Custer County Highpoint Trip Report

East Crestone Peak

Dates: August 27-28, 2004
Author: Dave Covill

It was a great weekend, and the weatherman was way off. Reports of 6-8 inches scared off 4+ people, but the 12 who persevered were rewarded in grand fashion.

County highpointers Andy Martin (AZ), Ken Oeser (TN), and Ron Tagliapietra (SC), all journeyed far to make the trip. My friend Don McKenna and his drinking buddy Gregg Smith arrived, as did Richard Taylor (FL/Silverthorne CO) and April Gray (Fort Collins CO), who were turned on to us via CMC connections. Rob Cobb drove down with me from Denver. The group totaled 12 and April, Rob & I agreed to attempt the traverse from Needle to Peak. April has considerable experience as a BMS instructor, and Rob has taken BMS, so I felt we were qualified to do what we had set our sights on. The full moon shone through the patchy clouds around 9 pm Friday and all cloud cover dissipated by midnight. Saturday morning was 30 degrees, frosty inside the vestibule, but gorgeous and absolutely no sign of snow on the rocks above.

One climber turned back while ascending Broken Hand Pass just above our camp but kept on, knowing we had all day to make it back weatherwise. While the gang of 8 proceeded down and over to the Red Couloir, April, Rob and I ascended steep gullies to the top of Crestone Needle, about 1,300 feet up from the Pass. We wasted 45 minutes searching for the rappel point, finally locating it via a down-climb to a small ledge area. We made the 95-foot drop off with minor technical difficulties (first rapper April had to untangle the rope, and get it off of her pack after that) and were grateful we had a 200 foot doubled rope as suggested by Charlie Winger. We all agreed that while a Peak to Needle traverse may not necessitate a rope for the climb up to the Needle, it would be a scary Class 4 climb, and we were glad to have rapped down the hard part and not free climbed it up.

We had a terrible time route-finding on the traverse and got too low twice. There are almost zero cairns to guide you and there is not enough traffic to have created much of a goat path along the way until you are near the base of East Crestone's impressive South Face, where a ledge system guides you intuitively to the Red Couloir, about 2-300 feet below the saddle.

April & Rob dropped packs and headed up to Crestone Peak, while I (having done it of course years ago) opted to ferry the packs lower to save time. They managed to get close to the saddle but wisely chose to turn back, as it was past 4 pm and we would be pushing it to make it back in time. I had asked them to turn back if they felt they couldn't summit by 4:30. As it was, we were hurting bad all the way back and April had wrenched a knee on the down climb of the Red Couloir, slowing us further. A nice group force-fed us chocolate chip cookies near Cottonwood Lake and we made it up Broken Hand Pass around 6:45. We radioed Patrick we were OK (he & I had checked in hourly until we lost them when they went over the Pass around 4 pm), and made it down the cruddy gully to the Colony Lakes campsites at 7:45 pm, almost 13 hours after leaving.

I was psyched that 11 of 12 were successful on the primary objectives and sad for the one who couldn't go on. It was a great weekend, capped by a wonderful bonfire Saturday night ignited by Kevin and tended by Risa, and blown to life by Don (smoke breath) McKenna. Don and Gregg discovered a Wild Turkey lurking in the woods and regaled us with tales of their long lost climbing buddy, Jim Beam. Rob and I introduced our friend Molson and his 11 brothers to the group.

Kevin and Risa had the energy to do Humboldt Sunday morning, while the rest lolleygagged around, snapping photos, packing up, and getting mentally ready for the challenge of the 4WD road. This 5.4 mile monster took us 55 minutes up, but 1:25 down, and I thunked bottom more than I ever have before. I believe my Rodeo has been spotted at the Colony Lakes for the last time. This road has gone from a 7 to an 8 in my mind in the past 5 years and a Rodeo is going to die a violent death if you make it do an 8 too many times.