Crestone Pk. & E. Crestone: Red Couloir
(Saguache & Custer County highpoints)

9 Sep 2007 - by Patrick Lilly

This was a straightforward climb by the standard peakbaggers' route: the red couloir on the south face of Crestone Pk., with the small side trip over to the minor summit "East Crestone." We started from the first major stream crossing on the South Colony Lakes road, about halfway up it, not far past the Rainbow Trail crossing. This is about where the FS is apparently planning to terminate the road soon, perhaps next year. As of the date of our climb, they have improved the entire length of the road to the extent that the upper portion is not as rough as it was before. In retrospect, I think we could have gotten our Subaru Forester all the way up, and it would certainly have shortened the day if we had.

But we didn't. We started hiking from this "middle" trailhead at 5:05 am MDT, well before sunrise. We made fairly good time to the wilderness boundary (about an hour and a half), and it was near there that we no longer needed the headlamps. The morning was mostly cloudy, but calm, and the clouds didn't appear threatening. We hoped that they would eventually burn off altogether.

If there had been any recent precipitation, it hadn't been much, as (fortunately) the rocks were quite dry. Thus, the climb up Broken Hand Pass was basically uneventful. We did meet two people coming down as we were going up, who said that they had surveyed the weather conditions to the west from the top of the pass and decided to abandon their climb. This sounded ominous, but we decided we could at least go that far and make our own decision.

Although the clouds persisted, it still didn't look like a real storm, so we went on. After a food break beside Cottonwood Lake, we started up the couloir. We were pleasantly surprised to find a clear, cairned trail as far as the beginning of the real rockiness, and a continuation of the cairns above that point. The trail leads up a series of grassy ledges to the right of the center of the drainage, and the route on the rocks, after the visible trail gives out, is nearly all on the left side of the drainage. We found a small trickle of flowing water which was easily avoided. At other seasons (i.e., spring), it could be much more of an obstacle.

The couloir is long, but we got into the rhythm of the climb fairly easily. It's a mixture of slabs, small boulders, deep cuts, and occasional ledges. We reached the saddle at the top about 11:30 am.

From there it is just a short climb, still cairned, on ledges, left of the ridge crest, to the summit. We had it all to ourselves. It's small and spectacular, and well worth the effort. From back at the saddle a few minutes later, it is just as easy a climb, mostly up a shallow gully, to the summit of East Crestone. From there, I was finally able to get a nice photo of Crestone Peak, as the clouds finally cleared in earnest.

We got back down to the lake in a little less time than the ascent had taken. This actually surprised me a little, as I had feared that downclimbing some of the tougher sections of the couloir would be harder than going up them. But we found that our experience had increased the efficiency of our moves quite a bit, and the descent was both quick and enjoyable. The rock offers such great traction that even the slabby sections can simply be walked with just a modicum of care.

The only remaining surprise of the day was the rain and hail shower which assaulted us after we had re-climbed the pass. Thankfully, this happened after we had gotten past the most difficult parts of the pass downclimb. It made the trail wet, and keeping our feet dry difficult, and pretty well soaked our clothing. But the sun came back out as we approached the wilderness boundary, and the rocky road was actually better than the soggy, muddy trail.

It seemed to take a long time, mostly because we were getting tired. Next time, if the road is still open, I'm going at least to try driving all the way up. We got back to the car about 6:30 pm. We saw very little wildlife on this outing, for whatever reason. We put in about 14 miles and about 5,600 feet of vertical.

My pictures are at:

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