Type: Trad, Alpine, Grade III
FA: Albert Ellingwood and Eleanor Davis, 1925
Page Views: 61,959 total · 282/month
Shared By: Ben Mottinger on Dec 31, 2000 with updates from Bill Lawry and 1 other
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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Got up at 4:30am to get a good start on the climb. We hiked up to the Upper South Colony Lake and then waited for a little light to start climbing.

The standard route ascends a 3rd class slab up to a ramp on the Needles' East face, then starts the 4th class arete. There is also a direct start, which adds two pitches of 5.6 climbing up to the 3rd class ramp. We ended up doing the direct direct start which started on the N side of the arete and added 6 pitches of 5.5/5.6 climbing up to the arete.

Once we got to the 4th class section, progress was faster, but we still stayed roped up which made it slow going. The headwall section is the crux, which we did in 4 pitches. The climbing here was really nice, and the last, crux pitch was 150 feet of 5.7 up a nice crack. There was another group in front of us already on the standard 5.7 crack, so I took one to the right, which angled up and right for a bit, then went straight up to the belay. It was about the same grade 5.7ish and offered nice hand and finger jams with cobbled conglomerate rock for extra hands and feet.

From here, it was about 200 feet of 3rd class to the summit.

Key beta for the climb: We did 10 technical pitches (although easy) that take time nonetheless. Plan on using a WHOLE day for this climb. You start at first light to make it off the mountain before thunderstorms in the afternoon. Since we did it in September, the storm factor was less, but still present. Even so, we didn't make it back to camp until about 4pm. Take plenty of water, extra food and clothing, and definitely first aid gear.


Hexes, tri-cams, cams from #0.5-#4 Friends, mid-large stoppers, many runners in the 24 inch length. Twin ropes are useful.

Getting There

Per Bill Lawry:

Access the South Colony Lakes area as indicated on The Crestones page. From the second-to-highest lake, there are at least three well-separated starts to the route. The chosen start determines how much of the lower ledges will be traversed.

See this marked up
Here are some ways to start [[105748714]]. I have not done the starts labeled "Direct" and "Most-Ledges". The "Full-Ledges" start - after a little up climbing and a little down climbing - passes just above a large slung horn with old rap rope as of July 2016. The old rap rope was knotted off for a two-stranded rap, and it was a little sun-bleached with some sheath damage visible in one strand about 15 feet down from the anchor. In July 2017, the rap station was gone. for relative locations of these starts.

Before the day of the climb, it is worth getting familiar with the approaches by finding a vantage point from which to view them in broad daylight. The starts can be approached from the second-to-highest lake as follows:


This is a variation on the Ellingwood Ledges this climb starts from the town of Estes Park, drive US 34 for 28 miles to I-25 south. Once on I-25 drive south for 160 miles, take the CO-96 west for 60 miles to the town of Westcliffe, from Westcliffe go 4.6 mi S. on 69 then 5.6 mi on 119 to 120. Follow this road till it becomes a 4WD road, it's a rough road, but I managed to do it in my Chevy Blazer in 4 HI for the 4 miles, it took me about 45 minutes to drive the road as it's not really that rough of a 4WD road. Hike to South Colony Lakes. Get up on the Arete, either the direct start or the ledges. We did the ledges. Once the ledges are over, that's where we put on all of our technical gear. We simul-climbed the route until we reached the 5th class sections, there were about three pitches of techincal climbing. The crux was technical with a lot of exposure, to quote my partner Cab "The needle is sick, dude". Once we got to the top, we hiked back down to the bottom via the standard S. couloir route. The downclimb is not as tricky as all the descriptions I read stated, just make sure you take the second couloir and you'll be all set. Enjoy this climb and camp out at the S. Colony Lakes, as this is one of the most magical and beautiful settings; abundant with wildflowers, wildlife, majestic peaks, and unparalled vistas. Joe E. Jan 1, 2001
Some advice for improving your chances for having a good time on Ellingwood Ledges:

1. If you camp at Upper South Colony Lake, you can reach the base of the route in just a few minutes from your tent.

Like S.L. says above, you can boulder yourself silly in the upper South Colony drainage. Just watch out for marmot s**t on the holds. A few of the boulders overhang on every side and therefore have marmot-proof summits. These make nice hiding places for your food while you're on the Needle.

2. Wear a helmet. I've never seen so much falling rock! I almost got creamed at least three times.

3. Bring mostly old-school pro - hexes, tricams, and nuts. Leave the big (#2.5 and up) Camalots at home. One each #0.5 - #2 Camalots might be worth the weight. The #0.5 is nice for the crux pitch.

4. Simulclimb whenever possible. A running belay with 2-3 pieces of pro between the leader and second is a safe way to climb 80% of this route. My buddy and I belayed every pitch, and it took us 6 hours from the tent to the summit. Light and fast we were not. Bad, bad alpinists!

5. Memorize the topo. The two crux pitches of the climb have several variations each. Study the topo so you can plan ahead and avoid routefinding problems.

6. Be careful on the downclimb. My partner and I had never been on the peak before, and we were lucky to get down without getting lost. A rain or hailstorm would make the downclimb suicidal. If you get rained on during the downclimb off the upper part of the Needle, it might be best to pull on your raingear and wait it out.

This is a great, satisfying route. It's mostly very easy, but make sure you can safely lead 5.7 cracks before you go. Keep one eye on the weather and the other eye looking out for hurtling boulders with your name on them.

Have fun. Take lots of film. Matt White. mwhite@mines.edu Nov 19, 2001
Does anyone know if this route has been climbed in full winter conditions? Feb 27, 2002
In response to Matt W. - for what it's worth, I have a friend who worked for several years at Mtn. Chalet in Colorado Springs who told me of a guy he knew there who had climbed Ellingwood Ledges several times in full on winter conditions as training for big time alpine stuff in Alaska, etc. I know it's just a "friend of a friend" story, but at least it SOUNDS like it's been done. Apr 26, 2002
Well, after reading the comments here, and both Roach's & Dawson's guide descriptions, I was still confused. So after having done the climb yesterday I thought I would add my two bits and muddy the waters further.

Drove to the end of the 4WD, which left us with 1.5 hours hiking to what I believe was the base of the direct start. The crux of the approach is surmounting the large band of rock- aka apron- which blocks the base of the ridge. We climbed this on the right, slightly to the right of the arête, which I believe is the direct start. Follow the main trail to the upper lake, branching off and traversing around the south side of the upper S. Colony lake where the trail starts to head up Humbolt. Hike up steep grass to the base of the apron and traverse right to the apex of a scree field below a large open book (12,500ft- see 'Direct Start' waypoint). Easy 5th class moves get you into the book up to where a light colored horizontal dike intersects the book (120ft). At this point we exited up and to the left via an awkward 5.5 move and ended up on the grass above the apron- I believe the actual direct start continues up the book. Once on the grass we traversed left, and then meandered up 3rd/4th class grassy ledges, sometimes following the ledges, sometimes climbing directly up easy, knobby conglomerate. We continued in this manner until we reached the base of the headwall (13,500ft- see 'Headwall' waypoint). Look for an obvious R facing dihedral at the base of the headwall, to the left of the arête proper. We climbed the headwall in three 60m pitches.

