My 23rd birthday was quickly approaching and I hadn't had a good solo trip in a little over two months. Despite the unusually dry winter that Colorado has been having the -20° nights and 30mph wind have kept me away from my usual spots near treeline. I decided to try for something a bit further south than usual. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains stretch from Salida, CO to Santa Fe, NM and have a reputation for being dryer than the other ranges located in Colorado. After combing over topographic maps, checking weather reports, and reading trip reports I had decided to try a southern route up Crestolita to watch the sunset.
2/5/18 - 2/7/18
When I arrived in Crestone it was as dry as I had expected.
Even above treeline in early February it was mostly dry
I arrived at the cottonwood trailhead at 2:30pm. After a snack and repacking my bag I started hiking in. It was completely dry for the first 1.5 miles. After that I was walking in 3-4" of packed snow. I set up camp at 6:30pm 3.2 miles in at 10,500'. The forecast had been clear and I was pretty tired so I set up my hammock with underquilt but no tarp.
I awoke with 2-3 inches of snow on my sleeping bag and the sky showed no signs of letting up.
At this point I had a few options. I could continue as planned and attempt to summit today. Breaking fresh snow both on and off trail to get to the peak by sunset without any guarantee of a clear sky. I could also stay where I was and hope for the snow to stop and try again in the morning. The idea of sleeping in my now wet sleeping bag didn't appeal very much though. The last option was to hike back to town to dry my gear and have a hot meal.
I chose the latter.
After eating breakfast, I repacked my bag with just the essentials and my wet sleeping bag. I left camp at noon and arrived back at the Jeep at 2pm
Back in Crestone, I enjoyed a warm meal at Ramji's Indian Cafe, then spent the day walking around town. That night I slept in my Jeep at the trailhead.
I started my hike the next morning at 5:30am
I hiked in the dark for a few hours and arrived back at my camp around 9am. I had a nice warm meal for lunch, then continued on my way at 10:30. Around noon, I turned right off of the main trail that leads to Cottonwood Lake. On no discernible trail, I followed the valley postholing in thigh-deep snow for another hour and a half before reaching the south gully at treeline. The remainder of the hike is lees than a mile with over 1,600' of elevation gain. I have about 3.5 hours to get to the summit of Crestolita by sunset. I try to drink a coconut water that I bought in town but it's too slushy to pour though the can's opening. There are clouds to the NE and clear skies to the SW. The weather has held well all day and seems to be much more on my side than yesterday.
The view of Pico Aislado from the base of the gully
Looking down the south gully from halfway up.
The rest of the hike was in more shallow snow but on wet grass, scree, and solid rock. I wore trail spikes the whole accent and decent on this section.
I summited at 4:10pm.
I tried to write in the summit registry but the pages were to wet and soggy to pull out without ripping them so I left it.
The view of the surrounding Crestone massif at golden hour is nothing short of astonishing. I've had the pleasure of seeing this section of the Sangre De Cristo Range from multiple angles in multiple seasons, and it never ceases to amaze me. Being able to get to this location at this time of year, was truly the best birthday gift that I could have.
The descent was the only section of this hike that I was worried about. Getting sunset from the summit meant that I would have a little less than an hour of ambient light to get down the steep wet southern slope to the valley below. Fortunately for me, the descent was much easier than the accent. I had an enjoyable time sliding down wet snow and loose rocks, having them compress and slide beneath my feet just enough to cushion every step but not enough to throw me to the valley floor.
I got back to the bottom of the gully by 6pm not needing a headlamp. Then I arrived back at my high camp at 8pm. I slept there for a few hours then hiked out