Crestone Needle - Ellingwood Ledges
I picked up Brian and Fabio Sunday morning and we cruised down to Westcliffe. We had a fantastic lunch at a little Mexican place on the main drag and then headed up to the South Colony Lakes Trailhead. The new Jeep did great and we made it from bottom to top in less than an hour. At the trailhead we found a great camping spot and set up our tents.
We then hiked up the trail to Lower South Colony Lake where we met up with Jackie and Alan. It had been a couple of years since I'd seen them and it was good to catch up. We chatted for a while and scoped out the approach. After a while storm clouds began to build so we decided to head back to the trailhead and the shelter of our tents. We agreed to meet Jackie and Alan back at their campsite the next day at 4:30am and headed back down the trail. Near the end of the trail we met up with a couple who had just climbed the peak. They were pretty exhausted and asked if we had driven to the top of the road. When I said yes they asked if I wouldn't mind driving them back down to the creek crossing where they had parked there car. I couldn't really say no so I agreed to take them down. So when we reached the trailhead I shuttled them down to their car, and on the return trip I picked up another group of guys from Tennessee who where headed up the road. With my good deeds done for the day we spent the next couple of hours dodging the rain, cooking up some dinner, and sorting gear. We went to bed fairly early. It rained quite a bit overnight but when we woke up at 3:00am the skies were clear.
We ate a bit of breakfast, did some last minute checks on our gear, and set out up the trail. We set a very leisurely pace up to South Colony Lakes and Jackie and Alan were ready to go when we arrived. Together we made our way up to the second big cairn and then left the trail on a descending bushwhack traverse that dumped us out below the hanging meadow that leads to the ledges. Instead of traversing all the way across the valley toward Upper South Colony Lakes we took a more direct route along side a finger of snow and then up onto the hanging meadow via some 4th class moves.
From there we had a nice, straightforward scramble up the ledges to the Red Knob. Above the Red Knob there were a few 5.easy moves that we roped up for. In hindsight we probably should have hardened up and soloed them, but this worked too. Eventually we made it to the base of the technical climbing. I lead the 5.5 pitch. It was very well protected crack/dihedral with easy face moves too - nice and mellow (exactly what I was in the mood for since I hadn't lead a rock pitch in over a year).
Above the first pitch Fabio and I swapped gear and he led the crux 5.7 pitch. Again it was well protect crack/dihedral with a few more interesting moves mixed in. Fabio stemmed across the dihedral at the crux which I think made the moves simpler than what you hear about (hard to do with a pack and causes a big barn door). I followed Fabio's advice and followed easily. Then it was another easy 3rd class pitch to the summit.
Jackie and Alan had a deal where Jackie carried all the gear Alan lead all the pitches. Also Jackie did the whole thing in approach shoes. Both of these were a mistake I think and by the time Jackie got to the 5.7 pitch she was exhausted. Fabio and I waited for the two of them on the summit for several hours but they finally made it (luckily the weather was very stable).
The descent was long and taxing and Jackie continued to struggle. After we made it past the 3rd class bits Fabio and I finally had to bid our adieu and leave them behind. We met up with Brian at Broken Hand pass (after he had ascended Broken Hand Peak twice and Crestone Needle once) and hustled down the trail back to the car and then drove home.
Driving through Denver we caught the tail end of the big storm and waited out the torrential rain (and the possible golf ball sized hail I was really worried about) under a gas station awning. I made it home at about 1:30am Tuesday.
Fabio Somenzi Added These Trip Report Notes:
- The unsung hero of the trip was Andy's Brutemobile, which carried three Brutes and their plentiful wares up and down the South Colony Creek drainage. It even carried weary travelers and aspiring mountaineers.
- This was the last year for me to climb this route. With the upper part of the road closed from next October, I would have to spend three or four days to get it done. See previous bullet.
- We saw a lot of Lotuses in Westcliffe, but not one made it to even the lower trailhead. See first bullet.
- The most useful gear we had with us were crampons and axes. I used the hammer of my axe to drive in a couple of tent stakes. Thanks goodness for the first bullet.
- I couldn't tell you how to get there, but if you end up in that pizza place where we stopped for dinner, order a 16-inch pizza with ham, black olives, and onions.
- I was so hungry when we stopped for dinner that you may want to discount the pizza recommendation.
- From his iPhone, Andy controlled the Tour de France. We knew Alberto Contador was going to take the yellow jersey even before they started.
- On the other hand, we didn't realize that Monday was a rest day.
- I learned a great deal during this trip. Specifically, I learned a great deal about Radio Lab. I still have no clue as to why Hope stole Ruby's husband's maxed-out credit card and how she charged $250 to it.
- They went on and on talking about Free Willy, but I haven't seen the movie and so I got totally lost.
- I also learned about Chicken Man, but I don't know exactly what. I can say for sure, though, that you Brutes who were not on this trip have missed something of historical significance.
- When I re-read the description of the Ellingwood Ledges in Roach's Fourteeners book, I didn't quite recognize what I had just climbed. I believe Roach describes another variation for both pitches. Our approach from Lower South Colony Lake worked well. My first visit to the Crestones was a resounding success.
- No, the last bullet wasn't meant to be funny.
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