Colorado, we have freely ran toward your arms. You, at first, embraced us but then like dark clouds of storm at 14,000 feet- you brushed us away. Admittedly, I have been looking forward for Colorado and its pristine air, towering peaks, and lush countryside for a while. After New Mexico, Arizona and Utah- I was tired of the desert and the arid environment. I was tired of seeing Canyons…once you have seen the Grand Canyon, all others pale in comparison. Sure there were several mind-blowing experiences (such as the Slick Rock trail in Moab, Utah- but that is for another time, story) but my eyes have been on Colorado and its distant peaks for a while.
We scaled the sniffling Mt. Sneffels first. It was an extraordinary experience, a lot less of hiking and more scrambling/climbing than we were accustomed to. The peak topped out at 14,158 feet and offered us an unimpeded view of the San Juan range on our left and the fertile plains, right.
Exhilarated and fresh off on the successful summit, we (especially me) looked further for more ambitious peaks to climb. My eyes caught a book on the Colorado 14ers and a picture of both Crestone Peak and Needles. Formidable, almost unclimbable, they appeared. While Scott and Bobby fettered on other things in Barnes and Noble, I studiously researched on the possibility of summiting both peaks in one exhaustive day. Yep, I discovered- it was possible via the means of a traverse. First, we had to drive to a remote location in southern Colorado and a town aptly named Crestone. Then we have to hike the Cottonwood creek trail to the namesake’s lake. The hike itself was really tough with us backtracking several times as the trail was virtually non-existent. Our savior came in the form of cairns. A cairn assumes the form of stacked rocks- but it means that we were on the right route and there were few cairns on the way to lake. After a hellish climb, we finally reached the remotest lake.
Human Population: zero (actually 3)
Marmot Population: 100
Not kidding- they were everywhere. They have absolutely no fear of us, coming to us close enough for us to reach out and they would finally dart off before we could touch. That is truly indicative of how remote the lake is. Another problem…we were at 12,400 feet above sea level- the winds were brutal and we hunkered down to camp for the night. Scott, thanks to his dad, possesses a 17 degree sleeping bag while bobby and I a mere 40 degree. You can see how worried we were before the sun set.
Another problem. As sun dawned, we still weren’t sure of which route we should climb in order to reach the Crestone Peak. The pictures looked clear enough to me, however, reality is different. Around us, a mass of jumbled peaks rise and many of them could look like the Peak. After long minutes of loitering around, trying to find a route, I pointed my finger at a couloir and told them- “screw this, I’m climbing this shit.” Their glaze followed my finger, and what they saw wasn’t pretty. The couloir of my choice serves the most direct point to the saddle leading to the presumed summit. But if it was direct then boy it is steep. Bobby and Scott, the sensible people, quaffed at the idea. It was silly, they said, and unsafe. But at that point, I was tired of walking around, expending our valuable energy and just wanted to climb. Using the pretext of the one who actually had done some research, I told them- rather glibly- that the way to top was it. They reluctantly acquiesced and followed my lead. By gods, it was on the level of sheer foolishness as the Custer’s Last Stand, Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, and even both Napoleon and Hitler’s invasion of Russia. It was foolhardy and brainless. Barbaric even. However, we had one way going our direction and that was the vitality of our youth.
It was pretty immediate. The realization that the route was wrong. The climbing has become a rather tough one. The exposure was starting to get pretty extreme. Yet with my prodding, we pushed on. My thinking was that if we reach the ridge between the two peaks, we would be able to find traverse route and therefore climb the route via the standard route. However, the going has steadily gotten worse, and there were one rock face section we had to climb. The rock face was probably 7 feet tall, with minimal footholds. I plunged forward, trying to not think about the consequences if I slipped. It would be vicious, survival chance were not good. I got over the ‘mini Hillary step’ (this is an allusion to Everest’ sheer face of 40 feet famously known as the Hillary Step) Scott suddenly stopped and said, “I don’t want to sacrifice my life for this mountain.” It suddenly hit me, of how hazardous the whole operation was. I took a look around my surroundings and realized our position were precarious at best. However, I reasoned with him that climbing back down would be dangerous and it would be prudent if we found another route to down climb. We finally reached the ridge. However, as it turned out, the ridge didn’t provide us an answer. We were trapped between the two mountains and no way down. Scott, developing a new set of balls, walked around an edge and found another route up. It was steep, but we thought it climbable. That was the case until we came across a steep snowfield. It was at this point where I thought…..forget it- this is a fiasco and we are pushing ourselves deeper into it. The snowfield up looked like a scene from the Himalayas. This time, it was Bobby. He went berserk and climbed the steep snowfield. Scott and I only could look in awe. At top, Bobby waved over to us and signed big, “COME UP! HAVE CAIRN HERE” Scott and I followed the steps Bobby made in the snow, pushing our boots hard into the snow as a substitution of crampons. One slip, and it was good bye. On the top of the unnamed snow couloir we finally saw a standard route leading the peak. We had down climb about 1,000 feet to get on the route and climb another 1,500 feet to the top. Presto! Needless to say, we were exhausted and had hoped that the peak was Crestone. As it turned out, we climbed the East Crestone Peak, which is 14,260 feet.
The Crestone Peak was right across us standing at 14,294 feet. We groaned inwardly when we learned this at Colorado Springs’ Barnes and Noble. About the traverse? Forget it. We climbed down using the standard route (which was red couloir, the route we should have taken in the first place). The most fun part of the supposed fiasco was when we glissaded down on the snow. It pretty much is like sledding but you use your ass as the means of transportation, hands for steering, and feet for brakes. It was totally rad.
As for me, I learned a big lesson. I apologize for dragging both Scott and Bobby into the fray which was replete with dangers. The mountains is an unforgiving place and do not allow you to make much mistakes. We were fortunate to get out with only bruises, scratches, and bruised egos. However, the mountains never had so much allure to me as it has right now. I am consumed with the idea of climbing and earnestly wait for the next one. Only this time, I will be more prepared. (hopefully)