P1: Climb the L facing corner which is about 20 feet to the right of the dihedral. First over blocks, then stem out of a small chimney (5.6) to a nice hand crack in the corner. After 50ft in the corner, continue on easy ground to a broad dirt path/ledge with a pin in the crack above and belay- 180ft.

P2: Move left 15 feet (exposed), then head up a R facing corner system (5.6), again with easy terrain for the last half of the pitch- 180ft. Belay at blocks in a grassy area below the final steep section, even with and just to the right of the base of the huge notch in the top of the peak which is obvious from the hike in. The notch has a large chimney exiting the back.

P3: Rather than climbing left into the notch & chimney, climb up and to the right over blocks to enter a R facing corner system with a nice hand & finger crack with several old pins. The crux is the steep section of the corner about 30ft up (5.7). As the climbing eases off, continue up and belay where the chimney exits from the notch to your left- 180ft.

After P3, scramble up a 4th class gully for 200ft to the summit ridge, then 50ft north to the summit.

Descent: About where the gully from Ellingwood hits the ridge, there is a couloir going down the opposite side. This is not the couloir heading directly down from the summit, but the second one to the south. Many cairns mark the descent down the couloir, and eventually you will exit left and traverse through towers to Broken Hand Pass, from whence a well marked trail leads down to the lower S. Colony lake. Jul 29, 2002
As of August 2002, can anyone offer a little insight into the condition of the 4x4 road leading up to the parking lot for the Crestone/South Colony Group. Thanks. Aug 7, 2002
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
A buddy of mine who climbed it last month reports: "The road in sucks big time." I doubt it is getting any easier with time. Without a pack, I think you could easily jog up the road faster than most 4x4s grind up it. Aug 7, 2002
The road in is one of the worst roads I've been on in Colorado. However, after hiking all the way up the road, I was shocked to see a VW bug at the top. Anything is possible. Aug 7, 2002
Casey Bernal
Wheat Ridge, CO
Casey Bernal   Wheat Ridge, CO
I was up there a few years back and the road was bad and getting worse with traffic. On this road you need EITHER a small vehicle with tight turning radius or lots of ground clearance. This is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado.

casey Aug 7, 2002
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
I climbed the route last Saturday (my second time) and it really is a fantastic route. We did the direct start this time which I would recommend. The GPS coordinates below we found to be accurate.

Both times I have gotten confused and off-route just below the base of the final headwall. The area leading up to this is very easy and grassy, but you then run into a steep mini-headwall. You may think this is "the headwall" but this is incorrect. There is now a fixed piece in this section with a purple sling (vertical to overhanging here), if you go up past this piece it is probably at least 5.8. If you go up about 20' left of this piece, you can climb steeply up the mini-headwall at about 5.6 or so, this is what I have done twice now. However, if you are smart like the team below us, you will simply traverse right (north) 50 feet or so, bypassing the mini-headwall completely, and reaching the base of the real headwall with no big problems. It is a fun pitch to climb the mini-headwall, but it will slow you down and confuse you into thinking you just did the first headwall pitch.

We also had enough time and good weather left to continue with the traverse to Crestone Peak. Highly recommended!! Aug 12, 2002
Chris R  
Did this classic on 8-19-2002 with perfect weather....here is some added beta.

Survey the route the day prior to climbing it from somewhere on the Humboldt trail. The Ledges route runs almost directly up the Arete before you.

To do the direct start, look for a large, right-facing dihedral at a high point on the lower cliff band. The direct start runs at about 5.6 for two pitches. Scramble up and right from the top of the dihedral until you can traverse right along the face. See the below description for the rest....

The alternative is a non-technical (but exposed) walk up. To find this, look at the far left side of the lower cliffs for an obvious grassy ramp ascending from right to left that cuts through the black cliff face. It looks very narrow but is generally secure. Walking up this band will deposit you on a steep, grassy slope. Walk up and to the right on this slope to the lowest of three deep, parallel cuts that ascend left to right. The walk up this loose ramp will place you on the grassy ledges that bisect the face of the Needle. Traverse to the right across these ledges, following the path of least resistance. Eventually the traverse will reach a dead end where the ledge abruptly drops off. A good start to the route is about 40' to the left of this drop-off.

Begin 4th class scrambling here, trending slightly left. A few hundred feet above is a giant horn; climb to the left of this feature. Continue upwards as the climbing gets more technical and more exposed. There are a few exposed 5-easy moves upon which some may want to rope up. There are many paths upwards, few of which exceed 5.2 in difficulty. Choose whatever looks most exciting!

Reach a mini-headwall with a slice left of center--going around the right side of this feature provides the easiest ascent. Eventually, find yourself at a comfortable ledge beneath a headwall.

Albert Ellingwood's original route followed a crack in a large, lower angle, right-facing corner which trends slightly to the right. A 60m rope and about 40ft of simul-climbing can breeze through this 5.2 pitch. Set the belay at a large ledge next to a set of boulders--above and slightly right should be a right-facing dihedral that starts about 30ft. up, past a couple of small, easy bulges. This pristine corner is the crux of the route--the Head Crack. The climbing is aesthetic and fun 5.7 stemming. Climb out of this 100ft. corner and run it out, aiming to the right of an obvious gully--you have to stretch a 60m rope to reach the good belay under a roof. Breeze up on easy but loose climbing up the gully and enjoy the superb view from the summit. Aug 20, 2002
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Good info Chris, but the finish you describe does not sound to me like the Head Crack. What you describe sounds more like the normal finish these days (it has several fixed pitons and a fixed wire, right?). I have never heard anyone describe the Head Crack as "aesthetic 5.7 stemming". I believe the actual Head Crack lies about 100' left of the aesthetic 5.7 stemming corner . Although I've not done it, I hear the Head Crack is an awkward and physical chimney and a #4 Camalot is recommended if you go that way. Aug 20, 2002
Ron Olsen
Boulder, CO
Ron Olsen   Boulder, CO
My partner and I did the route on 8/17/02. The best beta for the final technical section is in Mark Robbins' comments above; the guidebooks (Roach, Dawson, Green, Roper and Steck's 50 Classic Climbs) are very inaccurate. Roach and Green have copied their Ellingwood route descriptions almost verbatim from Roper and Steck; I wonder if any of them has actually climbed the route? We did P1 and P2 exactly as described in Robbins' comments above. P1 was about 180', and P2 took the entire 60m rope to get to the grassy area with blocks; I could have belayed 30' lower on a small ledge with a fixed pin. As George Bell surmises, P3 in Robbins' comments (and the final technical pitch in Chris R's comments) is not the Head Crack. To get to the Head Crack, you go around a corner to the left and up a low-angled ramp to a belay anchor with two old fixed pins on the right wall. There is another fixed pin about 15' up and right from the belay that protects the 5.7 crux move. Do not climb the ugly chimney at the back of the ramp! Instead, climb up and right, clip the pin, make a delicate stem right, work up into a right-angling wide crack, and clip a second pin. Continue 15' up to a ledge. Do not go left on this ledge to the ugly chimney; there is no protection and some hard climbing to surmount this obstacle. I saw a tattered back-off sling in this chimney. Instead, climb the short headwall to the right, clipping another fixed pin. Gain a large ledge and continue up on easy ground to a belay just short of the top. An easy scramble up a 4th-class gully leads to a cairn at the top of the southeast ridge. A short walk north gets you to the true summit. The guidebooks' comments about "stemming the wide crack" on the Head Crack pitch are completely inaccurate, unless you do the ugly runout chimney described above, which to me seemed clearly off-route. Done the way I described, the Head Crack pitch does not need any large pro, and the entire climb can be done with nothing larger than a #2 Camalot. Aug 20, 2002
Chris R  
Ok, my bad on the beta, the finish I described above is not the original "Head Crack". George Bell has the info. correct in his comment--the actual Head Crack starts about 100' up and left of the corner I thought was it. That said, I compared notes with some guys who have done the route the original way and followed the Head Crack, and came away with the impression that my finish up the corner was a heck of a lot more fun. Don't take my word for it, though--get up there and check it out for yourself. I'm still riding high from topping out that line.... Aug 20, 2002
Peter Franzen
Phoenix, AZ
Peter Franzen   Phoenix, AZ  
Did this route on September 7, 2002 in truly specacular conditions. I'm not sure I can add much to the good beta already provided, but here are some random comments:

