Crestone Traverse Provides More Than Just a Summer Reward – by Ian Havlick

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Last weekend, on behalf of Crested Butte Mountain Guides, I had the opportunity to guide the Crestone Traverse, a link-up of two of the more prominent 14,000ft peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Range of southern Colorado.  Loaded with only minimal overnight gear and a “fast and light” mentality, Laurie of Houston, Texas and I charged into South Colony Lake despite pea sized hail, sporadic rain, and occasional thunder rumbling above the thick forested approach.  Once at camp, we talked about rock protection, cleaning gear, and tomorrow’s tactics for a successful day.  Afternoon thunderstorms had been commonly firing up around 2-3pm each of the previous few days prior, so we planned a 3am wake up, a light breakfast, and then leaving camp around 3:30 in the morning.    After a spectacular sunset and crackling fire to fend off the late summer chill that comes quickly at 12,000 feet, we went to bed to try and catch a few hours of restless sleep before our alarms would sound.  Eventually, we rolled out of our respective tents and started up the trail to Broken Hand Pass, a saddle that must be climbed, then descended, before even setting foot on our first 14,000 foot objective, Crestone Peak.  After a steady pace and occasional water and snack breaks, we found ourselves at the base of “The Red Gully” around dawn.  After helmeting and harnessing up, Laurie and I made quick work of the scrambley gully, reaching the small notch below the Peak in about an hour.  By 7:15, we were standing atop Crestone Peak, gazing at 360-degree views of other 14ers, the Great Sand Dunes, the Westcliffe Valley, the San Luis Valley, as well as great visibility of Pikes Peak to the Northeast, and Blanca to the south.

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The cold north wind kept our visit on the summit of the Peak brief, and we quickly retreated and retraced our route back to the Red Gully, and a sunny, more protected spot to eat some food and rehydrate.  After a little lounging, the fun really started as we steadily traversed across rugged terrain toward the Crestone Needle.  Generally straight forward, the traverse does require careful route-finding and solid footwork.  The last half of the traverse is very memorable, with the route weaving between gendarmes, knife ridgelets, and weaknesses along the northwest face of the Crestone Needle.  The last pitch is quite airy, but very doable low 5th class climbing.  Laurie had never done this degree of climbing before, but handled it like a champ and cruised up the final headwall.  We were all smiles at the top and celebrated on a beautiful southern Colorado day.

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 After our uneventful descent, we broke down camp, and trudged the 4.5 miles out to the car (which never seemed to end!).  Luckily, we had an icy cooler of beers and Coca Cola, which we didn’t hesitate to break into once we kicked off our dusty boots and were back in flip flops.  Thunder rumbled over our shoulders as we peeled out of the South Colony parking lot and bounced our way back down the 4WD access road back to civilization  yeeeeeeehawwwww!

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 I would like to thank Laurie for her great attitude, excellent fitness, great companionship in the mountains, with hopefully many more summits to share in the future!