Colorado, is and always will be my favorite place to visit. I still hope to live there one day, but for now the amazing town of Austin, TX will have to do. The final installation of this trip report is long overdue. I’m glad I have finally found the time to pound it out. This report is very photo heavy, so I hope you enjoy it.
The day after we climbed the First Flatiron in Boulder we had planned on climbing Lumpy Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park the next day, but decided to opt for a rest day instead. We did bring our climbing gear with us though in case we changed our mind. For our rest day, we spent some time in a Starbucks in Estes Park going over our plans for climbing Ellingwood Arete on the Crestone Needle. After enjoying a cup of decent java we decided to drive the famous Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park.
Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous highway in the United States, more than eight miles of the road stretch between 11,000′ and 12,183′. The road provides spectacular scenic views of the Rocky Mountains, including the Continental Divide! It was a blast driving the gentle grades and broad curves in my Subaru Outback. I love it when I get to drive roads like this because it allows me to take advantage of the fly-wheel shifting.
We had originally planned on only driving to the top of the road and turning back at the gift shops and restaurant at the peak elevation, but we ended up driving the entire length of the highway. It was truly an enjoyable experience though to see such majestic mountain views form a highway that was contracted between 1926 and 1932. I don’t know why exactly, but for some reason I love driving long distances, especially in the mountains. I think it’s because there is some skill involved to it and you always have to be acutely aware of what you are doing.
While on one hand, I was a little bummed we didn’t climb this day. the Trail Ridge road experience was something to remember. I would definitely recommend it to anybody visiting Rocky Mountain National Park or Estes Park. There are also a few pullouts along the way to hike to take pictures, and hike to the top of ridges. We ended up stopping on four different occasions to check out the views. Two of them were forced stops though due to road construction. If you are not familiar with road construction on two-lane roads in the mountains; only one lane at a time gets by. This means one lane is completely stopped while another side of traffic is coming through. It can often result in long waits. It was enjoyable though, as it allowed us to get out of the car, take pictures, and hike around.
Crestone Needle and Ellingwood Arete
The final portion of the trip was climbing Ellingwood Arete on the Crestone Needle in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In the end, we wished we had planned this climb at the beginning of our trip. To make a long story short, we were tired at the end of the trip and weather was iffy. We got rained on towards the top of the hike in and the weather forecast was calling for up to 50% chance of rain in town, depending on what source you checked. So we ended up deciding to not Summit the fourteener. We did however have an enjoyable hike in to the South Colony Lakes and an overnight stay.
The hike in ended up being easier than expected. We heard the four wheel drive trail was closed and we would have to hike in six miles. But upon arriving we discovered that only two miles of the trail was closed, so we were able to take the Subaru slowly up to the first 4 wheel drive trail parking lot. From there we had to hike (4 miles) because of trail closure, but it was a good thing, because the Subaru would not have made it up that portion of the trail without blowing a tire.
It was a fairly easy four mile hike in to the South Colony lakes at the base of Crestone Needle. Once we reached the upper 4 wheel drive parking lot it was only a 1.5 mile hike in. We ended up getting rained on about a mile into the hike and the clouds continued to hang around until we went to bed that night. Thus the reason why we called off our ascent. I was a little bummed though when we made our hike back to the car the next day, rain free.
It was well worth spending the night at the base of the Crestone Needle though, the views were spectacular, and seeing the peak bathed in morning sunlight was a splendid experience. Even though we did not summit it was just enjoyable to be in the backcountry away from everything. The only part that sucked about the trip was the marmot infestation around our campsite. I think it was largely due to my irresponsible behavior of taking a leak close to our campsite. The marmots hung around digging in the ground for what seemed like eternity. I would keep scaring them off, but they would just return. One of them also tore a hole in my MSR tent while on a short hike and chewed on my backpack. So, lesson learned; ALWAYS remember to use the restroom at least 200 feet away from your campsite.
My partner and I do plan on returning to Ellingwood Arete for an ascent. I have wanted to bag this fourteener since I first heard about it last summer. The peak looked way more daunting from the base than any photo we saw. We plan on climbing as much run out multi pitch we can though to prepare for our return. Hopefully we will be able to go back next summer. I have also wanted to bag more alpine ascents since my first on the North Face of Longs Peak.
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