Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Date Posted:  03/13/2020
Modified:  03/21/2020
Date Climbed:   03/07/2020
Author:  Will_E
 A Tale of two Crestone's   

My first trip report, bare with me.

On December 21, before official start of winter, I reached the summit of Crestone Needle. It was a long day, just over 15 hours, much of it in heavy snow breaking trail, much of the day in darkness. It technically wasn't a calendar winter summit (started before the solstice, but finished after), but was my longest duration hike yet on a 14'er. I've never camped in winter, and really have little desire to. I want to carry as little as possible so I can move fast and light. This lead me to plan a summit of Crestone Peak in a single push starting late at night. And so it begins...

Its about a 3 hour drive from my house in Aurora to Westcliffe, so first stop on the way to S. Colony Lakes TH was Village Inn. My favorite thing about eating at Village Inn is that I always feel really young there.

No sense washing it when I'm on dirt roads every weekend

After gassing up in Florence so I wouldn't have to refill on the way home, I get to the TH around 9pm. Attempted to take a nap, set my alarm for 10:15, lay down in passenger seat. Too much anxiety, I've never done an overnight hike before, not sure how my body will react to doing this on zero sleep. Can't fall asleep. A little after 10, I start putting all my gear on, and a little before 10:30 I start my long road walk.

Quick catnap was not in the cards.

Pretty warm initially, thermometer was showing 40°. No traction needed at start, but I had the full bag of tricks if necessary. I generally take way too many pictures when hiking, figured one positive aspect of doing this in the dark is that I wouldn't stop to take nearly as many pics as usual.

As I approach the rainbow trail cutoff, where most people hang right to do Humboldt's East Ridge in winter, where I'm expecting to put my snowshoes on for the long approach, there is a track! I hadn't seen any condition report anytime recently, so was expecting a long night of trail breaking. Rather, some type of heavy machinery had laid tracks all the way to the old S. Colony TH. Things were really shaping up.

I don't know who/what left this track, but I owe you a beer.

As I get to the old S. Colony TH, the track ends, and snowshoes go on. The snow isn't quite as deep as it was in December when I did the needle.

I took several shots, only a few came out relatively decent.
It looked much better than the picture portrays. There was so much moonlight I barely needed a headlamp.

As I continued on, was making pretty good time, and not having too much issue following the route. When I reached the bottom of broken hand pass, snowshoes finally became ineffective, so out came the crampons. Temperature dropped all night long, but never became uncomfortable, and I had yet to put on my coat. Thermometer showed 15° when I reached the top of broken hand pass at around 4am. When I did same route in December, took me 7 hours to get to broken hand pass, so 1.5 hour improvement thanks to less trail breaking. Switched back to snowshoes and went down the other side of broken hand pass (is it me or does the west side of BHP seem shorter?). As I got closer to red gully, I started to worry that I was making too good time, I didn't want to reach the peak in the dark. took a 15 minute break and sat down and enjoyed some breakfast, aka a granola bar.

I never like to do a route in winter that I haven't done in summer, and I had done Crestone Peak last May, but didn't remember it being less than obvious to recognize red gully, but it kind of was. I got off track a bit, then decided to stash my snowshoes before getting a bit further and realizing I wasn't quite in the gully. Worried that I'd have a hard time finding my snowshoes, I made an impromptu screenshot of their location.

Red dot was approximate location of my snowshoes, which for some reason I labeled as "AX"

Now that I was close to the gulley, I was feely optimistic. I've had pretty good success with winter summits, but I still always do this with the assumption that I might not summit. The snow in red gully was pretty soft to start, and I could do 50-60 steps at a time. Headphones were getting close to dying but not quite there. Once I was perhaps 3/4 up the gully, I look towards the needle, and the sun has become to rise. It was an incredible sight.

Sunrise from Red Gully

After taking plenty of pictures of the great sunrise, I continued my ascent. The final 300 ft or so was challenging, the angle steepens, and the snow becomes incredibly stiff. I think I used my axe more on that final section than all other peaks I've done this winter combined. Reached summit shortly after sunrise, 8 hours and 48 minutes from when I started.