The road to the trailhead is horrible. I did it at night (!) in a stock Nissan Pathfinder and although we made it up, there was a constant fear of flat tires and bottoming out on rocks. Make sure you have a 4WD-Low gear or some sections may be impossible.

We started at the lower lake at around 4:30, and waited until dawn to do the direct start. Being the speed demons we are, we decided to simul-climb the ds- probably not a good idea. There is little pro, and what there is seems to be pretty spread out which made the simul-climbing really sketchy.

We only climbed 2 pitches at the top of the route. I highly recommend skirting around to the right of the "mini-headwall" that lies at the top of the 4th class arete. Using a 50m rope we were able to do 2 comfortable pitches and then scramble the last 60m or so to the summit. We did move the belay at the top of the first pitch to the ledge system about 40ft to the left and about 25 feet up.

Round trip took us about 7 hours. We made the summit at 10:00am, and the descent seemed to go on forever. Great route overall! Sep 7, 2002
As Franzen said, simulclimbing the direct was a tad sketchy, but if you do decide to rope up, it is only nessesary for the first 100 meters. The rest is pretty cruiser. Many fixed pins/pitons. The road in SUCKS, and it might just be faster to hike in. The descent is, well, horrible. The route makes up for it however. Sep 8, 2002
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
I happen to know that it was climbed in the "dead of winter" by John Rosholt and Bob Dickerson sometime in the late 70s. They both got a little bit of frostbite from the adventure. Had some harrowing stories of frozen mitten on rock handholds (although the stories get more harrowing as the years go by!) I have a summit shot, from their ascent, looking towards the Blanca massif hanging in my office. I personally have done the route 3 times, first time on the 4th of July 1976 Bicentennial. I think the most important thing I can impart is to get off the top before the afternoon lightning storms start to hit. I've seen rivers of hail washing down the gullies. Believe it or not I drove a '69 Datsun all the way to the top of the road! When I got back to Gunnison, my toe-in on the car was out 2 1/2 inches and my tires were ruined. I'm an old fart and don't climb any more, but I like reading all stories from you young bucks. This is a great route, I always 3rd classed the bottom section until the last two pitches (although I had a run-in once with some Texas Sierra Club members that admonished me for being "off route"!). Keep up the good work, keeps me interested in life before kids and job and achey old bones.

Scott M. May 16, 2003
2nd time up the arete on 7/20/03. I worked in this basin for an entire summer (1998) and drove the road many times. It is definitely in declining shape, but any 4x4 SUV/truck in stock condition, driven wisely can make it. I've seen a minivan at the top, by which I was amazed.

I did the headwall in only two pitches (stretching a 60 m rope all the way for each). You can avoid the first technical pitch (which I did accidentally) by climbing 4th class terrain to the right of the arete. The next two pitches were made for 60 m ropes. Each 60 m progression lands you squarely on a *phat* belay ledge. Both times I climbed the right-facing dihedral to the right of the head crack proper and this is recommended (although I haven't climbed the head crack itself). Beautiful 5.7 climbing (though my partner/girlfriend who is about a 5.7/5.8 climber downrated it to 5.6!!!).

I agree, bring old-school pro. Lighter, sufficient, more fun. The crux is easily protected by pitons, anyway. Heck, might as well solo it.

I have been thoroughly lost both times on the descent. There are extraneous cairns (ducks) everywhere. Be careful and double check your descent line by climbing out on viewpoints and picking your line. Also, it has hailed on me both times I climbed this, right as I topped out (noon last time and I don't remember what time it was in '98).

This is more of an alpine/mountaineering route than any rock climb I've done in Colorado. Do it. Jul 23, 2003
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
I wrote the previous commment about the winter ascent. I have to admit I have been confused by some of the descriptions of the route. I just posted my beta photo as best I could. I 3rd classed up to this point on the "ledges" and then belayed the 1st pitch to a little coffin-shaped indent just before the big ledge so that the rope drag was minimized. Scrambled up and set up the next belay for the final pitch. As I recall it, the crux was a small roof that was on lower angle rock and a number 8 or 9 hex (yes, this was before Friends) protected right at your chest. You pulled the roof and then stepped right on to some wonderful 5.5 low angle slabs to the top, looking at the lake between your legs! Great Stuff. Does any of this make sense?

Scott M. Aug 7, 2003
Just returned - 8/9/03 Couple comments some might find helpful, in addition to the above.

1) I rented a SUV. 80 bucks for the 1 day that I needed it - less than the price of 2 lift tickets. No brainer, IMO. Saved us a lot of time, energy and stress.

2) Printed Mark Robbins' description, and added in G. Bell's comments. "Ellingwood Express" was the result. No direct start, cut right at the "mini" (?) headwall and 3rd class up, then 2 60m pitches. Worked well. The original "choss-width" last pitch was unappealing to me. The picture in 50 Classics and the area topo map in Dawson were my other info.

3) The approach described in Dawson is worth noting. Take a right over the fat log just before crossing the river to the upper parking lot, and head past all the camping to find a trail leading to the lake. Walking though the gate and up that road adds maybe a 1/2 mile or so plus a lot of people. I did the shorter up, then the latter down. I'll avoid the gated road in the future.

