Crestone Group - Westcliffe Trip
- Sangre de Cristo Range
Humboldt Peak, Crestone Peak, and Crestone Needle Elevation Humboldt 14,069ft. Crestone Peak 14,298ft. and Crestone Needle 14,201ft. (Aug. 9,2003) The Crestone group is not one to take lightly, and throw in the traverse between the Needle and Peak and you have the makings of an adventure (one that you are thankful to return from). Kit Carson (Challenger Point and Columbia Point) Elevation Kit Carson 14,169ft. Challenger Point 14,084ft. Columbia Point 13,980ft. (Aug. 10,2003) The Kit Carson triad is also a formidable climb, boasting some good class 3 and maybe some class 4 climbing between Columbia Point and Kit Carson.
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Trip Schedule break down
|Friday||4:30PM||-left work (drove to Colorado Springs and then to Westcliffe)|
|8:30PM||-arrive at South Colony 4X4 Trail Head|
|Saturday||4:10AM||-leave the TH to climb up broke hand pass.|
|6:58AM||-summit Crestone Needle via South Face.|
|10:30PM||-summit East (or South) Crestone Peak.via the traverse between the two peaks.|
|10:42PM||-summit North Crestone Peak|
|2:00PM||-halfway up Kat Carson or Columbia Point (hail storm turned us around).|
|5:25PM||-summit Humboldt Peak.|
|7:35PM||-back at the TH.|
|Sunday||5:15AM||-leave the TH to climb the Kit Carson.|
|10:00AM||-summit Kit Carson Peak via East Ridge|
|11:00AM||-summit Challenger Point.|
|12:00PM||-summit Columbia Point.|
|3:25PM||-back at TH.|
|9:00PM||-back at Home.|
This weekend starts off with the difficulty of just getting to the TH. There is a lower trailhead and an upper trailhead. The upper trail is where you really want to get to, and it is realistically a 6 out of 10 in Colorado 4X4 driving. The road is more difficult then Mount Antero and less difficult then Webster Pass. My truck (a Chevy Silverado ext. cab) made the trip with some fancy driving. I would not take my truck up the trail again however, because my truck is just too long. I would have preferred to have driven what I used to have which was a two door explorer up the trail. My truck had good leverage being long, but being so long the ground clearance for high centering situations became an issue. With a shorter wheel base you can drive around a lot of things that I had to position myself just right on. I even saw a two wheel drive small pickup at the upper TH.
Once at the TH we unloaded and set up a tent a little ways down the 4X4 road in the direction of South Colony Lakes. There were a number of people at the TH, more then I expected. I found out later that many of them were there for the NASA dedication of Columbia Point on Saturday.
In the morning Tim and I woke up to find out that a number of tents had sprung up very near the front door of our tent. We got dressed and went back to the truck to grab the rest of our gear. We headed off up the 4X4 road, and only had a little bit of trouble finding the small trail that leaves the 4X4 road near a switchback. We made our way to South Colony Lakes and then took the trail clearly marked with a wooden sign saying standard route on Needle. This trail of course went up to "Broken Hand Pass" and then around the back side and up the ridgeline to the summit of Crestone Needle. It seemed like we flew up the trail with ease. The trail was well marked and the route up the one couloir and then over to the next seemed totally logical. There had just been some extensive work on the trail so maybe that is why it seemed so obvious.
The route off of the Needle and onto the ridgeline did not seem as obvious. We went down and found some nylon cords which could be used to setup a repel, however we were not prepared for such a maneuver. The route through this section of the traverse seems far more intuitive from the bottom. I would have to say that the route down an obvious crack is not really the best route and that a more straight down the ridgeline approach would be more productive. Either way I found one way down and Tim found another way down. At the bottom of this section there are some cairns and a path down and across some gullies. The guide book says to stay on the South side of the ridge, we ended up on the North side of the ridge and found a nice rock crack to follow up to the ridgeline and then over to the Eastern Summit of Crestone Peak. After a short stop at the Eastern summit we headed over to the Western and main summit of Crestone Peak.
At this point we stopped for a bite to eat and evaluate the situation and clock. We decided to go down the Northwest face and attempt to climb Kit Carson as well this day. The Northwest route off of Crestone Peak was at one time the main route, but now no longer is. The route goes down a couloir and then does a long traverse to the Northeast into "Bear's Playground". We made it across and started climbing the slope up Columbia Point before the weather turned bad and we were forced to find shelter in a rock crevasse (the size of a phone booth) in the side of the ridgeline. There was thunder and lightening as well as sleet for about 45minutes, we then made a break for it. The lightening died down and we headed for a better shelter on the way back to "Bear's Playground".
Next we headed through the rocky corpus between "Bear's Playground" and the saddle with Humboldt, this short section of rock will become the bane of this trip. By the time we reached the saddle and could make the decision to go down to the South Colony Lakes, we in turn decided to head for the summit of Humboldt. The summit of Humboldt was obscured by some low clouds, but look free of the nastier weather that we experienced over on the slope of Columbia Point. The visibility off or the summit of Humboldt was bad, but we wanted to climb it on Saturday to avoid having to climb it the following day.
Sunday morning we woke up a little sore from the day before and headed for, "Bear's Playground." We ended up passing through the upper part of South Colony Lakes just as the sun came up and bathed the Crestone group in an orange glow. We were able to enjoy this view for a while but had our eyes set on Kit Carson. We ended up not being the first climbers to get started on the climb over to Kit Carson, but that was alright. On the first rock slope you run into on your way up to Columbia Point, it is best to stay along the North side of the slope until you almost reach the summit and then angle across the slope along a natural rock vein.
Once on top off Columbia Point's Eastern summit you head around the left or South side along a good cairn path and then down a class 3 couloir right in the middle of Columbia Point's South face. The climb down from Columbia Point and over to Kit Carson is the most difficult part of this days climb. The way back through this section was easier, but up climbing always is. during this traverse a number of climbers where starting to clog the path. The summit of Kit Carson is rather small but getting up to it is not that difficult, just a little loose rock to deal with. We stayed on the summit for just a little bit, got directions to Challenger Point and headed down and over. The trail between the two summits is cool, there is a walk way that is cut perfectly out of the side of Kit Carson. With the large amount of activity on these peak this day we had to be aware of where other climbers were, and try to avoid knocking any loose rocks down the slope below us.
Most of the people that we ran into on Kit Carson had climbed up for a different trailhead; not a bad idea if you want to avoid the difficulties of the Kit Carson to Columbia Point traverse. On the way back, the climb up to Columbia Point went quickly. We arrived at the summit of Columbia Point to find plastic covering a newly cemented plaque commemorating the crew of the last flight of Space Shuttle Columbia. To our relief the rest of the trip back to the truck went smoothly.
The trip ended with the tricky navigation down the South Colony road. The road took on a whole new demetion, as it was light out this time when we navigated the road. The most humorous or crazy thing that we experienced was two guys in a Ford Escape with no restraint on damaging there vehicle. These individuals bombed down the road taking full advantage of any skid plates that may have had protecting their undercarriage (they were from Nebraska no less).