Peak(s):  Crestone Peak  -  14,299 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,196 feet
Date Posted:  09/23/2020
Modified:  09/28/2020
Date Climbed:   08/15/2020
Author:  JacerJack
 Crestones in a Day (The Long Way)   

Crestones in a Day -- The Long Way
(Back to back from their standard routes -- no traverse)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to do both of the Crestones, one after another, from their standard routes? The traverse, while certainly a classic, is outside the comfort zone for many (which was the case for a couple members of our party who are not yet accustomed to exposed class 4 climbing)... This dilemma has left many wondering about the feasibility of tacking both peaks in one go. There isn't a lot of information (at least that I could find) about doing both peaks this way -- and maybe for a good reason? With a great weather window and an extra day built in to the itinerary, we set out to answer this question for ourselves.

If you're looking for the short answer, here it is: It's doable but it's a long, exhausting day, even for the fit and mentally tough. In total, it was about 17.5 miles and 7,300' vert (car to car), and it took us 13 hours to get both peaks from camp just below S. Colony Lake.

On Friday afternoon, we grabbed the last parking spot at the 4WD TH and made quick work of the backpack in to a great camp site along the Humboldt trail, just below S. Colony Lakes. We set up camp and watched the sun set as we came up with a game plan for the next day...

Everyone was in agreement that the goal of this trip was to summit both peaks, but our party was on the fence about the traverse. With this in mind, we agreed to go for Crestone Peak first, then make a game-time decision on the summit as to whether or not to do the traverse. If the traverse wasn't in the cards for that day, we would retrace our steps down the Peak and regain Broken Hand Pass and make another game-time decision as to whether or not we wanted to add another ~1,700' to summit Needle via the standard route on our way back. If Needle wasn't a go, we would return back to camp and hit it the next day with fresh legs.

(In hindsight, mentally separating the day into small "checkpoints" beforehand helped break up a big day into bite-sized pieces, which I think was a big key to our success).

At camp below S. Colony Lake, along the trail to Humboldt.

Cloud over the needle looked like an angel... A good sign?
Nearing the top of Broken Hand Pass

We set the alarms for 3:30 and were on the trail by 4 am. It's a bit difficult to find the start of Broken Hand Pass (BHP) from the Humboldt side (there were several parties who were already hopelessly lost in the willows just below the lake), but there is a small trail that borders the lake and leads right to the start of BHP.

Not far into our slog up BHP, it quickly became apparent to our group that nobody wanted to do this two days in a row. With each step, there grew a consensus that our top priority was to get both Peak and Needle that day, for the sole reason of minimizing our time on BHP.

At the top of BHP, headlamps went away and we made our way down toward Cottonwood Lake. There were only 2-3 tents down by Cottonwood Lake -- A stark contrast from the S. Colony Lakes side, where there were seemingly hundreds of people camped on top of each other, piles of fresh human feces, and a handful of campfires roaring (despite the statewide fire ban and extreme fire danger). If you've read this far, here's a golden nugget for you... Approach these peaks from the Cottonwood Lake side and thank me later.

The majority of the route up Crestone Peak (here in red) can be seen from just below the Red Gulley. The Gulley is much longer than it looks.

The Red Gulley was pretty straightforward and provided very fun, low-angle class 3 climbing. Most of it felt like a sidewalk tilted at 45 degrees. Rockfall potential is certainly there, so helmets are obviously a good idea (but there were a handful of groups who seemed to have missed the memo). The Gulley is a bit longer than we anticipated... When you think you're at the top, you're actually only about 2/3 of the way. Great climbing nonetheless! When you reach the end of the Gulley, it's a sharp left turn at the saddle and a quick scramble to the summit.

Toward the top of the Gulley, we ran into Brad McQueen (who I recognized by the awesome beard and red helmet from his prior trip reports). He was leading a group that was about to begin the traverse. Brad -- great to meet you! Hope our paths cross again.

Big smiles and fresh(ish) legs
It also looks like a giant strip of bacon...


On the summit, we unanimously decided that we weren't going for the traverse; but we still had great weather, plenty of time, and fresh legs, so we still had our sights set on the Needle.

Sour Patch Kids: The 11th Essential


I was surprised how many people said to us on the descent, "hey, are you guys going for the traverse? Because we are." That seemed to be the main talking point of the morning, and I found it kind of strange. Were they looking for affirmation about their decision to go for the traverse? Or were they just itching for a chance to showboat? Nevertheless, it made for some great comic relief for our group when we could predict the next group's greeting, almost word for word...

I remember thinking to myself, wow there seem to be a lot of unprepared-looking people going for the traverse today (Nike Frees, no helmets, etc.)... Not surprisingly, we found out that there was a rescue operation underway for someone who had been cliffed out shortly thereafter.

We made our way back down to Cottonwood Lake and filtered some more water and had a snack. Although the hike to re-gain BHP is only about 500', it proved to be a bit draining in the heat of the day. But we had made it to our second decision point, and opted to take a crack at the Needle.

Where the real fun begins

The Needle offers some of my favorite climbing of all time -- Solid, confidence inspiring rock with enough exposure to keep the heart rate going. Overall, the rock is so solid that once you're on it, the exposure is less dramatic than what you might think by looking at the photos (but it should go without saying to still test every hold).

