Custer County High Point Trip Report

Crestone Peak (14,240+ ft)

Date: September 1999
Author: Dave Covill

Beckie and I were joined by Steve Mueller of Colorado Springs (50 state completer, 54 14'ers), and we met up at Poncha Springs, near Salida, early Saturday. We carpooled down the San Luis valley to the hamlet of Crestone, and drove right to the Cottonwood Creek TH, ~ 8,400'.

We backpacked in to the Lake at 12,350', almost 4,000' in 4.5 miles. Trail was almost nonexistent, just cairns & orange flagging here & there, looked like it had never had any real Forest Service maintenance. There is a trail junction on the map, which is almost invisible. No signs, even at the TH, very disappointing. Anyway, took us over 6 hours to get to the lake, with the last mile taking about 2 hours through willows and up outcrop/slab/steep gullies.

We got up at 5:30, and left at 7:00 for the red(south) couloir. It is moderately steep, but not scary, and the conglomerate rock is surreal, just little knobs sticking out every few inches. We made reasonable progress up the ~1,300' of the couloir to the saddle at 14,150'. There was a tiny bit of ice on the trickle coming down the center of the couloir, no big deal. We crossed west on easy ledges to the Peak, 14,294', then spent a half hour with about 2 dozen folks, with more on the way.

We came down and ascended East Crestone Peak, HP of Custer County. Met HP Club member Chris Melloche of Boulder on top, and quite a few other people we had met before on hikes. This peak was easier, I think, as it was shorter, no up & down, and just a slab most of the way. The north side of it is straight down 1,000'+ to the Colony Lakes, though. No register.

Of note, I brought my hand level, and I am quite confident that Crestone Peak is only 3-4' higher than it's eastern sister, perhaps even only 2'. I looked right at a person's head on the eastern peak from Crestone, and from the other direction I was looking 3-4' below the summit rocks on top of Crestone from the east peak.

There were several parties coming up the north couloir, no snow or ice, didn't look too much steeper from above than what we had ascended, very dark, no sun in it until about 10:30. Quite a few people came over from the Needle via the traverse, and many more were coming up from our camp, having started at the Colony Lakes and climbed the Broken Hand / Neeedle saddle, dropped to Cottonwood Lake, then started where we started. We heard there were in excess of 50 tents in the Colony Lakes valley. Must have been brutal driving the rugged 4WD road.

Got back mid-afternoon, and we lounged about the rest the day, not feeling inclined to pack out whatsoever. We made the hike out in 4 1/4 hours early Monday, and cruised almost to Conifer on HWY 285 before we stalled out in Labor Day traffic the last 5 miles we needed to go before the Evergreen cutoff. The weather was outrageous, a few clouds Sat, none Sun or Mon.