Trad, Alpine, Grade II,
Avg: 3.4 from 58
FA: Albert Ellingwood and Eleanor Davis: July 24, 1916
> Alpine Rock
This is one of the "Four Great 14er Traverses". It is a fun route on good rock but is not as aesthetic as other traverses as you are rarely on the ridgecrest. As with all alpine climbs, be prepared for bad weather, start early, and expect tricky route-finding.
From the summit of Crestone Peak, descend to the saddle where the Northwest and South gullies meet at the ridge crest. Descend the South gully for approximately 500 feet, and find a path of small cairns leading left (~ Southeast?) across a series of grassy benches. You can also exit the South Gully up higher, adding more difficult, but still fun terrain to your climb.
Traverse towards a prominent gully directly beneath the upper difficulties of Crestone Needle. When you reach the gully, ascend it on broken Class 3 terrain. Near the top, you will see a prominent tower known as the Black Gendarme. Cut hard right about 100 feet from the ridge crest and ascend a shallow dihedral/face system (difficult Class 3).
At this point, you can choose to climb a Class 3 face or go through a natural slot and traverse an airy ledge system. Both are fun and meet up in a wide class 3 gully with cool rock towers. Ascend this gully and make another slabby traverse under the intimidating summit pitch of Crestone Needle. Climb a ramp to a small ledge below the steep summit pitch.
This summit pitch is the route's crux; a steep and airy 100 foot Class 4 headwall with great holds. It is the best pitch of Class 4 I've ever done, and it tops out just below the summit.
The traverse can also be done from Needle to Peak (and is done regularly), but I personally recommend Peak to Needle for the following reasons:
- If going from Needle to Peak, you either have to make a tricky downclimb of the crux or (more commonly) rappel. This decreases the enjoyment of the climb.
- The descent off of Crestone Needle is shorter than that off the Peak.
- The route finding is a little easier going from Peak to Needle.
There are various ways to get to the summit of Crestone Peak, including the South Face (easy Class 3), the NW couloir (Class 3, often loose and ice filled), and the North Buttress (classic Class 4).
The recommended descent off the Needle is the South Face, a Class 3 scramble and a good climb all by itself.
14ers.com has great route descriptions for both the South Face routes on both peaks.
Most people solo this route, but there is a great deal of exposure. A light alpine rack and rope may be useful for some parties. A helmet is a good idea.
Sunrise from near the top of Broken Hand Pass.
Enjoying the view after a long day traversing.
Spring bivouac between the Peak and Needle, on the west side.
Bryan Hendrick ascending the North Ridge of Crestone Needle - easy 5th class.
Climbing the Needle headwall in a dense fog. Felt easy 5th Class with more exposure / steeper than the Flatirons (Boulder).
George Wilkey topping out on the 4th class pitch just below thw summit of Crestone Needle.
Looking down from atop the 4th class pitch.
Climbers on the class 4 pitch. More like low class 5.
Bill Bjornstad leading the North Ridge of Crestone Needle - easy 5th class, 1 pitch, after hundreds of feet of 3rd and 4th class. Cobbles with some opportunities for small protection.
Looking down from about halfway up the crux.
The steepness at the crux.
Looking up at the crux.