Custer County Highpoint Trip Report

East Crestone Peak (14,260 ft)

Dates: August 27-28, 2004
Author: Kevin Baker

Friday, August 27

This trip had been originally planned as a county highpointer onslaught of the Wilson's led by Dave Covill and John Mitchler but, with the recent Silver Pick access issues, it was canceled and the Crestones were picked. The weather throughout the week did not look good for the Sangres but we went as scheduled and hoped the weatherman was wrong again. My friends left Colorado Springs around noon with hopes of hooking up with a large group of people with a variety of goals, many of which were county highpoints.

As we drove out of the Wet Mountains, we quickly saw that the Sangres were socked-in with low clouds as expected. We got to the 2WD trailhead around 2:30 or so and only one person was waiting thus far. He told us one couple had already headed up and that our group leader (Dave Covill) had not arrived yet. He waited and we bounced up the nasty Colony Lakes road, covering about 5 miles in two hours. When I did Humboldt back in October, the road was not as bad so it was evident the recent rains had taken their toll. The late model 4Runner did well considering the conditions. Soon after arriving, Dave along with 3 other guys arrived and we all got our stuff ready for the pseudo-car camp only 1.5 miles up the trail to the lower South Colony Lake. We began the short hike in at the 11,060-foot 4WD trailhead with some light rain falling and a cloud ceiling of around 11,000 feet, so no views were afforded yet. We camped on the southeast side of the lower South Colony Lake at 11,700 feet, which would give us a nice boost for the next couple of days. A total of 12 people were in this group I believe with different goals for the weekend.

Crestone Peak was #1 on the agenda of many (14er and Saguache County highpoint), including mine. The #2 objective was East Crestone, county highpoint of Custer county, and anything else was icing on the cake. Friday evening, light rain mixed with some occasional grapple fell but it wasn't too bad. The skies began to break up as we went to bed so the possibilities were improving.

Today's statistics: 1.5 miles, 700 feet of elevation gain, 45 minutes

Saturday, August 28

Dave awoke us at 5:30 am, announcing that skies were clear and that everything was a go. Pat, Risa and myself along with the others were excited to give a shot on the Red Couloir route on Crestone Peak. Dave would be leading a traverse climb from Crestone Needle to the Peak with 2 others. We all left at 7am up to Broken Hand Pass, which would take us to the easier west side of the Crestones. The gully to the pass is a very steep, loose mess to deal with along with a few class 3 moves but it was much easier going up than down. The group was a little spread out but we all gained 12,900-foot Broken Hand Pass in 1 to 1 1/2 hours. We all took a break on the pass, then Dave and two others headed for the Needle to do the hairy traverse. I felt I wasn't ready for it since this was my first sustained class 3 climbing on a 14er.

With newfound strength, the Peak group descended the west side of the pass to Cottonwood Lake and made our way around the west face of the Needle to the south face of the Peak. After rounding the corner, our objective was clear as the Red Couloir was easily identified on the face. From the valley floor, the couloir looks intimidating but it turned out to be pretty fun and safe. We followed the trail up grassy benches and entered the couloir around 13,000 feet, although I didn't check my GPS. I donned my new Petzl helmet, while others didn't think it was necessary. With a group of 8, it would be easy to knock down rocks even though the rock was very solid. The couloir does not have enough easy lines to spread out diagonally, so I thought it would be good to have one. This group did very well in avoiding knocking down anything other than small rocks, considering the size. The couloir is quite deeply cut into the face so I never felt there was much exposure and was pretty comfortable. We took our time up the couloir taking a couple breaks to keep the group together. I topped out at the notch between the east and west peak, then headed left over solid ledges to the summit. Once again, I am afraid of heights and this section didn't bother me. I topped out at 11:20 am, as there were about 4 others on the small summit. Crestone Peak is an airy summit, with views to be had everywhere. We were blessed with a gorgeous day and no threat of storms. This was so hard to believe.

After summit photographs we began to head over to East Crestone. This subpeak of Crestone does not get a lot of attention since it does not rise 300 feet from the main peak and thus is not designated as an official 14er, even though it is 63 feet higher than the famous Needle. Since it is the highpoint of Custer county, any crazy county guy must climb it. Only 4 of us headed up the east peak. The scrambling to the east peak is a little harder than the west but it wasn't too bad for me. A couple went below the peak and up from the right, while others went up from the left. As I was about to top out, the exposure on the other side presented itself, but there was plenty of room on the summit for a quick celebration. It is only about a 20 minute traverse over to the east peak so if you are a highpointer, go for it. At around 12:45, the four of us headed down the couloir to catch up with the rest of the group.

We made slow progress down the couloir, hoping not to dislodge loose rocks. For the most part, the traffic was not too bad on a Saturday for such a popular 14er. I got off route at one point on the grassy benches below, but quickly found the trail as Patrick was now leading the group back to the lake. We took a long break in the basin, waiting for everybody to regroup for the reclimb of Broken Hand Pass. I was feeling the effects of the long day, and the pace slowed on the final climb. As we topped out on the pass, there were some volunteers (presumably CFI) doing work on the trail, using a pulley system to ferry boulders back and forth. The trail down this section is in my opinion the most arduous of the entire route. I didn't seem to notice the loose rock much going up, but it was a slip and slide going down. We finally made it down to camp around 5 pm, beat from the long day.

Today's statistics: 4.8 miles, 3,950 feet of elevation gain, 9 hours

Grand total climb statistics: About 6.3 miles with 4,650 feet of elevation gain