July 30, 2008

Climbing in Christ's Blood

Colorado's Sangre de Cristo range (literally translated 'Blood of Christ') is home to the Crestone group. Among other mountains, this group includes Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle.

Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Peak (right)

The rock quality in the Crestones has a reputation for being some of the highest quality alpine rock in Colorado. Geologically, it is a conglomerate of the same formation as the rock found in Eldorado Canyon and the Flatirons near Boulder. For these and other reasons, Keith and I decided to head down there and attempt an uber classic climb on Crestone Needle known as the Ellingwood Ledges.

Ellingwood Ledges route in profile

After hiking in and camping near the base of the climb on Thursday night, we awoke the next morning in time to begin climbing at first light. We opted for a direct start which added about three pitches of 5th class climbing at the base of the route.

Keith leading the lower section

The initial section of climbing was followed by a significant stretch of 4th class scrambling on a series of the namesake ledges. We unroped for this section and cautiously worked our way to the next and final stretch of climbing.

Keith scrambling up the middle section

There were 4 other climbing parties on the route, one of which was ahead of us. We had a few rock missiles whiz past us as loose rocks were abundant on the ledges.

Looking up at the final pitches

In general, the routefinding was pretty straightforward and protection was sparse, except for when you needed it. Keith and I swapped leads on the four upper pitches, which landed us on the summit of Crestone Needle. The rock quality and aesthetic quality of the route met all my expectations, making it worthy of its reputation in my mind.

Looking down after passing the route's crux (5.7)

Our original plan was to traverse from the summit of Crestone Needle to Crestone Peak. Since the weather was looking like it would hold long enough for us to accomplish this, we began the traverse. Most parties rappel off the summit of the Needle and then begin traversing. Keith and I opted for an adventurous downclimb of an east-facing gully and subsequent traverse to get back to the traverse route.

Keith traversing below the Needle's summit

Getting off the Needle was the hardest part of the traverse from Needle to Peak. Once we got down to the standard traverse route, we were able to relax and enjoy the 3rd class scrambling that dominated the rest of the route to the summit of Crestone Peak.

Looking back at the Needle midway through the traverse

Continuing our loop and tour of the Crestones, we climbed down the opposite side of the Peak from which we approached. The descent wasn't too technical compared to what we had already done, and we hurried to beat the incoming weather.

Downclimbing the Northwest Couloir off of Crestone Peak

Ellingwood Ledges route in profile from the pass above our camp

Although we didn't make it back to the tent before the hail, rain, thunder and lightening began, we did make it off the mountain and down to a safe location before the squall attacked. This was one of the finest days in the Colorado mountains I've had yet.

The next day we slept in before a nice hike up Humboldt Peak, the third and final 14er of our trip. There wasn't much climbing to speak of on this hike, but the rewards came in the form of views of the Crestones and abundant wildlife.

Photo from part way up Humboldt Peak - Our route from the previous day basically follows a line straight up the middle of this photo

Not only did we see the standard alpine wildlife, but due to the time of year, we were fortunate enough to see the babies of most of the standard critters: ptarmigan and baby ptarmigan, marmots and baby marmots, pikas and baby pikas, sheep and lambs, chipmonks, and a porcupine.

Baby Marmot





We didn't see the sheep until we returned to our camp. We had returned from our hike and lied down in the alpine meadow next to our tent for a nap. After throwing several rocks at me to get me wake up, Keith finally succeeded and informed me that there was a sheep behind me. I turned around and there was a ewe, about 20 feet away, looking inquisitive. Shortly thereafter, three lambs and two more ewes showed up to join in the fun. We watched them and took several pictures over the next hour or two. They left the vicinity of our camp once they had eaten all the pee grass. Here are a couple videos.

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