Matt and Joanne’s Page

July 13, 2008

Epic on Ellingwood

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Matt Stamplis @ 6:59 am

So on our way from the Black Canyon to Boulder, we decided to take a little detour to climb the Ellingwood Ledges on Crestone Needle. This would be our first 14,000 foot peak so we weren’t sure how elevation might affect us. Our plan was to hike in Thursday evening, sleep for a few hours, then climb the peak on Friday. Well, things got off to a bad start when we took longer to finish our rest day chores (Laundry, Internet, Driving) and we arrived at the parking lot around 8 PM, just as the sun was beginning to set.

Crestone Needle (or is it Crestone Peak – I have no idea!) – anyway, our route, more or less, follows the right skyline up to the summit.

Now most people who climb this peak come with a high clearance, 4WD vehicle in order to negotiate the last five miles from the parking lot to the trailhead; unfortunately, our Honda Civic is not an all-terrain vehicle. And this is supposedly one of the worst roads in Colorado: I don’t know if that’s true or not but the road involves several deep stream crossings and steep grades with loose boulders all over the road.

So instead of having the luxury of driving up this “road”, we got to hike an additional 5 miles just to get to the trailhead. Fortunately, when we were starting to hike up the road, a group came by in their pickup truck and offered to carry our bags up to the trailhead for us. We were more than happy to take them up on the offer. So although we had to hike up the road in the dark, at least we didn’t
have to carry much weight and we reached the South Colony Lakes Trailhead around 10:20 PM and went to sleep about 20 minutes later.

Friday. 4:15AM. Alarm going off. Time to get up. Eat a pop tart and start hiking. I’m carrying most of the weight: the rope, the rack, 3 liters of water. But Joanne keeps falling behind. I’m walking as slow as I can and she still is falling behind. After about a mile, we decide to turn around: she’s not feeling well after hiking the night before and from climbing the Scenic Cruise 36 hours earlier. So we hike back to the trailhead and decide to just sit around for the day and try again on Saturday morning.

But there’s just one problem: we brought only enough food to do the climb on Friday and then hike out. The only food that we have left is a couple pop tarts, a Clif Bar, and an orange. So I decide to hike back down the road, get a stove and food, and then hike back (10.5 miles roundtrip). By the time I get back to the car I’m feeling the beginning of blisters so I change from boots to tennis shoes. I start packing food – ramen noodles, instant meals, a bottle of root beer, a can of coke, a bag of pretzels, and some oranges. But no matter where I look I can’t find the stove. And I’m looking everywhere – I tear the car apart looking for it, without any luck. I know Joanne will be more than a bit upset if I come back without a stove and tell her she can eat pop tarts for the next 24 hours. In fact, I’m pretty certain there would be plenty of yelling and we wouldn’t be climbing. So I do the only thing I can think of – I take our big Coleman camping stove and throw that in my backpack with a small bottle of propane.

The hike back is painful – not so much on my muscles but my feet are just plain sore. Eventually, about 5 hours after originally leaving, I stumble back to camp. I proudly display all the food and the giant stove that I’ve hauled all the way up to our “basecamp”. Joanne points out that I’ve brought “just enough” food. But at least we’re both laughing about the stove.

That night it rains a little bit and I curl into my bivy sack to keep the rain out. I envy Joanne who has borrowed (from my Dad) one of those fancy bivy sacks with poles and mosquito netting. Fortunately it’s just a passing storm and when the alarm goes off at 3:00AM we are staring up into the star-lit sky. A bite of Oatmeal (for me) and Ramen (for her) and by 3:45AM, we’re hiking up the trail. We don’t hike very fast and 2 guys who happen to be climbing our route fly past us shortly after this. Oh well, we figure, if they’re that fast at least they won’t get in our way.

We hike past the beautiful South Colony Lakes and begin to wind our way up the base of the face. We start hiking up the talus and before we know it, we’ve hiked a little TOO high and need to walk down and far to our left to get to the start of our route. We find a steep patch of snow between us and the start of our route; fortunately, we’ve brought ice axes and are able to cross without trouble.

The South Colony Lakes provide fantastic alpine scenery to this climb.

