Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Date Posted:  11/18/2019
Date Climbed:   11/16/2019
Author:  CaptCO
Additional Members:   Graham Gedman
 Cutting Cottonwood To The Crest   

Two weekends ago, I met Graham Gedman through the 14ers website. We had been messaging each other a few weeks prior trying to set up a hike/climb. We had perfect conditions in the Sangres and successfully completed Ellingwood > Blanca traverse via the SW Ridge (11/9). With such great conditions, we were able to stay on the ridge crest and test some class 4/5 holds. This was the first time either of us has hiked a 14er with someone else. This gave us confidence in each other and we had good chemistry taking leads right off the bat. Not even 1-2 days after the 4.5-mile walk down Lake Como road, we began exchanging texts about the next possible trip. I saw the Sangres had the best conditions out of any range I wanted to climb in. We settled on the Crestone Traverse knowing we could trust each other for a multi-day backpacking trip. Like the previous weekend, Graham showed up at my place after work about 2:30 PM and we loaded up the truck. We were on 285 by 3:00 PM and arrived in Crestone at about 6:00. Once on Camino Baca Grande, we started to see the cults and religious centers. Himalayan prayer type flags gave us good vibes right as we backed into one of the steepish parking spots at Cottonwood Creek TH. Quickly signed into the TH post, and got on our way.19962_4419962_01

It ended up being about 4.2 miles to the only decent campsite we could find around 11,100'. The first 3 miles are a distinguished trail which would be hard to get lost on, after the first waterfall you start hitting the "boilerplates". To me, these were just big conglomerate slabs in all types of shapes and forms. In some areas, you would go from slab to trail and back to slab. All in all, if you have good route-finding ability and a backup GPS, it's not hard to stay on the trail and you can actually get through without having to bushwhack much. On our way up, I believe we actually stayed just ESE after the split, and it worked out in our favor. After leaving the TH around 7 PM we arrived at the first camp spot after 2,700' of gain and 4.2 miles about 11 PM. I ended up staying up until the fire went out at 2:30 AM (how time flies when you're relaxed). 7 AM wake up call and after some waking up and filtering water, we were on the trail. From here, I'm not sure the exact mileage from camp to gulley, to peak, to the needle, etc but I will post final mileage at the end. In the cooler months, 11,100 might be one of the last great places to filter water, because of staying below treeline. There are a few more waterfalls and creeks, but most start to bec19962_32ome more exposed and frozen.19962_30

We arrived at the red gulley after stashing a few items behind for the return. The red gulley was actually awesome! We had the entire Crestones from either side to ourselves the whole weekend. This allowed us to climb the mountain however we wanted, without worrying too much about climbers below. The red gulley, in my opinion, doesn't get as much love as it should. It is a great enduring class 3 climb, that you can make more technical if you want. It's unlike most other routes in Colorado and has remarkable views. As you get higher up you start to see more of the Blanca range as the Sand Dunes come into view as well. The spires to the WSW of you are incredible and get your imagination going as to when you'll be able to climb those beautiful class 5 cracks. Once on top of the gulley, a short, slightly narrow at times scramble to the summit with one class 3 move I believe. Kit Carson/Challenger is your next-door neighbor at this point, and we were able to wave to a couple of hikers who summited Kit Carson the same time as us. We could feel the wind picking up here, and we're hoping that conditions would hold for the traverse. As we descended the peak, and down into the gulley to 13,500' we began the traverse. I'm not a good story-teller so I will try and let the photos do most of the talking. At times we had fun taking harder lines/routes and climbing alternatives.19962_0219962_0319962_0619962_5019962_1119962_1019962_1219962_0419962_4919962_13

After a little ridge-hopping and elevation re-gain we were up to the gendarme gulley. I actually over-looked the 5.2 at first and was looking above at the scramble pre-knife edge. The 5.2 took Graham and I all of 5 seconds to get up with day packs. It was fun to get a little technical for a few seconds, but it's not a big issue if you're somewhat flexible. Once upon the 5.2, we began to work our way towards the knife-edge, at this point, the WNW winds were screaming at us and wrapping through the backside of the gendarme and into the knife-edge area. We felt comfortable as I don't believe the winds were above 20mph with 25-30mph gusts. We made short work of the knife-edge, which has a little exposure but more of a fun obstacle than anything. We were finally at the class 4 crux wall, and the winds felt safe and totally doable. As we discussed earlier, Graham was going to take the first climb/summit of the needle, since I had taken the peak earlier in the day. The entire trip we were switching leads, and finding the same routes somewhat, so it was a team effort with neither doing more than the other. We waited 5-10 minutes just to double-check the winds and everything was good to go. Graham got up to the rappel station in a couple of minutes and waited for me. He took the "more difficult" middle line approach since he has some rock climbing experience. Once on the rap station, I began my line far left, seeking as much exposure as possible. I took the left crest about 20-30ft to a big rock after peaking over at South Colony. I slanted my line more towards the right/middle and was at the rap station before I knew it. It probably took 3 minutes for us to get up the wall, with double/triple checking holds and not selling out. Once on the needle, we were glad the weather had held, pounded some fists and took some photos.19962_4519962_4619962_1719962_1819962_3419962_2719962_24

We opted for a slightly harder and more technical descent. Descending down the class 4 earlier than most do, and sucking up some elevation loss. I don't recommend doing this unless you have a lot of gas still in the tank. After a fun, longer than normal downclimb/scramble descent we were at Cottonwood Lake. Since we had the entire mountain to ourselves this weekend, we took our time with photos, climbing somewhat off-route to get better views, and seeking future climbs. We had packed extra gear, and headlamps just for this and descended back to camp in the dark. We saw more animal tracks than human but were able to find our way back to camp fairly well. All in all, this was an amazing experience, and a confidence booster going into next year. Red Gulley = Underrated, Traverse = Fairly Rated, Views = Underrated, 5.2 Bulge = Overrated, Knife Edge = Short but nice, Crux wall = Over before you know it, not a big deal. I'm already looking forward to my next backpacking adventure, but with deep snow coming, I might have to tone it down a notch. Hope this report wasn't too terrible to read. Alec19962_3519962_4019962_4119962_4319962_2919962_31

With a little exploring 16.1 miles/6,900' elevation gain. I'm sure you could cut off .25-.5+ miles and a few hundred feet of elevation gain if you stay entirely true to the trail.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
11/18/2019 21:51
Enjoyed your report! Loved the pics!! We also did The Peak from the Cottonwood Creek side and loved it!! Congrats!!

11/19/2019 13:57
Nice report, Alec! It was fun to read, I could almost feel the excitement! Thanks for sharing man, nice work!


11/19/2019 18:18
bruh you were going so fast, i got an adrenaline rush watching it.

11/19/2019 18:23
I appreciate it everyone, the Crestones are amazing

Nice Photos
11/22/2019 12:08
I like the color saturation in your photos. I did that same hike in a day back in 2012. Posted what I think is an amusing report of the experience you might get a kick out of. I totally agree the "Red Gully" does not get enough love. It is just straight up fun.

Awesome Photos!
11/25/2019 12:26
Congratulations on your summit and your report on it was outstanding! Great video as well.

Nice work!
11/27/2019 10:00
Awesome photos and report. Hoping to do these soon, especially after seeing that video.

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