"...I have reached the top!" -- Richard Pryor, Live on the Sunset Strip
This week I finally realized my summer goal: climbing the Crestone Needle. Hiking to the top of various fourteeners this year left me with a desire for something more challenging. After doing much reading and studying I set my sites on the Needle. It was sufficiently challenging, yet still Class 3.
I think I prepared for it the right way. First was a probable third class climb on Mount Peale. Then last weekend a bit harder climb on Apache Peak. But the biggest boost was that my good friend Nick agreed to join me!
Originally, we wanted to complete two more sections of the Colorado Trail this year, but the outrageous cost of gas, the need for two vehicles, and a late meeting at work on Friday combined to force us elsewhere. I'm glad the mountain god played us this way.
On the trip down to Westcliffe we encountered the often bemoaned traffic north of Colorado Springs. I don't understand the slowdown there. Even with that we arrived at the trailhead with plenty of daylight. The various trip reports about the 4wd road here range from accurate to exagerated. The first 1.5 miles is rough and I had to put my F150 in 4 low, but it is far from the roughest 4wd in Colorado. We found an excellent camping spot on the flats between the private property and the Rainbow trail.
On the trip up we picked up a hitchhiker named Oova. He said it was the most radical 4 wheeling he had ever done. He was planning on climbing Humboldt Peak the next day. Nick and I set up camp, roasted some hotdogs, and toasted his new job with a six pack.
The next morning we set out on my Yamaha Kodiak ATV on up the trail. It does get a bit rougher in spots, but there were plenty of SUVs and trucks at the upper trailhead. I am glad we had the ATV as it shaved about 7 miles off of the hike.
We hike up to the South Colony lakes and then continued on up Broken Hand pass. The clouds were pouring over the top of the needle and we saw a climber on the Ellingwood Arete. We weren't the first of the day up to the pass, but we were the first headed for the needle. The new trail that contours over to the couloir has one spot that was a little challenging. This gave us a taste of what was to come.
The climb up the west couloir was very fun and not too challenging until we got to the traverse to the east couloir. This was a bit trickier, but with Nick's advice I made it fine. Nick gave me two pointers to work on in my climbing. First, use your legs primarily and keep your body vertical... not against the rock. Second take steps of between 6 and 12 inches up. Your view changes quite a bit if you take these small moves. The climbing from the traverse to the top was just way too much fun. The rock is conglomerate with many solid holds.
We made the trip from the lakes to the top in 2 hours and 20 minutes! At the ajax we had the mountain to our selves. Nick examined the traverse to Crestone Peak and agreed that we could make it... but not this day and not without gear. We left it for our next trip. From the top you have a superb view of the Great Sand Dunes national monument.
On the way down we encountered three other climbers and two marmots doing the nasty. We stopped and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon for awhile before continuing the descent. It was such an awesome day! This is by far the best trip in all my years of hiking.
On the way back to the camp, Nick drove the ATV. It was his first experience on it and he had fun. I think he might even buy one... nah! After hauling it up the trail to camp we decide it was better to ride it all the way down to the bottom.
By the way, there were quite a few hunters in the area of Rainbow Trail. It was opening weekend for muzzleloaders, and we heard two shots on Sunday morning.