A fun route in yet another spectacular place in Colorado that I hadn't even seen before. Thanks to all for the above beta. Aug 9, 2003
Tyson Arp  
The trail that's shown on the USGS topo which avoids the last part of the old mining road is posted as being closed (I was just there on 9/3/03). I believe this is the trail mentioned in the previous post--unless there is another trail that I'm unaware of. Sep 9, 2003
Billy Danger
Asheville, NC
Billy Danger   Asheville, NC
I did this route on 7/30/05 exactly as Mark Robbins described it. It is one of the best, it not THE BEST climb I've done to date. I took a look at the "true head crack", best decided to climb the one Mark Robbins describes to the right instead because it look much more fun. Stellar!!! Aug 1, 2005
Just from reading all the beta on this site, I was able to stay on the route the whole time. Here's what we found: Heading almost straight up from the red tower, you reach a small bulge with an old piton at about eye level. Our first pitch went over the bulge with one 5.7+ move, and then angled up to the left at about 5.4 to a nice ledge below the obvious headwall chimney/crack. This next pitch was hard! about 55 meters of SOLID 5.7 at roughly 13,700 ft. with a pack. The pitch is broken into 3 sections. About 45 feet in the steep corner will bring you to a nice rest below a few chimney moves. If you're good with your feet you can keep it at 5.7, but if you arm it, it'll feel like 5.9. The moves (3 or so) in the chimney are protectable with an old piton that's hammered into dirt and a variety of backup possibilities. Once you grab your way up a few big nobs (I laybacked the knobby flake at the top of the chimney) to pull out of the short chimney, it's relatively easy (5.5 or so) to the end of the pitch at a big cozy ledge. For the next pitch, we moved the belay up and headed up the obvious, finger crack that angles right just a few feet right of what I imagine is the original route. This offered some airy and scary but protectable moves (felt like at least 5.7 with 35 lbs. on my back) for the first 40-50 feet before heading up around the corner to the left on slightly easier rock. The rest is a short scramble directly up the obvious gully above. The last move is a little harder than 4th class so be careful, it's Crestone conglomerate, and you never know what might pull off!

I don't lead any harder than 5.8 on gear, and this is how I felt on the route. Although mostly 4th class there's still 2000 ft. to be gained, and it can be tiring! Remember, these reports are highly subjective. Prepare for a challenge and if it comes you'll be ready. If it doesn't, good for you...you're strong...go climb the Casual Route. Aug 23, 2005
El Manzano
kirkadirka   El Manzano
Does anyone know how early in the year the trailhead for this area can be accessed? Would a late May climb be considered much more difficult of an approach? Not sure how much snow they've had out there this year. May 22, 2006
Mike McKinnon
Golden, CO
Mike McKinnon   Golden, CO
I did this route yesterday and here is my beta FWIWs.

We slept at lower S. Colony Lake and bivied where they standard route connects back to the lake. And, yes, the road is horrible:).

We started at 6am and hiked straight across to the base of the climb from the lower lake. We climbed the entire route up to the headwall free. The only move of any consequence was the one 5.7 move over a bulge with the pin in it that Ben mentioned. We only roped up for 2 pitches total and they were the final headwall pitches, and they went exactly as described by the other posters. We had a 70m rope and I ran both pitches the to the very end of the rope. This left us with one final pitch of low class 4 for about 100 ft to the top.

There are a lot pins in the first headwall pitch as the OP suggests. They are all really old ring pins that are being over run by moss and it looks like the ring pin will break. We hit the top at 10am - 4 hours total from Lake to Peak.

The descent can be scary and hard if you get off route. You descend down the gully off of alternately loose rock and solid conglomerate. Continue down the gully until you can break left (looking down the mt). You can also spot the path from the top of the peak and use that as guidance. We got back to the packs at 12 noon.

All in all, great route. If you feel comfortable making 5.6 and the occasional 5.7 move without gear or rope, this route can go really fast. If you need to rope up for the entire thing, then give yourself a full day. Jul 17, 2006
Joe Leonhard
Denver, CO
Joe Leonhard   Denver, CO
Fun climb, but be ready for sore feet from standing on knobs all day. Aug 24, 2006
Tyson Arp  
Not sure why I didn't post this earlier, but here's a link to a trip report and some photos from Team Arp's ascent of Ellingwood Ledges. Feb 6, 2007
Anyone know the current conditions for this route? I'd like to climb it in early June, but I know Colorado got a ton of snow this year. I don't mind the occasional bit of snow and ice in a crack, but I'd like to be able to do the entire route in rock shoes and protect it with rock gear. Possible?

From what I've read about the 4WD road, my car stands no chance. So we were going to hike in and basecamp somewhere. Recommendations for a nice place to camp?

Thanks! May 11, 2007
Ron Olsen
Boulder, CO
Ron Olsen   Boulder, CO

Here is a photo posted on14ers.com; it was taken from the summit of Mt. Humboldt on Sunday, May 6th. Crestone Needle is on the left; the Ellingwood Ledges route goes up the bulging buttress that's just in the sun. Still lots of snow up there.

There is a good campsite at Upper South Colony Lake, elevation 12050', about a 1.5-hour hike from the trailhead at the end of the 4WD road. Of course, the hike will be a lot longer if your vehicle can't make it that far.

I think early June is pushing it for a snow-free ascent. The descent down the South Couloir can be tricky, with route-finding, downclimbing and some loose rock. Also, there is likely to be some snow on the loose descent below Broken Hand Pass. Not something I'd want to attempt in marginal conditions. Personally, I'd wait and do the route in July or August. May 11, 2007
Thanks, Ron! Yeah, I figured early June was out of the question. It is possible that I'll be back in Colorado in August, so maybe I'll get another shot at the climb. May 12, 2007
I would like to go up there this weekend 6-16, 6-17. Any idea on the conditions? Last report from early May with picture above shows loads of snow. Any idea how much conditions have improved?

Also, should I expect snow on backside scrambling descent even if no snow is seen on the climb from below? I have been up there years ago-midsummer, so I am familiar with the terrain. I was thinking approach shoes and light axe would suffice.

Jeremy Jun 14, 2007
Kaner   Eagle
Gotta admit, not extremely impressed with this route. Lots of exposed 3rd/4th class leads to 2 pitches of rock and a cool summit, but the authors of "50 Classics" must have never been to Eldo or Lumpy.

Here's my TR from 7/6/08
14ers.com/php14ers/triprepo…. Jul 7, 2008
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
I don't know, Ryan, it's an alpine route, not a rock route. As far as scenery and location, it can't be beat. Camping at South Colony lakes and bouldering in the alpine flora with those huge faces surrounding you makes it one of the most magical places I know of. Sure, the rock climbing is not 5.severe, (but I can assure you if you want to, there are routes up that thing that will blow the hardest man away), but climbing up the last two pitches looking at S. Colony lakes between your legs and then topping off and trying to find your way off before the lightning and hail epic you, is the quintessential mountain experience. I think it definitely deserves to be in the 50 Classic Climbs! Jul 8, 2008
Did this route about 20 years ago.
When we got back down to S Colony Lake, we were offered a ride back to the trailhead in an Army Chinook helicopter (a search had taken place earlier while we were on the peak, for an injured climber, who was located).
The helicopter ride made for a full adventure. Jul 8, 2008
Kaner   Eagle
I understand it's an alpine route, and I totally agree the sights and surroundings make it memorable. I'm just saying I expected more out of a "classic."

