Climbing Crestone Peak | A Thrilling Class 3 Scramble
The Crestones are two of the state’s most ruggest 14ers, nestled in the southern rockies. Crestone Needle is a shorter route, with a bit more difficult scramble. Climbing Crestone Peak involves a longer route, including the need to regain Broken Hand Pass on your way back to the trailhead. This isn’t a route for beginners: take your time and research the route to stay safe. Get started with your research with this Crestone Peak Route Guide.
Climbing Crestone Peak | Fast Facts
Climbing Crestone Peak | Route Guide
Follow the road from the upper trailhead through the forest. The way is relatively flat, with few turns along the way. After many miles you will reach a turnoff to the right from the main road, stay left on the road.
Continue pass the road through a gate at the end. Hike along a slope and past a mining claim as you re-enter the forest and approach the South Colony Lakes area.
If you’re spending the night before your ascent, I recommend sleeping somewhere near the lakes. Be sure you don’t sleep too close to the water, and watch out for signs with restoration areas. In the morning, head along the south side of the lake and pickup the trail up to Broken Hand Pass.
This is a rough, rocky trail, with a few Class 3 moves at the notch at the top of the pass. In spring months, there will still be snow in the shaded area and you’ll want crampons and an ice axe. Make sure you wear a helmet year-round and alert others below you when rocks go falling down.
Make it up onto the saddle of Broken Hand Pass, a great spot for a pause and snack. Once you’re ready head down the slope and head towards Cottonwood Lake. Your adventure climbing Crestone Peak lies just beyond it.
Skirt the shoreline of the lake and refill your water bottles if you need it, this is one of the last good spots. Take a right beyond the lake and begin regaining elevation along the trail.
Head to the right to skirt a steep section at the bottom of the South couloir up Crestone Peak.Then take a right up the rough trail as you head towards the base of the gully.
Enter the bottom of the Red Gully from the right. You’ll see why it’s named so. The difficulty never exceeds Class 3 so long as you move back and forth to find the best path as needed.
Generally stick to the middle of the gully, and go to the left of the right as needed to avoid steeper territory before returning to the center. In spring months there may be sections of snow where crampons and an ice axe are highly advised.
This is one of the steeper sections in the gully, beyond 13,500 feet. Take your time moving up the ledges, aiming for a notch at the top that separates Crestone Peak from the traverse towards the Crestone Needle.
At the top of the gully, turn left and climb a series of exposed ledges to the summit. This is the most exposed part of climbing Crestone Peak, but it’s very easy scrambling on sturdy rock. Keep your eyes on the prize!
The view from the summit is spectacular, with valleys straddling either side of the mighty Sangre de Christo range. Look to the south to see the Great Sand Dunes National park, and look north to see the rest of the Rockies. I hope you enjoyed my Crestone Peak Route Guide. Good luck climbing Crestone Peak!
If you’re climbing Crestone Peak, you’ll need a topographical map of the route like this one. I recommend downloading and printing out this map to bring a paper copy with you, in addition to a digital version on your phone or GPS. That way you still have a backup in case something goes wrong.
Climbing Crestone Peak requires a good weather window: clear skies, good temperatures and calm winds. It’s important to check the weather forecast several times in the days leading up to your trip. Here are several dependable sources to use for your Crestone Peak weather research.
Hiking & climbing Crestone Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Hiking, scrambling and climbing Crestone Peak and other 14ers are inherently high-risk, dangerous activities. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own rosk.