Mountain Project Logo
To save paper & ink, use the [Hide] controls next to photos and comments so you only print what you need.

Crestone Traverse

4th, Trad, Alpine, Grade II,  Avg: 3.4 from 58 votes
FA: Albert Ellingwood and Eleanor Davis: July 24, 1916
Colorado > Alpine Rock > Crestones

Description

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.

Location

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.

Protection

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.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Sunrise from near the top of Broken Hand Pass.
[Hide Photo] Sunrise from near the top of Broken Hand Pass.
Enjoying the view after a long day traversing.
[Hide Photo] Enjoying the view after a long day traversing.
Spring bivouac between the Peak and Needle, on the west side.
[Hide Photo] Spring bivouac between the Peak and Needle, on the west side.
Bryan Hendrick ascending the North Ridge of Crestone Needle - easy 5th class.
[Hide Photo] 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).
[Hide Photo] 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.
[Hide Photo] George Wilkey topping out on the 4th class pitch just below thw summit of Crestone Needle.
Looking down from atop the 4th class pitch.
[Hide Photo] Looking down from atop the 4th class pitch.
Climbers on the class 4 pitch. More like low class 5.
[Hide Photo] 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.
[Hide Photo] 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.
[Hide Photo] Looking down from about halfway up the crux.
The steepness at the crux.
[Hide Photo] The steepness at the crux.
Looking up at the crux.
[Hide Photo] Looking up at the crux.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

Hoag Hoag
Littleton, CO
[Hide Comment] We saw a middle aged man and woman on the top of the Needle shortly after they had finished the Traverse on 09.12.2009. They did not follow us on the descent, because they thought we were going in the wrong direction. We did not see them again for the rest of the trip. In the middle our descent a pretty bad snow storm rolled in. We are worried about whether or not the couple made it out OK.

Please respond to this comment if you know whether or not these people made it out OK. Sep 15, 2009
[Hide Comment] Don't be fooled! At the base of the black gendarme, the move to get up into the slot before the airy traverse is NOT hard Class 3 or 4...it IS a short 5.2 move up onto a ledge. The above description is inaccurate on this section of the traverse IMO. I was there yesterday and knew what was required from reading a good trip report, fully prepared for this section...it's fairly graded by others as well at 5.2ish. My point is: realize getting up into the gully requires a committing climbing move and should not be taken lightly. If you don't climb much, yet think you're capable just because you're a good mountaineer, think again. Most folks who climb a lot might think this move is pretty casual (I did), but my younger friend, who doesn't climb couldn't figure it out until after 4 tries and my encouragement. The position here is near the ridge and not an easy escape...just sayin'. Sep 2, 2013
george wilkey
travelers rest sc
 
[Hide Comment] I agree. I did the route in 2010 and I know the move you are talking about. In fact, it had a short piece of fixed rope when I did it, but its only one or two moves, and I don't recall the consequences for blowing it being all that bad.

I will also say that the so called "class 4 pitch" would be low class 5 anywhere else. It's steeper than the standard route on either the 1st, 2nd, or Third Flatirons, and the consequences for a fall would be fatal. There are also a couple of loose holds on it. Nov 8, 2013
[Hide Comment] Fun route. 4th class, including the headwall. Relatively sustained and exposed 4th class by CO 14er standards, but the moves are still only 4th. The Black Gendarme step is occasionally missed by parties doing an airy traverse a bit lower on the S side. Jul 23, 2014
Max Manson
Superior, CO
[Hide Comment] Does anyone know where I can find beta on a direct ridge traverse, staying on the skyline the whole time, and tagging all the gendarmes? Has this been done? I assume it has, but I can’t find any info. Jan 13, 2019