The only other "classic" in Colorado is the Diamond. I did that last summer with the same partner so maybe my standards of a classic (2000 feet of vertical, beautiful, solid granite) were already inflated. Jul 9, 2008
Kaner   Eagle
I don't want people's first impression to be mine, let it get lost at the bottom of the page so no one is discouraged from trying this route. Do it yourself and form your own opinions, it is a good climb. Jul 9, 2008
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
Cool, Ryan, you're right, they're apples and oranges. Like the Black Wall on Evans and Wham Ridge on Vestal, both classic, but two completely different experiences. Jul 9, 2008
Joe Brannan
Lyons, CO
Joe Brannan   Lyons, CO
Climbed this two days ago (7-12-08) using the direct start and a 54 meter rope. Found the first pitch of the direct to be 5.4 due to a traverse to get into the open book at the start the pitch. The rest of the first pitch is simple low angle crack with some loose rock on a wide belay ledge. The second pitch was a bit tougher with a 5.6 traverse to get back on route after climbing left to avoid a steeper manky section of the crack. After that, easy fun and solid 5.4 crack to another huge belay ledge. Finally, 150' of 4th class gets you out into the open area where the walk up route meets the arete.

We 3rd classed the section between the direct start and the headwall difficulties. Stay left as you approach the red tower to stay on 3rd class ledges then head back right and start climbing right on the arete above the red tower which provides a few 5.4 moves. You can stay out left here and keep it at 5.2. As stated above, the first headwall pitch can be avoided to the right with a stiff 4th class traverse and then solid 4th class climbing.

For the first of the two headwall pitches, we opted for the 5.5 right-facing corner to the right of the obvious 5.9 chimney. The 54 meter rope was just enough to get to a boulder to sling for the anchor. Good pro on this pitch. Several old pins, a shady bolt plate, and many good hex/tricam placements.

After moving our anchor up 20' to a bomber belay ledge, we climbed the 5.7 crack. Really good protection, especially around the crux (#1 Camalot) move which is a small roof. Stemming out to the left was how I found my way up it. A pin is just above the crux. The remaining 50 feet of climbing is fun 5.6 crack. Just as you reach a ledge there is a good pro for an anchor, only needed 45 meters of rope here. Remaining terrain is stiff 3rd class up a wide gully.

This route was a blast! Medium hexes and tricams were very useful. Dont need anything bigger than #2 Camalot. Took us 4.5 hours with the direct start and I have been leading trad for less than a year. Pretty straightforward. Jul 14, 2008
Does any one have any beta for the traverse to bag Crestone Peak after summiting the Needle? Am I correct that the descent is about halfway between the two peaks? Doing this traverse, would you summit Crestone Peak and then backtrack to the same descent as for the Needle? Jul 19, 2008
Joe Brannan
Lyons, CO
Joe Brannan   Lyons, CO
We continued with the traverse after our 7-12-08 climb. Rap The Needle and then follow the fairly obvious class 3 traversing terrain to a notch next to a large tower (crux of the traverse route, aside from the rappel, is getting into the notch). Follow the gully down west away from the ridge line to the base of the tower and then stay low on easy ledges and gullies to around 13,300' in the red couloir of Crestone Peak. Use the Red Couloir to finish Crestone. Descend the Red Couloir and return over broken hand pass (or descend the North Couloir which is loose and potentially icy to the Bears playground then down gullies back to S Colony Lakes).

The traverse stays very low, avoiding the difficulties of the upper ridge. If you find yourself in class 5 terrain your off route. Here is a tr from a trip I did which has good beta for the traverse in the opposite direction, Peak to Needle.


and my tr from the 7-12-08 climb with the traverse Needle to Peak

14ers.com/php14ers/triprepo… Jul 21, 2008
Boulder, CO
Lordsokol   Boulder, CO
I free soloed this route yesterday morning. Started from the jeep (end of road - South Colony trailhead) at 3:45am. I did the direct start and the "head on" finish up high. I watched the sunrise from below the upper headwall while I ate my power gel breakfast. I reached the summit by 6:30am. (1 hour and 20 minutes from lake to summit - such are the advantages of not burdening yourself with a bunch of gear.) Got back to the car by 9:15am. I hung around on the summit for a while taking pictures of a friendly marmot. The route was very dry, and the rock was solid all the way up. This is definitely a classic!

P.S. I found a hanger with a bailer biner on it. If it turns out to be convenient, I can return it to whomever claims it. Otherwise I call it Karma... I've lost plenty of stuff in the mountains in the past! :-) Aug 4, 2008
Lee Frazer
Durango, CO
Lee Frazer   Durango, CO
Does this also go by Ellingwood Arete? If so, this must be Crestone Needle, no? Jun 24, 2009
Top Rope Hero
Was Estes Park, now homeless
Top Rope Hero   Was Estes Park, now homeless
OK. Either I'm the man, and the 5.9 pitch was soft (which is why I'm grading at 5.8), or I'm the super-wuss and think the initial, supposedly easy pitch was Mr. Death.

Scrambled all the way up to the headwall in two teams of two. Raterman and the Bry Guy took some fun-looking, wavy, less-than-vertical crack+knoby face off to the right, while the Miller and I took what seemed to be the flagrantly obvious chimney/crack/dihedral right in front of our faces, there at the very base of the headwall proper.

Now…I was told the sequence was Pitch 1: 5.5/5.6 Pitch 2: 5.7 (crux) Pitch 3: 5.4ish/scramble to the top. AND I had heard there was a "serious" 5.9 pitch somewhere on the headwall, be careful. (Here's a long-shot beta photo: summitpost.org/image/469275…)

Just to be sure, we DID absolutely find the obvious, right dihedral-ly 5.7 as the second pitch above some small, grassy ledges. Sent it. But it sure wasn’t the crux of the day.

An experienced party came along, just before we tackled that 5.7, had followed Bryan’s and Raterman’s line up. Said that I had just lead the storied 5.9 pitch. But then there’s my issue: Either the first pitch was a soft 5.9 (It DID have some exciting, in-your-face bulges you had to negotiate, pack on your back, but nothing to cry about) and I should be the hero, or else I got suckered into the mightiest mightiest sandbag on the planet and should consider taking up something more sane like crochet or perhaps full-contact dominoes.

I was in approach shoes the entire day, and the crack was ice station zebra, so maybe I was in no place to judge. Either way, good times, good times.... Aug 25, 2009
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
Toprope, I copied your picture off of your summitpost site. If you don't mind, I am posting it here but will remove it if you wish.

