14er Ski Descents – Crestone Needle – March 14, 2007
Route: Southeast Couloir
Team: Ted, Max Taam
Being tied to Aspen through most of winter, my last trip to ski a 14er was in December when I went to Kit Carson with Chris Davenport. With the arrival of spring and the forecast looking good, and thanks to online trip reports showing favorable conditions in the Sangres, I thought it was time to go for the Crestone Needle.
Max Taam, Aspen Mountain patroller, a local bike racing star (and exceptional trail breaker) was interested so we loaded up the truck and with a snowmobile in tow, headed to the South Colony Lakes Trailhead. We camped at the truck and we were up early, and apart from some downtime with an overheated sled, were at the summer 4-wd parking in good time.
We skinned to the lower lake then found ourselves following a blown in boot track up to Broken Hand Pass. From there we traversed, much like the route in summer, to the base of the couloir. Wow, it looked fun— very steep, and very narrow. Facing southeast we were still ahead of the sun’s warming so we cramponed hard snow, thinking that this would soften up good and make for fun skiing. It was cool to be here. There’s nothing introductory about this mountain, with technical climbing routes on nearly all sides, this is the only feasible ski line, and in its best condition can still be harrowing. When it corns up it would be sweet.
As luck on these trips often goes, the softening never happened. There was just enough cloud cover and light wind to keep the snow frozen. As I clicked into my skis I was longing for my Nordicas back home. The sideslipping and jump turns on “slide-for-life” frozen snow in the narrow couloir required a bit more precision than my wimpy AT boots provided. It was gripping at first, but in the end it’s the challenges that arise that make the day memorable.
Upon exiting the couloir we found ourselves testing our rock climbing comfort levels making 5th class moves in ski boots with big packs, which is always good for some late day adrenaline. Eventually we were back at Broken Hand Pass dropping in to wintry, north facing snow, that took us all the way down to the lake, back to the sled, and ultimately home to a friend’s party that night. Fun day.
The next one would be Shavano.