04/02/2015 19:45
Greg - just trying to follow in the footsteps of the master. I can't believe how fast you guys made it across the traverse. We were moving but at times not very fast. There were no route finding issues, it was just... work Fun climb nevertheless and the sunset views were quite spectacular - too bad we had to hurry down.



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