I have drawn on a line in orange that reflects the dihedral that I have always used to climb this thing the 3 times I have done it. If this is the mythical 5.9 variation it would make more sense to me as it always seemed more difficult than the 5.7 crux pitch up above. Maybe George Bell could chime in on this as he seems to be quite the expert on a lot of these alpine routes. I always chalked up the difficulty to the fact that I did it twice in big boots and once in kletter shoes.

Thanks, Scott Mossman Aug 25, 2009
John Korfmacher
Fort Collins, CO
John Korfmacher   Fort Collins, CO
Climbed this route in excellent conditions on 9/5/09 with S. Costello...a dusting of snow made the footing on some of the shaded bits kinda tricky. The direct start probably doesn't add much time to the route and you can choose between 5.5 roped climbing and a lengthy but enjoyable 4th-class scramble up the ledges and steps.

Do not trifle with the weather--if you haven't reached the base of the climb by sunrise you are going to experience a waking nightmare in the rain on the standard-route descent. We needed about four hours from base to summit, and that was cutting it pretty close.

We climbed the last two pitches per Mark Robbins' description above and found good jams and stemming and solid pro. Think of Ellingwood as a fine mountaineering experience with a fun moderate rock climb at the top. The fact that this route appears in the 50 Crowded despite having only two or three technical pitches speaks volumes about its quality. Great exposure and position and a very aesthetic line in an absolutely beautiful place. Sep 8, 2009
Hoag Hoag
Littleton, CO
Hoag Hoag   Littleton, CO
The final pitch of the needle presents two options: 1) on the far right is the standard crux route and is a confirmed 5.7 pitch. 2) on climber's left there is a crack that goes up a right-facing dihedral that looks like it might be the 5.7 standard pitch but it isn't. This pitch is more like a 5.9. After 5 pitches at altitude, that 5.9 isn't as easy as one might think. It's really fun though and I recommend it to anyone feels they are capable.

Overall, Crestone Needle was the most intriguing and spectacular climb I've ever been on. It is a classic, and I can't wait to go it again. Sep 15, 2009
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
Thanks a lot, Hoag, that clears up a lot and makes me feel better. I've done the "5.9" dihedral (shown as orange line in above photo) all 3 times I've done that thing. The first time I did it was on the 4th of July on the Bicentenial in 1976 with Jim Nigro, famed Gunnison hardman. We did it in big mountaineering boots (Galibier's) and thought to ourselves that the difficulty of that supposed 5.7 pitch was due to the altitude and our big boots (there was a pin up there, so we thought we were on route).

It is a really fun pitch, but with a 150 foot rope (yes, that's what we used in those days), the belayer had to unclip from the anchors and simulclimb the 1st 10 or 20 feet until the leader reached a little alcove he could belay in. Sep 16, 2009
Casey Flynn
Boulder, CO
Casey Flynn   Boulder, CO
We had the route to ourselves on the Friday before the 4th of July. Really awesome. Fun soloing between direct start and upper headwall. Definitely some low 5th class moves but the rock quality is really good.

Regarding the last pitch: I found the first right-facing dihedral to be the most obvious line, with super aesthetic climbing, and perhaps 5.7+, but I didn't feel it was 5.9.

I love routes that get better with every pitch until you top out! Jul 9, 2010
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
Well, there you go, I was just starting to feel good about myself. If you're talking about the right-facing dihedral furthest to the left, I guess now the only way I can justify that it felt like 5.9 is the big boots we were wearing :-) Jul 12, 2010
Leo Paik
Westminster, Colorado
Leo Paik   Westminster, Colorado  
There's a Asolo, size 6/39.5 boot in decent shape at the start of the direct. Sep 3, 2010
Clifford Mallory
Casper WY
Clifford Mallory   Casper WY
As I climbed this line, I could not help but remember when it was first climbed, and I was humbeled. A classic no doubt. I've climbed it a dozen times. Can't get over it. Nov 3, 2010
John Parnigoni
Golden, CO
John Parnigoni   Golden, CO
If you want to save time, do the indirect start. A lot of the pitches can be done without a rope. Also, the 5.9 variation was worth it. Jul 5, 2011
Boulder, CO
kevinnlong   Boulder, CO
If you do the 5.5 crack/chimney pitch (first on the upper headwall), it would be nice to have 2 BD number 2s and 3s. I ended up walking these guys up the pitch, which is fine, but it could be faster if you doubled up.

Also, the direct start involves a few heady sections of climbing that are not particularly difficult but mentally draining. The best climbing is definitely up top. When I do this climb next, I will skip the direct start. Aug 9, 2011
Climbed it today with two other parties. A couple things worth mentioning:
-we got to within 1 mile of the trailhead with our front wheel drive Hyundai, but this is NOT recommended. Take a 4WD or waste hours fixing the road like we did!
-we used a topo found on the internet. Google "naclassics" to find it. It was very helpful.
-it is reasonable to day trip the route from the trailhead.
-there are nice campsites at the trailhead.
-the route is quite casual overall. We put on rock shoes only for the crux 5.7 pitch.
-the route is a reasonable undertaking for a 5.7 leader since the crux pitch can be very well protected. Bring nuts and a double set of cams to 3" and you can sew it up. If you find 5.7 easy, bring a single set of cams.
-this is a great route with fine rock and fun climbing.
-the entire range is completely devoid of snow. Aug 9, 2011
Jason Halladay
Los Alamos, NM
Jason Halladay   Los Alamos, NM  
A number of good trip reports and a nice topo by Gary Clark's NA Classics for this route can be found on the Los Alamos Mountaineers repository for the NA Classics collection. Aug 17, 2011
Denver, CO
ridethejoy   Denver, CO
Asolo is still there. Was surprised to see Leo's comment from 2010. That thing is holding strong. Sep 6, 2011
Cpt. E  
Climbed a very-dry Ellingwood Arete on 6/2/12.
There was just a touch of ice in the upper headwall crack, but it was easily avoided.
The descent is relatively dry as well, with just a few snow fields at the bottom that hardly even required an axe - you'd easily survive without one. Jun 4, 2012
Nate Ball
Portland, OR
Nate Ball   Portland, OR  
A few things....

