Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle are picturesque, intimidating 14,000-foot peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They are widely popular with advanced climbers, and they are also some of Colorado’s most dangerous 14ers. Both peaks are typically climbed via their south face routes with considerable-to-high risk factors, including rockfall, exposure, route-finding and commitment.
In Custer County, you can access Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle from the South Colony Lakes Trailhead northeast of the peaks. The route to both summits, via South Colony Lakes typically involves nearly 6,000 feet of elevation gain from the valley floor and ascends over Broken Hand Pass and into Saguache county to access the south faces of each peak.
Climbers will find “The Peak” one of the most challenging and technically difficult of Colorado’s fourteeners at 14,294 feet. Hazards on the standard (Red Couloir) route include water, snow, ice, verglas ice and rockfall.
While not quite as high as Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle at 14,197 feet is regarded as a classic climb. Crestone Needle’s standard route is on the complex south face, and route-finding here is difficult yet essential. From Broken Hand Pass, the route is accessed via a climber’s trail to the northwest on the west side of Crestone Needle’s southeast ridge. Above 13,300 feet, climbers encounter the upper part of the south face and the eastern and western couloirs to the summit.
The south face route on Crestone Needle has high-risk factors for route-finding, which can lead climbers to descend off route into treacherous terrain. Custer County Search and Rescue recommends careful route-finding and navigation, which is best gained by descending the same route one previously ascended.
It is also possible to ascend Crestone Needle from Crestone Peak via the Peak to Needle Traverse, and then by descending onto the Needle’s south face, standard route. The route has extreme risk factors, including exposure and high-risk factors for route-finding and commitment. Most climbers of either peak choose instead to summit these peaks one at a time, either on separate days or on return visits to the area.
If you choose to climb Crestone Peak or Crestone Needle, you should be a very-experienced climber with proper equipment, and be sure to follow designated climbing routes. Visit 14ers.com for more information.
Also recommended is a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card, which can be purchased for just $3 for one year, or $12 for a five-year card. Your Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) contribution supplies reimbursements to SAR teams for costs incurred while conducting search and rescue operations, and it provides funding for the purchase of search and rescue related equipment.