After driving up to the "new" South Colony Lakes Trailhead along the road 2.5 miles shy of the end of the road on Thursday night we threw down the tent near the TH. We got up around 4:30am and were hitting the trail just before 5:30am. Temperatures were warm. This was to be Allison's first time on Crestone Needle and my third time on Ellingwood Ledges route.
An hour up the dirt road and we arrived at the old 4WD trailhead at about 11,000'. We were pleasantly surprised to find this new trail heading straight up the drainage to Upper South Colony Lake instead of the old standard end-around to Lower South Colony Lake
Sunrise along the new trail to Upper South Colony Lake
The sky was completely overcast since we woke up and we weren't sure what the weather was going to do. We opted to keep going until we got to the base of the Ellingwood Ledges route and make the decision before we committed ourselves to the route.
Looking up the Ellingwood Ledges route on Crestone Needle from near Upper South Colony Lake. From here climbers can take the direct start of a couple pitches of 5.4 corner climbing just above and right of the big green ramp straight ahead or take the grassy ledges in from the left of the frame to reach the wide arete. Since I'd never been up the direct start we figured we start with that.
From just below the direct start of the route. As we roped up and got ready a rock came flying down. Weird but not unexpected. I started up the first pitch and after the initial steep 30 feet I popped over the lip to see a party of three roped up and starting the second pitch. We've been behind parties on roped pitches before and it's not awesome. I down-climbed back to the ground, we coiled the rope and headed over to the grassy ledges start from the left instead
Booty! This rig was just laying on the rock like this.
Starting up the grassy ledges from the left around 8:15am. The sky was still overcast but not getting worse so we decided to go for it.
Still on the grassy ledges with Upper South Colony Lake below
The first real climbing moves were through this chimney just below a feature called the Red Tower
Getting into scrambling mode just above the Red Tower
The lower two-thirds of the route consists of mostly fourth-class scrambling with the occasional low fifth-class move. This is one such move.
An old SMC bong piton confirms we're on some route
Old buttonhead and hanger that I hadn't seen before on the route
Mid-route photo op! The weather was still holding and we were having a great time. We ended up well above the other party that we had seen on the second pitch earlier and had nothing but fun cruising above us. I was cautiously optimistic that I'd finally get to climb the crux pitch in dry conditions after getting snowed on the first time I was on the route in May 2002 and completely drenched in a rain storm in August 2007...
A photo of me climbing the route in May 2002 with Frank Reeves, Bill Geist and Erik Shores (photo). We were quite new to alpine climbing and spent the entire day climbing the route thanks to our inexperience and a strong snow storm
Erik (top) and Bill climbing the lower portion of the route in May 2002 before the snow storm
Still May 2002. Frank heading up into the 5.5 pitch with new snow coating the rock. We stay in rock shoes up to the summit slowly losing feeling in our toes. That day built character.
In August 2007 Aron and I had climbed the route in less-than-stellar conditions and ended up getting poured on in a lightning storm near the top. This photo is at a belay along the 5.5 pitch. Water was beginning to run down the cracks in earnest here.
Still August 2007 with Aron. Full on raining now. This photo is looking down crux the pitch from right above the 5.7 crux on the final 5th class pitch. The rock is significantly wetter than it appears here. Sticking my hand in the cracks led to water rushing down my sleeves. Good times. I'm actually clipped directly into the piton above the crux so that I could rewarm my hands that I could no longer feel.
But in August 2011, finally, a dry ascent of the entire route! Wahoo! This is Allison finishing up the crux 5.7 which is the final roped pitch of the route for us. Above this, ~200 feet of scrambling to the summit.
Crusing the last bit of the route to the summit
We topped out around 10:15am. We climbed the route in two hours. A far cry from the 10+ hours the first time I was on the route and the 4 hours the second time I was on it. Sweet. We had the summit to ourselves and spent about 20 minutes snacking and enjoying the views. This was Allison's first time on Crestone Needle and my eighth.
Crestone Needle self portrait with our matchy-match helmets.
Tasty pesto and masala naan sandwiches
We descended the standard 3rd class route, the south gully, to Broken Hand Pass
The weather held nicely for the entire day
Looking back up towards Broken Hand Pass as we hike down towards South Colony Lake. This area got washed out badly in a huge storm last summer that killed two climbers
As we neared the lower lake the sun poked through the clouds for one bright view of Crestone Needle with the Ellingwood Ledges route in profile.
Bighorn sheep are quite accustomed to people in this basin
Crossing the log footbridge near the old 4WD parking on the descent
On our way down I noticed what appeared to be sawdust by a log. It didn't make sense, though, for someone to be cutting this random log. Upon closer inspection we noticed a number of big ant pulling the insides out of the log
Closer up. The ants were going back and forth in the crack coming back with chunks of wood and dropping them down into the pile.
Just 200 yards from the new trailhead is this nice new footbridge and camping sites. Good beta for return trips...park at the TH and hike in 200 yards to a sweet campsite.
Fancy signs at the TH
We enjoyed a beverage back at the car and watched this chipmunk much a Ruffles chip. He made quick work of it.
A bit beat for hiking Humboldt the next day, we opted instead to drive the hour to Shelf Road to climb. We nabbed a nice campsite in the almost-empty Bank Campground (August is still pretty damn hot at Shelf Road) and enjoyed this view of the Cactus Cliffs in the evening
That granite in the background looks mighty appealing
It was a very relaxing and comfortable evening after a great day in the mountains. Our friend Lee would meet us the next day at Shelf where we enjoyed a pretty full day of climbing at the shaded Fish Wall.