Finishing the 14ers: The Crestones and Humboldt

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Peaks: Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle, Humboldt, Sangre de Cristos
Date Climbed: August 8, 2007
Group: Me and Stu
Route: The Peak‘s North Buttress, traverse to the Needle, Humboldt‘s standard from South Colony Lakes

T.j., Janet, Stu and I left the Mountain View Inn at 3:00am on Wednesday August 8. We drove our rental Jeep back up the South Colony Lakes road, arriving at the upper TH at 4:30am. The events of the previous day dictated that Stu and I would be heading for Crestone Peak first while T.j. and Janet headed for Humboldt. Stu and I would then traverse over to the Needle, drop down to South Colony Lakes and ascend Humboldt, meeting them on the summit for my finisher. We left a radio with T.j. and Janet and explained the route to them, the four of us said our goodbyes at the TH. Stu and I quickly ascended back to the Humboldt/Crestone Peak saddle and made our way to Bear‘s Playground.

Alpenglow on the Crestones

We reviewed the North Buttress route from the playground and began our ascent. The route follows the Northwest couloir route to around 13,300 ft. and then cuts straight up along the ridge to the summit of the North Buttress. The route is Class 3 and 4 and very exposed in certain places.

The North Buttress route from Bear‘s Playground

Climbing on the North Buttress route

Once on the summit of the North Buttress the route descends to the bottom of a notch. Stu and I interpreted this wrong and ended up descending down a narrow couloir west of the North Buttress summit. There was one move in the couloir which took both of us ten minutes each to negotiate: an eight foot downclimb to the bottom of an overhanging cliff bisecting the couloir. Once below this obstacle we quickly became cliffed out and we realized our mistake. We then had to ascend back to the top of the North Buttress, the entire error costing us thirty minutes. Our second attempt led us in the correct direction and made much more sense, we descended to the bottom of the notch (between the Northwest Buttress and the East summit of Crestone Peak) and began the exposed traverse which would eventually connect to the Northwest couloir route. I have no idea what we were thinking descending the initial couloir, the correct route is not difficult to find.

At some point we descended this crack

The traverse was scary but there were ample holds, the exposure started out very spooky but quickly relented as we traversed straight across the slab and the safe terrain below us crept closer and closer.

Stu traversing a slab below the North Buttress with nothing but air under him

We finally rejoined the Northwest couloir route, summited the Peak at 9:00am and looked back on the final section of our route.

The final section of the North Buttress route seen from Crestone Peak‘s summit, the red line marks our initial mistake

We spent a few minutes on the summit and headed down the South Face route three hundred feet, cutting left up the cairn-marked couloir to begin the traverse to Crestone Needle.

Starting the traverse to the Needle

The route winds in and out of couloirs and up and down and around cliffs and buttresses and, quite frankly, was the most hellaciously difficult routefinding endeavor I have ever embarked on. Almost no cairn on the damn thing led to the correct place, there were abundant cairns where the route was obvious and no cairns marking important direction changes where we really needed them. We probably made forty five minutes worth of routefinding errors, choosing a direction and then backtracking again. Because of this I will not go into detail about the traverse route, Stu and I arrived at the base of the crux pitch two hours and forty minutes after beginning the traverse.

Closing in on the Needle

Crestone Peak in the clouds

By this point clouds had moved in and reduced the visability to a hundred feet or so, making it hard for us to choose a line up the pitch.

Looking straight up the final crux pitch, some guidebooks rate it low 5

We picked the best line we could and began the ascent. The climbing was awesome, it entailed a hundred feet or so of Class 4 (“Colorado Scrambles” rates it 5.0) on knobby rocks sticking out everywhere. The surrounding peaks were poking in and out of the clouds as we climbed, I savored the moment as much as I could. The top of the pitch leads directly to the summit, this was such a sweet way to summit a fourteener! We reached the top of the Needle at 11:45am.

Stu on the final pitch

Myself on the final pitch

Summiting the Needle

We spent a while on this summit. T.j. and Janet communicated over the radio that they had summited Humboldt and were about halfway down. Unfortunately the plan did not work out but all four of us had such a great experience that it didn‘t matter. Stu and I left the summit and descended the South face route down to the lakes. We ran into my Dad and Janet near Lower South Colony lake and let them know we were still going for Humboldt (they were going to head to the Jeep and wait for us). Stu and I dropped our packs near the lakes, sucked down our final bit of water and headed for Humboldt.

We ascended from the lakes to the saddle for the third time in two days. We really pushed it and worked our way up quickly (we had people waiting on us!), I personally was very tired and it was grueling but I didn‘t care much, the idea of finishing the fourteeners was a sufficient source of energy. Ten minutes from the summit I became very excited, the weather (which was threatening us earlier in the day) was perfect, the summit was in sight and there was no place I would have rather been. Stu and I strolled onto the summit at 3:00pm, an hour and twenty minutes after leaving T.j. and Janet at the lake.

Stu and I on Humboldt‘s summit, #58 for me

We spent a good amount of time on the summit, taking pictures and soaking it all in. I could not have asked for a better way to finish: on this day Stu and I summited three peaks, completed the four “great” fourteener traverses, and I completed the fourteeners gaining my sixtieth summit in sixty weeks. I thanked Stu for relentlessly pursuing this goal with me, I could not have done it without him. We also later thanked T.j., my Dad, for funding the project and for being so active in it, I am so fortunate and very thankful that he goes to such amazing lengths to share my passions with me. He is a great father.

After a good while we headed down, enjoying the afternoon sun and talking nonsense to each other like we usually do after a really long day (mostly we make up sentences aimed at making the other person laugh through the exhaustion). We arrived at the Jeep at 5:00pm to a passed out T.j. and Janet. They had a great experience as well, summiting Humboldt peak was a large undertaking for them, Stu and I were very proud! Despite the fact that Stu and I never got to hike with them, knowing that there were loved ones in the area having as much fun in the mountains as we were made it just as meaningful. This was a truly amazing day in my life, I will never forget it.