Monday, June 19, 2006

Traverse - No, Needle - Yes!

Peter and I climbed and summitted Crestone Needle on May 28th, 2006. We summitted via the Standard South Face Route. The downside to this post is that I forgot my camera so there will be no photos in this post. In coming posts, I will be sure to bring my camera and post photos.

We started up the South Colony lake road (via ATV) at 4:00 AM. It took us just under 45 mintues to make the trailhead. The road is every bit as rough as described. We saw several trucks at the trailhead and I can't imagine how long or uncomfortable that ride is in a standard vehicle. ATV is definitely the way to go.

We started up the hiking trail from the South Colony Lakes Trailhead at 5:00. Our original intent was to do the "Peak to Needle Traverse" but due to conditions, we were forced to abandon that plan and only got the Needle. Regardless, we followed the standard trail as it winds below Broken Hand Peak's Eastern face. The trail is in good shape, is easy to find, and follows a gentle slope up toward the South Colony Lakes. Soon after starting up the trail, we began to hear the wind. After about 30 minutes of hiking, we turned the corner into the basin that holds the lakes and that was when we felt what we had only heard earlier. It was going to be a windy day. As we got further into the basin and just below the lakes, we got a bit off trail and had to back-track for about 10 minutes to get back on route.

Finally back on trail, we reached the base of Broken Hand Pass right at 7:00. Still early in the season, we were forced to climb a medium sized snow field for 500 vertical feet to reach the mid-point of the pass. The snow was consolidated and frozen from the night before. Although we would have preferred to use our crampons (we left them at camp), we were able to cut steps with our axes and after about 20 minutes of climbing, we reached the mid-point of the pass and the rest of the route was clear of snow. On the decent, we were able to glissade this portion and save ourselves some time and have some fun as well.

At the top of Broken Hand Pass we felt the full effect of the wind. Previously the winds had been gusty but strong. At the top of the pass, the winds were steady at around 25 MPH with gusts up to an estimated 60 MPH led us to abort our plans for the traverse and only go for the Needle. We began up the Southern face of the Needle. We easily traversed over and up onto the Needle proper. We began to climb and gain some initial altitude in the first gully. The first few hundered feet was easy class 3 or low class 4 scrambling. As the gully narrowed, the climbing became more difficult with increased exposure. After about 45 minutes of this climbing it appeared to be time to traverse over the "rib" into the Western gully. This portion was an exposed climb / traverse that is low Class 5. Pete got a little off route and spooked as he had to downclimb 10 feet to get back on route. One of those moments where you breathe deep and ensure that every placement is absolutely correct. The pucker factor was "high." After reaching the Western gully the climbing returned to class 3 all the way to the summit. There were a few pockets of snow and ice to deal with but the climbing and exposure did ease a bit.

We summited right at 9:30 and had it all to ourselves. In fact, we only came upon two other groups all day. One at the top of Broken Hand Pass on our decent and another about 1/4 mile from the trailhead. The summit was WINDY! Easily 60 MPH winds. It was a good decision not to go for the traverse. On the decent, we left the Western gully a few hundred feet higher than we came into it. This proved the easier route. We downclimbed cautiously and in hindsight, it may have made more sense to rapelle a couple sections. None the less, we made it safely and in about the same amount of time as the ascent. Finally below Broken Hand Pass we were able to glissade the snow field and save some time. The rest of the decent was straight forward including the trip back down the road.

All in all, it was a great day. Over 6,600 vertical feet from the lower trailhead. Over 6.5 miles of hiking (from the upper parking lot). Total trip time was just over 7.5 hours from car to car. We averaged 30 feet per minute on the ascent and 43 feet per minute on the decent. An excellent day (aside from the wind) with great views and a challenging mountain. we both look forward to the Peak and another potential attempt at the traverse.

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