The approach is now a mandatory five mile hike in. It would definitely be better to camp above Lower South Colony Lake; it's closer to the descent and no further from the grassy ramp approach. If you're expecting to solo the 500' from the end of the grassy traverse to the mini-headwall, don't be afraid to reconsider. I found several moves of mid-5th class that gave me pause even while roped up. One was through a chimney just below the Red Tower. Another was on the left side of the tower. The final one came at a crack 100' feet above it. You can do the headwall in two pitches: lead the curving 5.6 crack (which has minimal protection aside from a few pitons), past the bolt, up to the ledge (poor gear here), then up the ramp climber's left, belay here, then straight up the dihedral in front of you. Belay, unrope, and scramble to the top. This last pitch felt like solid 5.8. Pitching it out from below the Red Tower, it took us eight hours. The descent took about three hours. Definitely on the slower side, but we also got caught in a huge lightning/hail storm. Absolutely stunning line! Jul 6, 2012
Dave Clark 5.10
Golden, CO
Dave Clark 5.10   Golden, CO
Four of us climbed the Ledges route on July 2, 2012. Great climb. I had read lots of beta and trip reports, but the route finding was still challenging in the middle part of the climb, through the 3rd and 4th class ledges. And some of the published beta is wrong. My attached photo may help. It shows the routes we took, with a couple variations because our two groups of two split apart a couple times. But the bottom line is you can climb the middle third of the route in any number of ways, and you can do the whole route with only two 5th class pitches (the upper headwall pitches) if you find one of the easier paths.

For more details, see my trip report on 14ers.com:

Jul 8, 2012
Jordy Cox
Salt Lake City, UT
Jordy Cox   Salt Lake City, UT
Heidi and I just climbed this route yesterday and wanted to add some information that we felt was pertinent.

All the info on-line was a bit confusing as far as distances, parking lots, open and closed areas, etc. so here it is as of July 2012:
2WD lot at the cattle guard 3 miles after turning right off Colfax onto S. Colony Lakes Road (Custer County Rd 120).
4WD lot (with campsites) 2.6 miles after the cattle guard via a very rough road (would not attempt without high clearance and four-wheel drive). At this parking lot the road is closed to all vehicles. The road continues for another 2.6 miles, gaining 1100 feet and reaches the South Colony Lakes Trailhead.

Disclamer: Heidi and I are in our 40s and, although in decent shape and with many years of trad climbing experience, we consider ourselves only weekend warriors. We hiked in from the 4WD parking lot to the trailhead in 1h 20 mins by headlight and with only day packs and climbing gear.


From the SCL Trailhead, the logical line is to approach via the new (Humboldt) trail on the right-side of the valley and head left towards the base of the wall as you come up to the Upper Lake. This took us 2 hours.

The descent will take you naturally East (left) and after passing through Broken-hand pass continues on the left side of the valley arriving back to the trailhead via the old (mining) trail thus completing a loop.

The descent takes you far away from the approach route. This makes camping/bivvying at the Upper Lake inpractical. I would anticipate no less than one hour-hike back up to the base to retrieve the gear.

Camping at the Lower Lake, while very scenic, does not save much time and is not necessary. A car-to-car ascent is very doable.

We did the traditional (Ledges) start. Not the direct, which adds 3 more technical pitches and starts at the apex of the talus cone.

The Red Tower is a very distinct feature about midway up on the route. It sits on the arete itself. Up to that point we did no roped pitches and felt very secure.

Immediately above the Red Tower we did two 50m roped pitches of 5.5 and 5.4, passing a fixed piton. After that, there is more unroped climbing with plenty of exposure.

The right-facing dihedral marks the begining of the standard technical pitches. This is 1500 vertical feet from the begining of the route itself.

The fixed gear mentioned is all in place (plus some other fixed nuts). Except for the bolt on the first pitch, the pitons are in great shape and (when compared to some fixed gear in places like the Dolomites) we felt very comfortable using them (with screamers).

The first pitch is 5.5 and about 55 meters up to a great ledge (passing the manky bolt).
The second pitch is about 15 meters and it really is just moving the belay left up a ramp to the base of the 3rd pitch and the steep crack.
The third pitch is an easy and well protected 5.7 in the most incredible location. Also 55 meters gets you to a nice ledge at the base of the exit gully.

We did not bring a #4 cam and brought but never placed a #3. Single set of cams and single set of stoppers is all you need (plus some slings to reduce rope drag).

Descent: Head skiers left from the point you toped out and follow cairns. The downclimbing is not hard but requires attention and a lot of it is facing into the wall. Doing this in the rain would be dangerous and would mandate roping up. We found a new rap station about halfway down, but did not use it.

There are a number of cairned lines. Keep trending left towards broken-hand pass. If you go straight down, it will lead you to Cottonwood lake. At that point you can easily regain the Crestone peak trail and head back up to the pass but that is not necessary.

Total climbing time from base to summit was 4.5 hours. Total descent time back to the car was 4hrs with good weather all the way.

As of July 13th, there was no snow/ice anywhere.

We hope this helps a bit. Get out there and do it before they close the road completely and mandate a 5 mile hike each way just to access the trailhead.

J&H Jul 14, 2012
Thanks to all whose comments have been so helpful. We climbed it last Sunday.

FWIW, here's our 2c, summarized in the TR below:


Scroll just past 1/3 way down for our impressions and beta, post-climb.

Hope you like the photos, too! Sep 14, 2012
The Blueprint Part Dank
The Blueprint Part Dank   FEMA Region VIII
Ellingwood Ledges car to car is no big deal, it makes for a fairly mellow day. If you're looking for a really good day, do the Ledges into the Needle to Peak traverse. And if you wanna be really full value, backtrack from the Summit of Crestone Peak to the South, and take the sandstone gully that drops down to the west side of the peak and hike over Broken Hand Pass and back to your car.

My recommended rack is a single set of stoppers with single set of cams from #0.5-#2. Bring 8 shoulder length slings and one double length sling. I wouldn't bring a single rope though, if you've got some ice floss, take that, you shouldn't fall.

As for the quality of the route, eh, it's mediocre, the view at the top of Crestone Needle is nice though. Your energy would be better spent going up into RMNP. Sep 3, 2013
Jordan Hirro
Colorado Springs/Carbondale
Jordan Hirro   Colorado Springs/Carbondale
Climbed this over Labor Day weekend and had a blast! The storms held up until 5 which was great. We did the direct start at 7:30 am and didn't run into anybody (however, we saw 3-ish parties up there already). My friend did the traverse start last year and agreed that the direct was the way to go to add in more actual climbing. We got up on the ledges and starting the hiking around 1 hour later(ish) and beamed for the knob. Way too much fun. At the knob, you caaannn rope up...but if you're a very comfortable 5.7 climber, no need. We passed a party here and had to wait for on more to do the last three pitches. Overall, with the waiting and passing, it took just below 5 hours. We took 8 cams from 0.4 to 2 and it was perfect. Take some shoulder slings, too. Enjoy! Sep 24, 2013
David Carey
Morrison, CO
David Carey   Morrison, CO
Absolutely do the direct route. The actual climb lacks actual climbing...adding this piece gives you 3-5 pitches of "real" class 5 rock climbing. Still the route is a real mountaineering gem. We thought that the second pitch of the direct went at 5.7, not 5.6. The best pitches were on the direct start and last 2 at the top! Great great route though for a 14er! Not the same climbing aesthetics though as some other alpine rock climbs, but a real mountaineering route. Jul 27, 2014
William Thiry
Las Vegas
William Thiry   Las Vegas
An outstanding, must-do classic alpine adventure. 1500 feet of very pleasant 4th-class / easy 5th-class climbing followed by a few pitches of more serious, high altitude rock climbing. Spectacular positions in a stunning setting with a half mile of great scrambling and climbing make this route a mountaineer's dream.