View from the top of Crestone Peak

Looking south

Summit temp, winds were maybe 20 mph

Now for the descent, looking forward to not having to take so many breathers on the way down.

On the way down Red Gully

Looking down Red Gully

20048_10Looking up the west side of broken hand pass

Getting down red gully and back up to broken hand pass was uneventful, minus the 30 minutes wasted locating my snowshoes. When I reached broken hand pass I wasn't too terribly tired so decided to give the needle a shot. I was never fully committed to getting both peaks, I wasn't sure how my body would handle the overnight hiking and lack of sleep, but I was feeling good. Left my snowshoes and headed towards the needle.

Looking back at broken hand pass on the way to the needle

The route was pretty well in my head from here, and the snow was pretty easy to avoid, so I didn't use any traction from broken hand pass to summit. When I reached the final gully I started getting excited, the snow was sporadic enough I could avoid it almost entirely.

The final gully from below

Class 4 gully from above

Another shot of the class 4 gully

The class 4 gully to the top is one of my favorite sections on all the 14'ers. The rock is solid, lots of great handholds, and more options are available to you than on a Porsche. Its fantastic. If it were twice as long I would have been twice as happy to climb it. Reached the summit just before noon. Spent 15-20 minutes at the top, topped off batteries on my phone and watch, sent a quick text to my SAR friends, strapped on crampons and back down I go. I went down the gully's snow chute, it was fast, easy and uneventful.

From the summit of the needle, looking at Crestone Peak

Broken hand pass on descent. Once I reached the bottom I strapped snowshoes on for the final time.

I was mostly able to follow my tracks on the way back, had an occasional posthole to my waist as it had really warmed up in the afternoon. I was down to just a T shirt and long sleeve shirt once I got out of broken hand pass' shadow. Took a few pics on the return.

Snow was soft and wet on the return below treeline.

Probably should have cropped my thumb out of this one. Its late, I'm tired.

Caption Here

Finally I'm back at the heavy machinery tracks.

Final stats. Longest duration hike I've done.

GPS map

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Winter yay...Sping boo
03/13/2020 06:52
Glad you were able to avoid wallowing in snow up the needle, but can't say I'm excited about there not being much snow in there for spring skiing Hopefully it gets filled in for some good skiing like last year!
Solid work man, that approach and those climbs in snowshoes is impressive! Big days

25mi 17h
03/13/2020 09:36
You€„˘re crushing!! Pushing the limits of the mind and body for sure. Well done

03/14/2020 17:29
We (Custer SAR) left those ATV tracks up the road while doing an avalanche/transceiver training near the southeast gully of Humboldt. We often drive tracked ATVs up there to pack the road down so if/when there is a mission we are confident our machines can make it to at least the Humboldt/BHP intersection.

Tried to attach a photo of one of our tracked ATVs but have no idea how to attach a photo to TR comments. There is no option to attach a file within the comments section.


Big Day!
03/14/2020 19:44
You are really getting after it! Congrats on a huge winter effort!

Diggity dope
03/14/2020 23:20
Nice work, Will. I've been super impressed with your climbs this season, it's been a great one for you. Congrats on an absolutely awesome and huge day getting two of the hard ones!

03/15/2020 02:51
@mattr9 Thanks, someday I hope to get to your level!

@CaptCO Thanks, I'm consistently surprised what this old body can do.

@pfiore1 It was extremely helpful, I'm not sure I would have had the energy/time to get both peaks had I been required to break trail an additional 3-4 miles. I owe you a beer!

@Tornadoman Thanks, I live for big days, had been looking forward to this one for a while.

@Supranihilest Thanks Ben, I've mostly just been trying to keep up with you and Judd! I hadn't planned as many big days this winter as I ended up having, but it seemed like nearly every Saturday ended up with great weather this winter, and I hate to waste a good weather day on a shorter/easier peak in winter.

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