We found the infamous "dihedral move" to be a bit more straightforward than expected (maybe one class 4 move for those under 6', only because it's a far reach). Each member of our group took it a slightly different way, and nobody had a problem with it.

Taylor entering the Dihedral, eyeing her next couple moves
Taylor just after the Dihedral Move

40' Wall immediately after the Dihedral
Collin entering the West Gulley -- Easy to miss exit on the descent

Personally, I found the short 40' wall right after the dihedral to be the crux of the route (pictured above, left). It is close to vertical and takes some work to keep it at class 3.

From there, it is easy to find the entrance to the West Gulley (or you can keep going straight up for the optional class 4 route). Keep in mind that as easy as it is to get into the west gulley, the route finding on the way down/out is significantly more difficult and poses higher consequences... Descending too low would get you into trouble quickly. A previous party had marked the route with caution tape (which I normally disagree with from a LNT standpoint), but I'd be lying if I said it didn't help us on this route.

Once in the West Gulley, it's like climbing a jungle gym for 600-700' until you reach the summit. I'm not sure we lost that much time doing it this way, as we ran into many of the same parties from Crestone Peak, who had just completed the traverse and were beginning their descent back down the Needle. Depending on how long they took on the summit, I'd say we were only about 45 minutes behind those parties.


Coming off the Needle with little more work to go... Still need to descend BHP back to camp

Once back to Broken Hand Pass, we celebrated with high fives and Snickers bars before starting the steep, loose descent back to camp. Our total elapsed time this day was somewhere around 13 hours (moving at a brisk pace, but we took ample breaks and a good chunk of time on the summits). We arrived back at camp around 5 pm, with enough time to slip into our Crocs and make dinner. Over the course of the day, two new groups had pitched their tents within 30 feet of ours (par for the course on a Saturday in August). But we didn't care... After a few sips of whiskey, we were out before the sun was down.

We were awoken out of a deep sleep around 8 pm to a torrential downpour, lightning, and driving hail. When chatting with one of the SAR guys earlier at Broken Hand Pass, he made a comment about how "storms in the Sangres always bring hail." Man, he wasn't joking! Heavy lightning and hail persisted for over an hour, until we had about 6-8" of hail that had accumulated all throughout our site. I stepped out of my tent after the storm passed, and was ankle deep in standing water! It was apocalyptic, but apparently perfectly normal for a summer evening storm in the Sangres. I was stoked that my new Nemo Dagger tent passed the hail test with flying colors. Others in surrounding campsites weren't so lucky.

We packed up the next morning and took our time admiring the Needle and enjoying the fruits of our labor before beginning the easy hike back to the trailhead.

Early in the storm... Hail starting to creep in!
Watch died on the way back. Total mileage (TH to TH) was 17.5

Final Thoughts:

This was a long, tough day, no doubt. I was nervous about attempting these back to back, after being warned against it and being told that the best way to do these (if you don't want to do the traverse) is to do them a day apart, or on separate trips entirely. Not only do I not have that kind of time, but I also lack the desire to do Broken Hand Pass twice in two days.

Bottom line: if you are fit, determined, and have a good weather window, this is a perfectly fine way to get both Crestones in a single trip.

What you have to come to terms with is adding another 1,700' of focused climbing at the end of an already long day. Doing both in a single push from car to car would be nothing less than superhuman, but doing both from camp at S. Colony Lake (or Cottonwood Lake) should be within reach for most advanced hikers with the right mindset.

Would I do it again this way? Sure. Although I would approach from the Cottonwood Lake side next time (but don't tell too many of your friends).

All of that being said, I will absolutely be back for the traverse one day.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
09/24/2020 08:50
Great effort!

fun peaks
09/24/2020 21:19
What a great day! Up, back down and around for the two standard routes is the longer way by mileage and vert but, interestingly, is about the same time as the traverse, owing to the time taken with route finding and the preponderance of class 3/4 terrain.

09/25/2020 11:49
Greenonion - Thank you! It was a big, but gratifying day.

Marmot72 - Appreciate it! We were surprised to find that our route was not that much longer (time-wise). I suppose it's the thrill of great, exposed climbing and less mileage that attracts people to the traverse, and not necessarily to save time.

Nice report
09/25/2020 23:25
That was a very enjoyable report, with wonderful photographs.

Thank you!
06/11/2021 11:24
I am contemplating this exact sequence, as I am not mentally (or probably physically - haha) prepared for the traverse. I wasn't planning to do both in one day (you guys are beasts!) but was rather planning to return to camp and attempting Needle on Day 2. However, as you said, the thought of doing BHP *twice* in as many days is less than appealing. And from what I know of it, hiking over BHP with backpacking gear (to camp at Cottonwood Lake) seems super tough (I'm only 5'4" 120 lbs). So I'm hoping you can provide some more info about the Cottonwood Lake approach, as I'm not seeing this route on anywhere. I realize this would be "non-standard" but the site is pretty good about presenting all options, so I'm curious what I'm missing. What is the trailhead for this approach, and would it mean bypassing BHP altogether? THANK YOU in advance for any help you can provide

06/11/2021 11:36
Sarahbodhaine - thanks for the kind words. I‘m sure ‘beastsť is a bit generous, but I‘ll take it

My good buddy Stiffler wrote a TR on the Cottonwood approach that you might find useful:

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