The descent is long and arduous but also very much an exciting part of the adventure through an oceanic wonderland of phantasmic rock features.

The view from the summit is one of the best you'll see anywhere. The sand dunes to the southwest and the ramparts of Crestone Peak are particularly spectacular.

Climbing the route unroped up to the headwall is recommended if you are up for it, because it will not only save you time and perhaps allow you to pass slower parties but will also spice up the rather easy climbing. The entire route up to the headwall can be kept to under 5.4 if you take the Ledges start and use mountain judgment to stay on easier terrain (it really isn't too difficult to stay on easier terrain).

The now-standard final technical pitch on the headwall ascends a right-facing dihedral just to the right of the arete. It is probably 5.7+ (by Eldorado standards) but may feel 5.9 with fatigue, high altitude, heavy backpacks, and numb extremities due to cold temperatures and wind.

While not a super-technical climb - and rather casual for most of the climbing - this route is still a high-altitude outing that commands respect. Allow 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to hike from Lower Colony Lake to the base of the climb. Allow 3 - 7 hours to climb from base to summit (depending on your speed and how much you rope up - as well as the potential of being held up by slower parties or somehow getting off route on trickier terrain). Allow 2 - 3 hours for the descent down to Lower Colony Lake. A lot of weather or other mishaps could happen during this time. Sep 15, 2014
Pete J. Lardy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Pete J. Lardy   Colorado Springs, Colorado
Just climbed this for the third time. Made some personal GEAR NOTES for the next time.
-Cams 0.3-1, doubles 0.5-1, 0.5 was the MVP.
-Placed one stopper the whole time. Still nice to have a few to bail if needed.
-Used the terrain and self to back up marginal belays fixed gear, alpine anchor skills are useful. This is an alpine climb, not a rock route after all. Aug 2, 2015
Alex Vidal
Boulder, CO
Alex Vidal   Boulder, CO
Probably one of the best moderate alpine routes anywhere. We did the direct start, which does have a substantial run-out gaining the crack system above. The 5.7 moves on the second pitch of the direct, as I found them, were steep and wet with PG-13 gear placements (shallow, in bad rock, or with best 3/4 cam lobe engagement). The climbing on the headwall is well-protected and fun. I brought: 1 half rope, 5 offset nuts, 6 alpine draws, and a 1, 2 mastercam, doubles 0.5-1, and a 2. I only placed the 2, one time.

The downclimb is heinous and not over until it's over. Aug 11, 2015
Here is a photo showing six options for the final headwall pitch. Option A or B must be the Head Crack pitch. We climbed option C, which seemed to fit the descriptions of other climbers who recommended climbing a steep, right-facing dihedral, but the move over the overhang was strenuous, feeling more like 5.9 than 5.7. The cracks to the right were lower angle and appeared easier, but we weren't sure if they ended on a ledge. Option F looked like it was the easiest. I'm curious to know which of these options others have climbed and recommend. See comments above by Hoag, who also feels that the right-facing dihedral is a 5.9 rather than 5.7. Aug 23, 2015
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
Bill Lawry
New Mexico
Bill Lawry   New Mexico
For those who have read this far :-), we found that the last technical pitch seems to have an old variation at its crux.

The crux is about 30 feet up. Rather than earning your way directly up through the cruxy bulge in the dihedral, find holds out on the left face of the dihedral. A few moves up and left lead out onto a minor arête where there are two pitons (July 2016). After a move or two more to the second piton, traverse back into the dihedral for easier climbing past a third piton. Jul 26, 2016
Drew Charness
Lansing, MI
Drew Charness   Lansing, MI
Couple things to add to the novel: use the 14s webpage for maps, pics, descent. The route is super straightforward. You can see the whole thing from the lakes. Granted we had good weather. Def. do the direct start. It's fun and direct.

1. The direct start has new shiny bolts which looks like a rap route. I can't verify if a 60m works, but it appears that way. Maybe the direct start is a good mixed or ice climb. It looks like it would be a fun winter route. Anyway you can easily rap down it. I had no idea they were there, so I didn't use them as belay stations, but you easily could.

2. Basically go straight up switchbacking if you like, and you will hit the first pitch of the headwall. There is a little dirt patch. An intimidating chimney and a stuck nut at the base, although the nut looks like it could be retrieved. It's clean, and there is chalk. It's an awesome pitch. I could see how people make it 5.9, but if you climb with your eyes and feet, it stays at 5.7. Awkward with a pack but doable.

3. The bulge is the crux at pitch 2 then is easy the rest of the way. Protects well.

Prior to hitting the head wall I ended up too far right. There was a dirty crack that looks like it goes to the top. I climbed one pitch of it, digging out moss for pro but then saw the actual route and downclimbed a pitch to climb the classic. This was about 5.4. Can't say if it does go all the way to the summit. If you can see down the gully to your right, you are too far right, but it's easy to walk left to the obvious line.

In good weather, I would call this a beginner alpine climb. Easy approach. Route finding is simple. Descent is simple, follow the cairns the sizes of small cars. Doesn't get much sun, so snow stays around. Especially in the direct start, but the climbing is easy. Oh yeah and to make it feel really comfortable Verizon has good service. Luckily no one was playing Pokemon Go at the summit unlike the Exum route on the Grand I did last week.

4 pitches with direct start unless you go exploring. Sep 21, 2016
Bozeman. MT
Mike-Mayhem   Bozeman. MT
My partner and I climbed the route yesterday 5/27/18 and found the direct start to be full of ice (would make a pretty fun mixed climb). We opted to instead climb the crack directly left of the direct start. I did find a couple of old pitons, one of which I pulled out easily with just my hand. Do people ever climb this variation? I found it to be pretty quality, with the last move to pull over the bulge around 5.8+. I feel like this crack could be a harder and slightly funner variation to the direct start.

As for what people have been saying about this route taking all day, I agree. Route finding took longer than we expected as we had to dodge snow and ice while finding Class 3-4 up to the headwall. Also we had a bit of a time finding the correct descent route (FOLLOW THE CAIRNS), I was blown away by just how much Class 3 scrambling goes into that south face route...super fun downclimb!! May 28, 2018
As of late June, no ice found in the path of any climbing, including the direct start. Was the first alpine climb for a friend and myself and took us approximately 7-8 hours from lower South Colony Lakes to the summit. We took our sweet time, but definitely get an early start for this one.

The downclimb was a little tricky for us. As you follow the ridgeline down that heads over to the Needle, try to stay left as much as possible. We ended up following what felt like an obvious gully, and before we knew it, we were on the other side of the mountain (i.e. Cottonwood Lake). This was no big deal but was a bit of a pain to hike back up to the Pass and over into the other basin at the end of a big day.... Jul 12, 2018