Sunday, January 19, 2014

2010 Crestone Needle Hike

Since we are now hunkered down for two months as volunteers at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, and also hunkered down with the weather, we thought we'd put up some posts from past trips & past hikes. In late August of 2010, we were at our land in Colorado. We hiked up to South Colony Lake, which is at the base of Crestone Needle, one of Colorado's 53, 14,000 foot high peaks-this one is 14,203 feet to be exact, and the lake is at 12,000 feet. We hadn't done this climb in years, and it's kind of rugged, the trail starting at 9000 feet in elevation, and climbing steadily for about 4 miles to the lake at 12,000 feet. Crestone Needle itself is a technical climb, and some say the most difficult of the 14,000 footers. On average, 2 to 4 people are killed up there each year, and we always know when there's trouble, as a rescue helicopter from Fort Carson Army Base will come thundering over our property when we're there, and we can often watch it all the way to the peak.

This hike is sort of near our land in Westcliffe, Colorado, the trailhead being about 8 miles south of the town of Westcliffe, and about an hours drive from "camp". You can see the peak in the picture below, taken from the deck on our property:

If you go straight up and slightly right from "Long Pants Bob's" telephone pole, out thar in the trees, you'll see a big flat topped mountain, Humboldt Peak. The next peak to the right of it is Crestone Needle, with the distinctly pointed top and South Colony Lake is at at the base of Crestone Needle. (Don't forget you can click on any picture and it will bring up all of them in an enlarged slideshow-much better way to see them. Keep clicking each pic to move to the next one, and click anywhere off the pictures to return to the story).

When you turn off Rt. 69 south of town, you start out on a good county road, which turns kind of gnarly when you cross the line into the National Forest and county road maintenance stops. The road stops at a parking area in thick woods, and the trail starts at a foot bridge crossing a creek there, and actually continues on in the bed of the discontinued part of the road (You used to be able to drive further on a good part of the way, in a high centered 4wd, but the Forest Service banned motorized travel years back when the entire top of the Sangre range was designated a wilderness area-above a certain elevation is the delineator, I believe.) 

You hike about a mile to a mile and a half in the old roadbed, where you come to a choice-continue on the road and a longer but less steep climb, or go right and up a trail that is a more direct route that is a workout! We went thataway. To be honest, it had been SO long-about 10 years maybe?, and my knee had gotten trashed in a rafting trip about a month & a half before, I wasn't sure if I would be able to finish it or not! Not too far along this trail, you start hiking in and out of the treeline, and the views start to open up.

Along the way, we ran into some four legged company, who, as you can see,  were not real concerned about us showing up in their territory. (The first pic is the Needle).

At this point, we were completely above treeline, and it is probably the most spectacular place we've ever hiked to in the mountains. Humboldt is towering over you on your right, straight ahead is a very high wall that connects Crestone Needle with Crestone Peak, and slightly left and the end of that wall is Crestone Needle itself, rising straight up out of South Colony Lake for 2200', almost a half mile.

For you skeptics, that is an altimeter on the watch! We were lucky that day, as it was dead calm and warm. Often you get there just in time for a thunderstorm to blow up over the ridge, so it cold, windy and wet, and has you scurrying for cover. The weather there is treacherous, where you are at 12,000' and the storm is directly over your head, and often times still growing in size. The Sangre De Cristo's are a narrow range, and on the backside of that wall connecting the peaks is a 60 mile wide valley, the San Luis Valley, that's at 5000' and very hot in summer. The winds blow across it and get hoisted up and over the 12 to 14,000' elevations, causing afternoon storms almost daily, that soak the Wet Mountain Valley where Westcliffe & Silvercliff are located, and our property is, 11 miles further away on the east side of that same valley. 

This last pic above is an aerial, looking north at Crestone Needle's peak, and down to South Colony Lake. The hike out goes fast, and you certainly have earned a cold one or two, when you get back to camp and collapse in a chair!