The purpose of this blog is to chronicle the adventures in rock climbing, mountaineering, rattlesnake rescue, and general crazy endeavors undertaken by a nuclear engineer living in Los Alamos, NM. The first few posts will likely be me playing catch up writing down some trip reports from a few adventures that happened this summer, but after I should be able to get things up pretty soon after they happen.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Crestone Peak North Pillar (5.8 R, 1000')

Last weekend Dan Reese, Zach Hill, and myself went on an expedition to South Colony Lakes in a bid to climb Crestone Peak and traverse to Crestone Needle. Zach would be taking the standard route while Dan and I ascended either the fabled "India" route, or the North Pillar. We left Los Alamos, NM at noon on Friday, September 20th and started up the South Colony lakes trail around 6pm. Fortunately we brought Zach's 4x4 Toyota and could make it up to the 4WD lot. I've done that hike from the 2WD lot and was happy not to have to hike it again or try and hitch a ride.

Zach set a pretty brutal pace up to the lakes which had me just about dying by the time we arrived at camp 2hrs later at 4.4mi in and 2000' up. We set up camp above treeline between Upper and Lower South Colony lakes, quickly ate some food and hit the sack.

As it turned out setting up camp above treeline that night was a mistake. The wind was howling all night long and there were a few moments where I was afraid that the tent might actually collapse. A couple of times the wind completely caved in half of the tent , but fortunately it sprung right back up when the gust died off. The wind, combined with the stupidly bright full moon resulted in neither Dan nor I getting much sleep that night, Zach says he slept just fine (no idea how...).

Well we ended up waking up at 5am, bundled up in our warmest clothes, at some half frozen bars, and went our separate ways. Zach took off towards Broken Hand pass hoping to pass the line of headlamps we could see making their way up the side of the valley. Dan and I pulled together our climbing gear, donned our harnesses, and set off towards Upper South Colony Lake.

Once at the lake we decided to try and make a final decision about our route, India or the North Pillar. India sounded attractive because it went straight to the East Summit of Crestone Peak, while the North Pillar lets out on the North Buttress, which involves some 5th class down-climbing and an unprotected 4th class slab traverse. I was also worried about snow and ice buildup on the North Buttress and knew that if there was snow on that portion of the climb the summit was basically going to be out of reach. The primary downside to India was the complete lack of beta. I could not find a single trip report and the only beta I had was a paragraph out of Roach and a picture I found on that I wasn't sure I could trust.

Well we sat there on a rock next to Upper South Colony lake and studied the limited beta I had for India and looked at the proposed route through my binoculars. We decided it didn't look too bad and that we would get closer and make a decision then. We took a moment to enjoy the incredible sunrise and started the horrible scree climb to get to the base of India.

The scree climb was horrible, and seemed to never end. We crossed over horribly loose rock, bullet-proof ice, and endless up and down to cross gullies.

As we approached the base of India I was not particularly keen on climbing a route that I had so little information on. I've only been rock climbing for a little over a year, my trad experience is about 3 months, and I've only got about 5 alpine climbs under my belt. I was not confident in my abilities to route find with nearly zero beta. So we decided to go after the North Pillar, which meant more... scree... ugh fml.

Eventually we made it to the base of the Pillar and decided to take a moment to cool off, catch our breath, and enjoy the view of the South Colony basin. 

Looking back at India and Crestone Needle.

Dan got a little warm at the base of the North Pillar.

Looking back at the South Colony Basin as Dan prepares to lead the first pitch.

After a quick break we unpack the rope and gear, suite up and get going on the day's work. We decided to do the climb a little differently than depicted in the topo we got off of Mountain Project, due to the fact that we had a 70m rope and that we didn't want to deal with anymore scree. The route we followed ended up looking like the blue dashed line with the blue circles indicating our belay locations. 

The first pitch we did was much harder than 5.7-5.8, there was definitely a solid 5.9 section that involved some chimney-ish moves. It was scary, but also a lot of fun. The rock was solid for the most part and the climbing was steep. Needless to say that first pitch kinda scared the crap out of me, and I decided that I would let Dan do the leading for today, I was perfectly happy being the pack mule. With the first pitch done we quickly flaked out the rope, exchanged gear, and Dan set off on the next pitch.

Dan basically climbed until there was about 5' of the 70m rope left on my end. Once I was on belay I set off and met him at the top of pitch 2. Pitches 1 and 2 were probably the best pitches I've done in the Crestones, and I've done both Ellingwood Arete and The Prow. Pitch 2 was really fun on solid rock with some decent exposure.

Top of pitch 2. 400' above the ground

Looking towards Crestone Needle from the top of pitch 2.

To get to the top of pitch 3 we actually ended up simul-climbing for about 5', which wasn't too bad. We actually ended up pulling the crux on this pitch without noticing it, definitely a 5.7+ move, not 5.8. Once there I managed to get some great pictures before doing the final roped pitch.

For the last pitch we ran the rope out the full 70m before setting up another anchor. This was probably the loosest roped pitch, but had a few good moments, including a point where I decided to traverse this slab on super thin holds instead of climbing down and then going up the crack, eh whatever I was on top rope.

After we finished the 4th pitch we decided to free solo the last 200-ish feet to the summit. It was mostly 4th class with a few low 5th class moves. The only scary part being what I would like to call the "Hall of Blood" which is a narrow red gully, maybe 3-4' wide with some very large, very loose rocks, that are right in the middle of some 5th class moves. I should have taken pictures, but I was too busy being scared of rocks... A short scramble later we were at the top of the North Pillar, which had a great view of Bear's Playground and the Kit Carson Massif. 

We turned around to look at the remainder of our climb just as a 25+mph gust of wind hit us. 

Needless to say neither of us was keen on climbing that snowy, icy pile of choss or doing an icy 4th class traverse in this kind of wind, so we made the decision to bail and head back to camp via Bear's Playground and the Humboldt Saddle. This turned out to be a much longer and rougher ridge traverse than I had anticipated. Nothing really to exciting, so I'll just leave this with some pretty pictures of the traverse.

Unfortunately we did not summit the Peak, but we did finish a truly awesome climb, with 4 200+ pitches. Great day beautiful weather, minus the dang wind, and a pretty cool ridge traverse. 

1 comment:

  1. I have a couple of questions about the ridge traverse from Crestone Peak to Humboldt. Would you mind calling me at 402-304-1257? Thanks. Robert Kay.