South Ridge and South Couloir - October 20, 2001
I wanted one last climb for the season and snow was predicted to come into the Sangre de Christos in the coming week. A friend from Alamosa advised that the snow cover was scant to date so I was off to try the Needle. The Colony Lake road was in good shape with some snow cover but none over any of the three or four real driving hurdles technical vehicle moves en route the top. Many other folks were in the area but none seemed interested in climbing and all the Gore-Tex I saw was tinted in various shades of cammo. I thought might be able to scavenge a climbing partner at the trailhead but it looked to be a bit late in the season for an easy pick up this time.
I had not been up to Broken Hand Pass before but the route is pretty straight forward, I went to the Lower Lake, crossed the drainage, followed the cairned trail up slope. From a distance, it looks quite steep, especially with snow cover, but it really is not as steep as it appears to be. The trail was drifted with powder up to a foot deep below but mostly snow covered toward the upper reaches of the pass. The steepest 200 feet of vertical was wholly snow covered but not deep except for a spot or two where the wind had piled the snow. I crossed the upper break in the incline and hiked up the flatter slope to the top of the pass proper. As I arrived at the top, a couple arrived from the lakes on the other side of the pass. We chatted for a few minutes and one partner was less experienced on the type of climb yet to come, we joined parties and headed for the backside of the Needle. I had predicted on snow on the Colony Lake side of the pass due to its northeast orientation but figured the south couloirs would be dry. I was right.
The route to the bulk of the Needle climb is a traverse across the back slopes that delivered me to a down climb and the immediate start of the climb up the peak. The climb is straightforward but “hands on” for the duration. The route does meander a bit but there is an occasional cairn and the trafficked route was obvious. The books talk about a switch between couloirs, I never spotted the switch but instead we simply made our way upward seeking the easiest ground to the top. The summit is not a tiny perch but a relatively flat area with one incredible view. We retraced our route back down and across the alpine slope to the top of Broken Hand Pass. The climbing pair headed down toward Cottonwood Lake and I descended Broken Hand to the Lower Colony Lake. I passed a party of three who had been turned by the snow on the steeper portion of Broken Hand Pass and decided to wait for the coming summer instead. I broke camp and then made the drive down the road in anticipation of a decent dinner in Westcliffe before the long drive back up the Front Range.
A climb of the adjacent Crestone Peak