(Last Updated On: March 11, 2015)
This is part of an ongoing series re-telling Brittany’s fourteener-skiing story. Look for the reports every Thursday, as part of a Throwback Thursday theme.
Crestone was my twelfth fourteener to ski, and perhaps my first “tough” one. Crestone Peak definitely among the longer and steeper of the fourteeners to ski. Being that Crestone Peak was the first peak I summited in the Sangre de Cristos, it opened my eyes to so much more. I was joined by Frank, Pete Sowar, John Jasper, Pam Rice, and Chris Webster. Below is a slightly modified version of Frank’s trip report.
TR: Crestone Peak
March 4, 2007
Approx 14 miles
Approx vert: 6500’
Last week was clearly the week of the year in Crested Butte. With around 3 feet of snow at the area, and double that in the backcountry, we gorged on powder everyday until we could barely stand. Sadly, all that snow in the backcountry was just waiting for a trigger to send it down the mountain, and the ski area was no longer holding freshies by the weekend. Another plan was needed to make the most of a valuable ski day. Sitting in the rain shadow of the San Juans, the Sangre de Cristo range received barely any snow all week, so plans were made for an attempt on the south couloir of Crestone Peak.
Pete, Jasper, and myself headed down from Crested Butte and picked up Brittany in Salida. Chris and Pam secured our lodging in the little town of Crestone, where we met up. One of the joys of climbing fourteeners is finding yourself in a town like Crestone, where a hippy burning incense in the middle of the road with a pile of magic crystals wouldn’t seem even remotely out of place. Seriously, the place is weird.
Our trailhead was low like many in the Sangres- just 8,420’. We were still able to skin up the patches of snow available at that elevation, but the going was slow. Even below treeline, the occasional cliffband had to be negotiated.
Pete and Jasper were out front, just charging their way through the forest. Eventually the going got easier and we started making good time.
Pico Asilado, and yes, the line does go…
By now though, we were all starting to wonder if we had made a mistake. The southern “wall” of the Crestones should be dominating our view to the left, but there were only lesser summits to be seen anywhere. We hadn’t seen Chris or Pam in quite a while, and Chris had the map. The valley closed out at these peaks ahead…
We had blown it, of that we were now sure, and Chris had correctly left this nice big valley and gotten into the correct one an hour or two previously. Personally, I had given up on the day, but Pete, Brittany, and Jasper all wanted to at least climb up to a visible col a few hundred vert above and at least see what could be seen. I reluctantly changed my mind and decided to follow.
Halfway up the col, Crestone Needle announced its’ presence and it was obvious that the correct valley was just on the other side of the col. Jasper at the col, Crestone Needle right, Crestone Peak left.
Although Crestone Needle looks significantly taller, it is just a matter of perspective as the Needle stands less than 50 feet taller than Crestone Peak. We made the col and realized that we had been given a second chance, because all we had to do was drop a few hundred feet of vert and we would be at the base of the couloir.
The views from the summit were wonderful.
Chris, and Pam on the summit of Crestone Peak.
At this point it was after 3pm and it was time to get going.
John Jasper at the start of our ski down the south couloir of Crestone Peak. Think it’s steep enough?
The ski alternated between rock hard chalk, breakable crust, and windswept frozen features. The couloir was shaded by now, so we don’t have too many ski shots (all of mine are blurry), but here’s a few decent ones:
Negotiating the crux:
A look back up at the line.
The sun began to set on the peaks, and we still had a LONG ways to go.
So, off we went.
Into the sunset.
And it got darker…..
We went under this cool overhang and saw some crystal ice-art:
We had no choice but to make our way through the forest in the dark via moonlight and headlamps. The snow was rotten, there were downed trees everywhere, and creekbeds and cliffs to negotiate. Still, the frozen waterfalls were cool and it wasn’t too cold at all and we all made it out OK.
Surprisingly, the bar in Crestone was open and serving cold sandwiches. A cold sandwich seemed completely unappealing, however, so we left Pam and Chris to their wonder-bread sandwiches and raced towards Salida. Pete was traveling at the insane speed of 70 in a 65 when we got pulled over. The cop took 10 or 15 minutes to give him a warning and we got to Salida at 11:04. In other words, 4 minutes too late to even get a hamburger at McDonalds. The only choice available was 7-11. I don’t know what time that hot dog went on the rollers, I don’t know what’s in the squeeze chili, I don’t know what the squeeze cheese is actually made of, but I do know that it was one of the most delicious and satisfying meals ever!
All in all it was a great and satisfying way to spend Jasper’s birthday. Thanks to Brittany and Pete for sending me their photos to add to my own for this TR. More photos on Chris’ site.
Crestone Peak was simply a long day. For 16 hours we pushed along, and it was both mentally and physically challenging.
Crestone Peak holds huge significance to me as I look back on this day. Not only did I feel accomplished in skiing one of the longer and harder fourteeners, but it was also the beginning of some very solid friendships. I met Pam and Chris for the first time, and they would become great backcountry skiing partners for me – and we would go on to have many adventures together, both skiing and beyond.
Like this report? See more of Brittany’s 14er skiing journey.