Thursday, August 22, 2013

Crestone Peak (14,298 ft.)
East Crestone (14, 260 ft.)

7 & 8 August, 2013: This was to be my second attempt to knock off the fabled Crestone-Peak-to-Crestone-Needle traverse this summer. The weather was still awful. After a night in Westcliffe, we drove to the South Colony Lakes TH, finally loaded ourselves up with expedition packs, and hiked up the old road/new trail to Lower South Colony Lake. It took longer than it should have, as I am just not accustomed to carrying that much weight these day. Note to self for next year: start serious hiking and climbing earlier than August!
But, we finally got to the lake. Off and on rain had already started when we set up camp just off the trail near the "Crestone Needle, Standard Route" sign. We had already decided that Wednesday was just going to be a rest day, so that we could get a early start on Thursday morning without feeling tired. Sure enough, much of the afternoon was drenched in rain and hiking would have been miserable, which put the kibosh on possible plans to climb something short that afternoon. And so, to bed...
Dim and early Thursday, we hit the trail, well bundled up against the chill, with dawn only just breaking. Broken Hand Pass was work, as always, but we got to the top shortly after 7 am.
As we dropped down toward Cottonwood Lake, on a good trail, we still had partly blue sky, and the day began to warm up. Once at the lake, we shed some clothes and donned helmets while eyeing the Red Gully.
The Gully was much as I remembered it, and didn't seem nearly as intimidating this time. I confidently forged a path through slabs and cliffs, up the left side. As usual, water flowed continuously down the center of the drainage.
We made good progress, but we were climbing into increasing fog and clouds. By the time we hit the top of the gully--the saddle between the two summits--we were effectively in pea soup, with visibility reduced to less than 100 ft. But, we headed left and ascended the great ledges which grant access to the summit ridge. We got there just before 10 am. Unable to see whether or not serious weather was moving in, let alone see our route, we made the final decision to forego the traverse.
It turned out to be clearly the right decision. Just as we passed Cottonwood Lake, light rain began to fall. After a few minutes, a little graupel was mixed into it. After a few more minutes, instead of letting  up, the rain intensified and the wind came up. We had been just about on the verge of peeling off some layers, but, instead, we bundled  back up, pulled up our hoods, and started what looked to be a long, miserable trudge up the pass.
Not only did the rain (and wind) not let up as we climbed the pass, it continued--with the wind, amazingly, seeming to reverse directions at the top--and made most of the descent of the pass slow and uncomfortable as well. Thus, wet and tired, we arrived back at a wet camp somewhere around 3 pm. After a brief break for hot drinks, we launched into the drudgerous task of packing up our wet gear in the rain. What fun! I don't know how many pounds of extra weight in water we slung on our backs for the trek out, but it sure didn't help. Late, late in the afternoon, we finally stumbled around the last bend and was the welcome sight of James' truck at the trailhead.
After another exercise in wetness to get our gear back into the truck, we could finally get off our feet for the 2½-or-so drive back to the lower trailhead, where Trisha was waiting for me.

photos are at:

RT: 5.2 mi. (without hike out)
Vert.: 3,680 ft.

Long life and many peaks!


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