About a week ago now, Vince Tinnerello, and I successfully climbed the East Gully (4th Class) on the Crestone Needle (14, 197′).
With the South Colony Rd. recently redone by the USFS, we aere able to both get our vehicles up the famously awful road for an evening rendezvous at the upper trailhead, below the shadow of the Ellingwood Arete route on ‘The Needle’. That night as we went to bed under cloudy and rainy skies, the conditions seemed to be stacking against us, as we knew it was inevitably snowing up high. Sure enough, a 4:00 am start, found my truck (my travelling tent) and everything else coated in a thin veneer of ice…we were sure we would find more of this up higher, and it could easily turn us around in the East Gully, as we were more prepared for a summer climb with no crampons or ice axes.
The approach to the South Colony Lakes went quickly, and sunrise found us making our way up to Broken Hand Pass, through lightly snow covered scree and talus. This part of the route proved to be the most treacherous part of the day, and what is a scrambly trail at worst in the summer, required ropework and careful footwork to successfully navigate in the fall alpine conditions we were greeted with.
Once on top of Broken Hand Pass, we could see that the SW exposure of the East Gully route was sunny enough, that all but a trickle of verglas in the very center of the couloir was dry and sunny. Due to the direct nature of the route and Vince’s solid footwork, I opted to take a harder (4th class) but wuicker and cleaner route for us to the summit ridge, by going up the East Gully proper to it’s terminus. From here it was a short exposed ridge scramble and we were rewarded at 9:30am with the small and exposed summit of Crestone Needle all to ourselves.
A mixture of surprisingly cold winds and quickly building clouds had us heading back down our ascent route after a brief 10 min. on the summit…just enough for some mandatory pictures and a quick bite of food and water. Vince dispensed with the technical portions of the descent much quicker then on the way up, and we found ourselves 1 hr. later at the top of the still snowy and icy Broken Hand Pass. Once again, rope work and careful routefinding took us down to the lakes and a quick hike back to the cars…drinking celebratory beers by 12:30 pm.
Vince, thanks for a fun climb in less then desireable conditions. Looking forward to climbing more 14ers with you in the future, and getting that coveted 14er ski descent this spring as well.
—Your Guide, Jayson Simons-Jones