We didn’t quite get the early start we had hoped for, but were still on the trail towards South Colony Lake at the foot of the Crestones before the sun came up. Once again it looked like the weather was going to be kind to us, and we would have a full week of perfect conditions.
Above the lake the climbing soon became steeper, and the four of us made good progress towards the saddle. Above that the path became much steeper and rockier, and the hugely enjoyable climbing began.
The easiest route suggested climbing to about 13,800′ up the east gully, then traversing into the easier top section of the west gully, but there is a slightly harder climb which continues up the east gully. I was climbing well, and felt pretty confident on the solid rock, and elected to continue straight up. I climbed fast, now above the others, and decided I wanted to be the first to the summit for my final peak, and pushed on, panting hard.
It was such a fantastic climb, in perfect conditions, on great, solid foot- and hand-holds, that despite the effort, I had a hugh grin on my face. At the summit, I had about four or five minutes before Eric arrived, followed by Val and Tim. I signed the summit log book, and for a short time, I was the only person who had been on the summit of Crestone Needle during September!
The weather was perfect, not a breath of wind at the summit once again, but the view was quite hazy, we suspected because of hugh bush fires currently burning to the west in California.
We sat in quiet reflection on the summit, our goal having been achieved, and were soon joined by Laura, who Val knows from his work, and her brother Brian. They were planning on continuing onward across a very steep looking traverse to Crestone Peak, which we had also considered, but had decided we would probably not do.
However, after some discussion, and a bit of time spent surveying the route Val, Eric and myself decided to join Laura nad Brian. Tim, who has already done all of the Colorado 14ers, decided to head back the way we had come, and we all wished each other well.
The descent off the needle was a steep down-climb on good holds, but with quite an intimidating drop below. All our group managed without need to resort to the ropes we had, and we continued down and across the steep terrain towards the next summit.
Navigation through the steep crags was tricky, and we headed down one steep gully and around towards the next. There was more up and down climbing, and eventually we were almost below the summit of Crestone Peak. I elected to stay on the steeper, but solid rock and climb up, rather than head around to the next gully. Followed by Eric, we headed upwards, and reached the peak without too much difficulty, on great climbing holds in a fantastic location.
The others joined us, and there were congratulations all round. After a bite to eat it was time for the journey down, which took us down a steep, loose gully, probably the most dangerous part of the day, as occasionally a slip would send a rock cascading down to those lower down. All went well though, and after another steep climb down and out of the gully we reahed better terrain, and slightly easier conditions along a rocky ridge.
I really was at the end of my stamina, and the journey back to the vehicles looked like an endless trudge ahead, and I was amazed and very impressed when Laura nad Brian decided to collect a third 14er, by heading up the steep but easy slopes of Humbolt Peak.
We eventually reached the vehicles, and after a tortuous journey down the rough track, we made it back to Westcliffe, and treaded ourselves to a well-deserved beer and burger.
What a long, hard day. We were away from the vehicles for almost 12 hours, most of which was pretty tough going, but eventually we have not only managed to achieve the goal, but over-achieved by managing 8 peaks in 7 days. I think we all felt justifiably proud of ourselves.
I have had an amazing week here in Colorado, which really is a stunningly beautiful place. Despite all the miles we have driven, the tracks we have battled up, and the trails we have climbed, I feel like I have only just scratched the surface of this incredible place.
My hughest thanks to Val, who has done an incredible job of putting all of this together, and offering me a truly wonderful experience, and a tough, rewarding challenge. This goal has certainly been the one which has required the most consistent and long term effort, from cycling and swimming while in Perth, visiting the gym with Martin and Rachel in London, and climbing the steep hills of San Francisco, followed by a steadily increacing set of challenges here in Colorado.
Hugh thanks also to Tim and Eric, who accompanied Val and I for the whole of the challenge, and did a fantastic job of driving around the whole enormous state, and up and down some of the most roughest roads I have ever seen.
And thanks of course to everybody else who came to join us on one or more of the peaks – Brenda, Jackie, Bryan and Dylan, Laura and Brian, Loren and Lisa, Bob, Patrick, Jerry and Mary, Paul, Justin, John, Amanda, Jonathon and Camilla, Eric and Aletha, Jack and Susan, Bruce, Jerry, Kevin and Tim. I hope I haven’t missed anyone, but apologies if I have, I have met so many people here, and so many people have come along on the climbs. This really must be one of the fittest places I have ever been to! Great people, great place, great fun. Thank you all.
More info on the Crestones here:
Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak