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.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO COLORADO 14ERS HERE.

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 to 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 pick up the trail 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. There will still be snow in the shaded area in the spring months, 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.

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 them. 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. There may be sections of snow in the spring months 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 straightforward 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 Rockies. I hope you enjoyed my Crestone Peak Route Guide. Good luck climbing Crestone Peak!

How Hard Is It to Climb a 14er?

Crestone Peak Standard Route Guide

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.

Mountain Forecast Weather Info for Crestone Peak

NOAA Forecast Weather Info for Crestone Peak

The right gear makes climbing Crestone Peak 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 Peak 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 Peak 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 Peak:

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

Lodging near Crestone Peak:

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

The area around Crestone Peak 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 Peak.

  • 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 Peak!

Climbing Crestone Peak along its standard route is a very difficult journey. In fact, its neighbor peak Crestone Needle was the last of the fourteeners to be climbed during the 1930’s. The name comes from the crested neck of a rooster, which resembles the mountain’s crags and pinnacles, along with its sharp, pointed shape. Most people climbing Crestone Peak choose to spend a night at South Colony Lakes before their summit day ascent.

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.

  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 Peak 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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