The first 1000 feet is mostly easy scrambling and we quickly dispatch this without bothering to tie into the rope. Finally, we reach the “Red Tower”, a convenient place to rope up. It’s at this point that we notice how quickly the clouds are starting to move in on us. The valleys below us are covered in a dense fog and clouds are moving up over the summit. It’s only 7AM and usually thunderstorms don’t start until afternoon around here but the clouds have us a bit worried. We discuss the option of going down but Joanne thinks it might be faster if we just climb up rather than try to negotiate the tedious downclimb back to the lakes.

Hmm, looking pretty foggy down there.

With this in mind we start climbing as fast as we can: before we know it we look down and see the guys that passed us on the hike in. They join me on the ledge where I’m belaying Joanne. We chat for a few minutes and then I’m gone – we didn’t see them for the rest of the climb. We don’t hike particularly fast, but when we need to climb, we can move! Fortunately the weather held out and even improved by the time we got to the summit. The view was hazy from wildfires but still a beautiful place to be. I can feel the elevation up here – my lungs are working harder and after a few moments on the summit we head back towards camp. On the way we passed by 2 large herds of bighorn sheep. They were so close and I got some great pictures of them. A couple hours later we collapse at our campsite – 9 hours after hiking in.

A bit hazy but still some great views from the summit.

A herd of bighorn sheep. They kept staring at us which was a little intimidating so we just slowly walked around them.

The final interesting section of the climb, coming down Broken Hand Pass. The snow was pretty soft by the time we were coming down so it was straightforward.

Now we discuss the best way to go down. Neither of us are thrilled about the prospect of hiking the 5 miles back down to our car – fortunately, our luck had turned and we were able to catch a ride with a couple of guys who were driving down. Our knees were very thankful for this favor and once back at our car, we celebrated by driving into town and gorging ourselves on a 14″ sausage and green pepper pizza.



  1. that was a pretty heavy duty hike and climb… but still, the sense of achievement and seeing the beautiful view from the top must have made up for everything! 😀

    Comment by Lil — July 14, 2008 @ 1:16 am

  2. Being up there is definitely cool. You should have seen my face when I was signing the summit blog 🙂
    Well, I felt that I need to put down my side of the story too. I guess I didn’t know how much work this climb will be. We just left Black Canyon and Matt was like, do you want to hike in tonight to Creston Needle? I was like, sure, why not. By the time we get to the parking lot, it was 8pm. The day before we just finished a 11 hour 5.10+ climb. I was really tired. Then those guys took our pack for us and we started hiking the 5 miles. I was thinking, hmm, I don’t think we will get to camp till 11pm, what the heck am I thinking. By then it was already too late, all our stuff was up there and we have no option but to hike up.

    I was moving pretty good at first, about 2 miles/hr pace. However, around 10pm, everything is so dark, I start to lag behind. I could barely move my legs anymore without inducing some legs muscle cramp. Matt was like, you are slowing down and I just yelled at him to shut the f*** up. I was soooooo tired but we managed to get to camp around 10.30pm but didn’t get to sleep till 11.30pm.
    Freaking 4am we woke up and ready to do this crazy climb. I wasn’t feeling good at all, since I didn’t get enough sleep ~ 4 hrs. After hiking 1 mile at snail pace, I told Matt, “I’m not feeling strong at all, I don’t know if I could do this climb consider I still have 2000ft to climb up and DOWN”. So we turn around, Matt said he will hike down and get more food. It took me 1 hr to hike 1 mile DOWN. It’s ridiculous and I’m glad we made the decision to wait 1 more day because I don’t know what kind of true epic we will have if we did actually continue that day.

    Anyway, after 1 day of rest, I was strong again and move at great pace. When we started that morning, a party of 2 passed us and said “see you at the summit”. Well, we never see them at the summit nor at the campground. We saw them part way up, they were below us on one of the pitch, thank God we were in front. They must have move way too slow for us 🙂
    All in all, I think this climb is not as epic as Matt made it sound, it could have been worse. I think we did good.

    Comment by joannestamplis — July 16, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  3. Hello Matt & Joanne. I found your site through Google. I’m working on designing a website for my company and I would love to use one of your pictures on our website. Could you contact me & let me know if that would be ok?

    Comment by Jill — February 12, 2009 @ 8:38 am

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