Three hours after leaving the Denver/Golden area, Helen and I meet Pete for pizza and beer in Westcliffe, on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo range. Somewhat randomly, our friend Kevin is in the same restaurant and joins our table along with Pete’s hiking partner for tomorrow, Brian.
After the social dinner, our 8 pm departure from the new South Colony trailhead is a little later than I’d hoped. At least the temperature has moderated now that we’re hiking in the shade of the peaks above. I’d hoped to reach the South Colony lakes, but 9pm finds us at the old 4wd trailhead looking at an unoccupied site as darkness sets. We call it good and get some sleep.
About 5:40am we leave the old trailhead and our camp and hike up into the Sangre de Cristo wilderness area to a beautiful sunrise.
As we near the lakes we split off to head up to Broken Hand Pass.
The way up the pass is a loose as I remember from last year.
Once on the other side of the pass we descend towards Cottonwood Lake, fight off some mosquitoes and fill up on water.
Continuing past the lake we follow the climber’s trail around the ridge coming off Crestone Needle and the up into the basin marked by the red couloir.
Reaching the base of the couloir we also hit the mosquito-marmot line, where one species seems replaced by the other.
Staying out of the loose couloir we find solid scrambling on the rock to its right.
Occasionally we drop into the couloir, but often quickly return to the more solid rock on the right.
Eventually we have to commit to the couloir and run into another hiker moving about our speed. We ascend with Ryan and chat away the elevation gain.
The couloir ends at a small notch and some ledges allow us to traverse to the somewhat busy summit (our group of 3 now makes 8). We relax a bit then decided to return to the Red Couloir to start the traverse to Crestone Needle.
After descending the Red Couloir a ways, we eventually pick a side gully to ascend (with some appreciated help from another group who had done the traverse before).
Once up high we spot a few cairns and make our way to the low point of the ridge where we then have to descend down loose slopes to a distant cairn.
Then we can starting working upwards again and around some ribs.
Trying to follow a diagram in Cooper’s Scrambles book, we end up on some exposed low 5th class terrain traversing to a mini notch.
The scary stuff over, we continue up easier terrain in a gully and then zig-zagging along some ledges to the final notch right on the ridge below the summit.
Here we get out the short 30 meter rope and I tie in and solo up what starts as easy scrambling and soon turns into a brief section of 5.0 terrain. Helen plays out the rope and right as I reach an old sling yells, “you’re out of rope”. Perfect. I back up the sling and put her on belay as Ryan scrambles below.
After Helen arrives at the anchor we pass down the rope for Ryan to use if necessary at the short crux. He passes through without a problem and while we’re cleaning up to scramble the last bit to the summit two other climbers yell to us and ask if they can get a belay too.
We wait for them to arrive below while Helen removes her harness and I lower it down with the rope. The first climber comfortably climbs up and says his partner was a little nervous and would appreciate the belay. Below the other climber puts on the harness and double checks his knot then I belay him up and we all stroll to the summit.
Ryan hopes to get back to Golden by 6pm, so our threesome doesn’t spend much time on top of the Needle, but quickly start down the confusing gullies of the standard route.
Once we reach Broken Hand Pass Helen and I stop for a break while Ryan rushes back home.
Feet aired out, food snacked on, marmots scared away and more sunscreen applied, Helen and I finally start down the loose east side of the pass.
We debate about also doing Humboldt today (a far easier peak), but if we did that I argue we’d drive home too early tomorrow for a brewery visit for lunch. So we head back down to camp and nap in a cloudy and cool afternoon before a two course dinner (spinach salad and feta/pesto pasta). We’re too stuffed to enjoy dessert (Raspberry Crumble), and decided to save it for a post-Humboldt snack tomorrow.