Peak(s):  Crestone Needle  -  14,196 feet
Crestone Peak  -  14,299 feet
Date Posted:  08/03/2020
Date Climbed:   08/01/2020
Author:  mmauro87
 Both Crestones via standard (class 3) routes in one day   

We parked at the 4WD trail head. Road is rougher than in years past. Outbackable?--yes, but barely. Our plan (which we executed) was to take the standard route up Broken Hand Pass, then down, over and up Crestone Peak, then retrace our steps back to Broken Hand, then up Crestone Needle, then back down to the top of Broken Hand, then back down to the 4WD trail head. Previous reports said this would take 12 hours. With all due respect, those reports are WRONG. We started at 3am with weather expected to roll in around 2pm. Second stream crossing used to have a nice intact two log bridge. Both logs have collapsed in the center. Early in the morning, there was frost on one of the logs, which made the crossing difficult. It was much easier on the return trip later when the frost was gone. We summited the Peak around 8:15am. There was really nothing sketchy about it. Water was flowing in some areas, so we avoided those where possible. We got back to the top of Broken Hand around 10:45am.

The Crestone Needle standard route is very challenging. Just prior to crossing from the east gully to the west, there is a class 4 move that requires you to summon courage. You must lean across a trough, bear hug a large overhanging rock and really commit on shallow (yet solid) holds. There are several other spots that could fairly be characterized as class 4 scrambling. I think the Needle should be upgraded to class 4, or Sunlight (which was nowhere near as challenging as the Needle) should be downgraded to class 3. We summited the Needle around 12:15pm. By 1:45pm, we were still descending in class 3 terrain. Then came the clouds. Then came the thunder. Right on time. I have a significant fear of lightning to begin with, so this was basically my worst nightmare unfolding. We hurried to the trail section and ran down to the top of Broken Hand, slipping on multiple occasions. Just below Broken Hand, it started to hail on us. We kept running. It was dangerous. The risk of injury was high, but the risk of staying above tree line in the storm seemed higher. I consider us lucky to have gotten down without being hurt. We got back to the car around 4:30pm. I suspect we may have set some sort of record for the fastest descent of Broken Hand. Under normal circumstances, I'm sure it would have taken at least another half hour to get back to the car.

We aren't rock climbers, but we are experienced. We have climbed more than 40 14ers, including class 3 and class 4 peaks. We are good shape. We didn't take long breaks, even on the summits. We were well hydrated, well fueled, and well trained. The Crestones are no joke. They are very physically demanding. Honestly, I would not do both Crestones in a single day, unless you're doing the traverse (which, you better know what you're doing before taking on the traverse). But, if you do plan to tackle both in one day, via the standard routes, from the 4WD trail head, give yourself 14 hours (or more).

Comments or Questions
Nice work!
08/03/2020 12:52
I agree with 12hr being a pretty aggressive time to suggest to others. 14hr seems more like a safe bet when you factor in for breaks and that you'll be going ~0.5mph over the scrambling sections.

That's a lot of vert to do in a single day and a lot of scrambling! I remember just doing the needle and humboldt in a day being quite the challenge and I was in much better shape then. Day tripping anything crestone-related in that basin is going to be a workout.

I wouldn't worry about the whole class 3 vs. class 4 thing. I find it to be very contentious and not a debate where you'll make much progress with. Having done sunlight and the needle multiple times you're right: without a doubt the class III needle is harder than class IV sunlight. I firmly believed the needle was a 4 when I first climbed it, but when I came back the moves I was scared of (the 2 you describe) were not as bad as I remembered.... and so I think it is plausible that you can do the needle making exclusively class III moves although I can't argue that upon first seeing them in the dramatic context of everything else around and the exposure and verticality of the needle, they can seem very high for class 3.

That said, arguably the columbia to harvard traverse is harder than popping out of your tent in chicago basin and walking up to sunlight summit then doing a quick hop up the summit block. That said... the class ratings are for the "hardest move" on the route, and even though crestone has waaaayyy more sustained difficult class 3, it's arguable that single sunlight move is a 4 and that all needle moves can be done 3. But it says nothing about the overall difficulty of the route. IDK, it does seem weird, I went through the same thought process, just sharing what I think would be the justification.

You're correct in your final statement though: the crestones are no joke and thorough preparation, climbing aptitude, good physical shape, and an uncomfortably early start are all but mandatory for doing something like bagging both in a day trip. Traverse or no traverse. So good job! Glad you guys are safe and that you enjoyed it.

08/03/2020 15:17
This report is timely because I've been considering how to complete the crestones--

1. Traverse -- beyond my climbing ability
2. Both in a day -- Possibly doable but probably beyond my endurance ability
3. 2 separate day hikes -- overall 9 miles & 4000' more hiking than necessary
4. Backpack for the first time -- Leads to climbing after TWO sleepless nights & more overall exertion due to carrying gear. I'd end up more dangerously tired on the 2nd peak by backpacking than by combining both in a day.

You sound fitter than me (although I would choose clear weather and climb through the afternoon for a combo). So seems only #3 is possible.

FYI math:

08/04/2020 06:45
Everyone is different but did the reports you read for "12 hours" climb the two peaks the same way you did? By starting at the trailhead and climbing each one individually from BHP? Most people do the traverse, so I could see the 12 hours being for a typical traverse which would require less time that descending to Cottonwood and re-climbing most of the Needle.

class 4 versus 3
08/03/2020 18:27
Hey, congrats on summitting both peaks from TH in a day.
I am a rock climber and have done many alpine routes up to 5.10, but I always thought the Needle is class 4 on the standard route.
It might not matter much, as Bill said. There are lots of inconcistencies across ranges and rock types, in any guide book, not just
You get a general idea though of what to expect - the descriptions could be a little off but not by a lot. A fair amount of scrambeling on steep, quite solid rock, not a trail, not 5.3.
Take care mountainute

08/03/2020 20:07
I did the same last year but camp to camp at SCL in 11 hrs with some summit breaks, weather threatened before attempting traverse but cleared up. Could have done the peak a bit faster. I was beat descending BHP. That's the worst part. Didn't think the climbing on the needle was hard, very fun, but the crossover was confusing.

Excellent report
08/06/2020 22:16
Congratulations. That indeed sounds like a long, long day.

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