Climbing Crestone Needle | One of the Most Most Deadly 14ers

The Crestone Needle is one of the most rugged Colorado 14ers. Its steep faces provide amazing opportunities for alpine technical climbing. The standard route for climbing Crestone Needle is a challenging Class 3 climb. 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. It’s important to carefully review a Crestone Needle Route Guide. 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 Route Guide.

New to 14ers? Check Out my 14er Beginners Guide Here to Get Started!

Climbing Crestone Needle: Fast Facts

Climbing Crestone Needle - South Face Route

Your adventure climbing Crestone Needle begins at one of the two trailheads, depending on whether you have 4WD or not. Leave your vehicle and begin hiking up the now-closed road to the old upper trailhead. After several miles, you’ll come to a junction, take the left route for the more straightforward way to reach South Colony Lakes.

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

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 a left at the trail junction below to head to Broken Hand Pass.

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.

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.

The pass is a good place to look at the route ahead and check the weather before you continue climbing Crestone Needle. 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.

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.

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 when most accidents occur. 

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. 

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.

It will require several difficult and exposed Class 3 moves to cross. Take your time. Then continue up to the rib to the left. Continue up from the crossing, aiming for a notch in the rib above you, which will lead to the west gully.

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 of climbing Crestone Needle. 

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. 

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

Scramble across the summit ridge to reach the summit proper of this rugged 14er. Take some time if the weather allows enjoying the view and your accomplishment. I hope you enjoyed my Crestone Needle Route Guide. Good luck climbing Crestone Needle, and safe travels on the trail.

If you plan on climbing Crestone Needle, you will need a good topographical map. I recommend downloading this map on your phone or another electronic device. You should also print out a paper backup copy just if something happens to your phone along the way.

Checking the weather before climbing Crestone Needle will help you plan ahead and prepare for conditions. Here are some weather forecast sources to get started with for your research.

NOAA Weather Forecast Crestone Needle – Click Here

Mountain Forecast for Crestone Needle – Click Here

The right gear makes climbing Crestone Needle much easier, and will also help you stay safe. Here’s a rundown on what you should bring with you for this difficult route.

Start with a good pair of hiking boots (I recommend them over shoes due to their ankle support). Here are six of my favorite hiking boots for 14ers.

You should also have the ten essentials with you during your hike and climb. These are the key pieces of gear needed to stay safe and respond to emergencies in the mountains. As Crestone Needle is a difficult mountain, it is best to be prepared. Here is a refresher on the topic.

A backpack will help you store your ten essentials as you go on your hike. For day trips, aim for a bag between 15 and 30 liters in capacity. If you’re climbing Crestone Needle over several days, you will want a bag with 45-65 liters. Here are some of my favorite options.

Learn more about packing for a 14er here.

Camping near Crestone Needle:

There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along the road up to the upper trailhead ideal for those climbing Crestone Needle. Be sure you do not camp on private land between the two trailheads. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Lodging near Crestone Needle:

There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Westcliffe, perfect for those climbing Crestone Needle.

The area around Crestone Needle is still largely pristine, but more and more people are visiting it every year. Help us preserve this spectacular ecosystem by following these important Leave No Trace practices while climbing Crestone Needle.

  • Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
  • Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
  • Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
  • Urinate off trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
  • Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
  • Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.

Safe travels, and good luck climbing Crestone Needle!

Climbing Crestone Needle 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.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!

Climbing Crestone Needle is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. 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 risk.

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.

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