Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

The Crestone Needle is one of the most rugged of the Colorado 14ers, with amazing opportunities for alpine technical climbing. The standard route up the peak is a challenging Class 3 climb, following a long 7 mile approach hike. The biggest challenge isn’t the distance, but the route-finding, as it’s easy to get off track and wander into much more difficult terrain. Research this peak well and take your time before you go, as many have died after getting off route and missing a key gully crossing. Start preparing with my Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide.

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Crestone Needle Fast Facts

  • Standard Route: South Face
  • Trailhead: South Colony Lakes
  • Elevation Gain: 5,500 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 18 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 3 Climb
  • Range: Sangre de Christo

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

From either the lower or upper trailhead (if you have 4WD and good clearance), leave your vehicle and begin heading up the now closed road to the old upper trailhead. After several miles you’ll come to this junction, take the left route for the more straightforward way to reach South Colony Lakes.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Continue for another 1-2 miles before reaching a clearing with a gate near tree line. This used to be the old trailhead but was closed to help protect the area. Continue up the trail past the gate.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Work your way along a slope and then up a moraine to reach the South Colony Lakes area. This is a great place to camp if you’re doing the climb as an overnight trip. If not, take the left at the trail junction below to head to Broken Hand Pass.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

The route up to Broken Hand Pass is rugged and involves crossing a few gullies, watch for loose rock. The trail gets harder to follow as you near the pass, until you’ll eventually have a short section of Class 3 scrambling.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Approach the pass, which may hold snow late into the summer. Bring crampons and an ice axe if you expect this may be the case. If dry, follow cairns and a faint trail up the crux to reach the pass.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

The pass is a good place to look at the route ahead and check the weather. Good conditions are a must for this route. If things look good, take a right and begin to head towards the south face of the Crestone Needle.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

As you get closer, begin your Class 3 action with a short down-climb to reach a notch below you. Stop here and look back so you can easily find the trail on your descent.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Continue along a trail from the notch to reach the bottom of the East Gully. Again, look around you so you remember the terrain on your descent, which is when most accidents occur. 

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Enter the bottom of the easy gully and begin to climb upward. Be ready for solid Class 3 climbing with significant exposure in some locations. 

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Climb the gully for about 300 feet before it narrows and deepens. Look for a narrow dihedral, which is the easiest place to cross the gully and climb the rib to the left to cross into the west gully, which brings you to the summit.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

This shows the gully crossing more clearly. It will require several difficult and exposed Class 3 moves to cross, take your time. Then continue up to the rib to the left. 

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Continue up from the crossing, aiming for a notch in the rib above you which will lead to the west gully.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Drop down from the notch towards the bottom of the west gully. This is a good spot to pause, get a drink of water and check the weather before you climb the crux. 

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Begin up the west gully, which you’ll climb for 400 feet or so to reach just below the summit. You should have solid rock here, but you may have a few exposed moments. 

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

After topping out at the top of the west gully, turn to your left and ascend a steep ramp to reach the summit ridge. 

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Scramble across the summit ridge to reach the summit proper of this rugged 14er. Take some time if the weather allows to enjoy the view and your accomplishment. I hope you enjoyed my Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide.

Crestone Needle Standard Route Guide

Hiking & climbing 14ers is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.

  1. Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
  2. Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
  3. Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
  4. Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
  5. Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
  6. Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.

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