It’s hard to miss the fact that you’ve crossed the border from Utah to Colorado. For one, the landscape dramatically changes from the multi-coloured palette of desert sandstone that have produced the vertical relief of canyons, hoodoos and peaks for which Utah is famous, to the white-capped mountains of Colorado that seem to rise up all around you, separated by the fast running glacial rivers and streams that cut between them. Secondly – and more recently – the preponderance of marijuana dispensaries that populate street sides on most towns you drive through, thanks to Colorado becoming the fourth state in the US to decriminalise its sale and personal use.
As you drive up and onto the Colorado plateau, the air temperature gratefully drops with the higher altitude, and after the heatwave of Utah, we had been increasingly excited about heading into the mountains for some relief – and to finally explore Colorado’s famed ‘fourteeners’. Hailing from the giant pancake of Australia, the concept of a whole state filled full of mountain peaks all reaching 14,000 feet and higher had our toes tingling – not to mention all the 13-ers and 12-ers, all of which collectively had a lot to contribute to Colorado’s notoriety as America’s outdoor adventure state.
We’d picked out a shortlist of those we were keen to tackle first, and after a solid couple of days of driving, found ourselves camped out near the trailhead to Crestone Needle in the Sangre De Cristo wilderness area. Crestone Needle is known for some fun, Class 3 scrambling and epic views from its peak, and sounded like the perfect peak to cut our teeth on.
The adventure began before we’d even laced our boots, with yet more 4WDing to test Sherman on, as we wound our way up the deeply rutted dirt track towards the start of the walking trail. Our nerves gave way before we made it, and we opted to walk a few extra miles than risk the van’s structural integrity any further!
The hike into Crestone passes through some beautiful wooded and grassed areas, before popping you out in front of the Needle, where you continue to traverse along some snow and rock fields towards the peak proper. From there, it’s straight upwards through a deep, gully for a few hundred feet – then traversing across into a second gully to the west, that you also scramble up to reach the peak.
The clouds were closing in as we reached the summit – and having been forewarned of how quickly thunderstorms in Colorado can develop, we scoffed down some lunch and quickly started to scamper back down!
From Crestone, we headed north towards Quandary – the second peak on our list. There are many routes up this 14er, and we’d picked out the West Ridge as another fun scramble. We parked our car at the trailhead the night before, and were bemused by the hoards of mountain goats who seemed overly taken by the residues on our car and spent the afternoon and following morning licking it clean…
We made an early start the next morning in the hope of beating any afternoon storms, beginning with a traverse around the dam wall near where we’d parked. The route is fairly straight forward, following use trails and cairns over grassy and rocky fields, until reaching the ascent proper – that was blocked by the still-remaining snow fields. We could see that others had scrambled up the slightly steeper, but still accessible scree fields, avoiding large patches of snow. So we took off scrambling up these also. A couple of hours later we found ourselves on a knife-edged ridge running toward the main peak.
It looked pretty close, and we were so busy high-fiving on such a quick climb that we failed to realise just how much scrambling up, down and around the ridge we yet needed to do in order to reach the summit.
It took us another hour to scramble the final five hundred metres along the ridge, including a couple of off-route deviations that persistent snow forced us on to. It made our hearts pump so much that we forgot to take a photo at the top!
After Quandary, we’d hoped to climb another few peaks, but the steering on our van was getting looser by the day, so we decided instead to swing past Boulder to see if we could get it looked at. We eventually found a mechanic who had time to look under the hood – and told us with much alarm that he’d never seen anything like it before!
So it looked like we were spending the 4th July long weekend in Boulder, which worked out great! Whilst canyoneering in Utah, we’d met a lovely bunch of guys, one of whom – Andrew – had asked us to contact him if we happened to be passing through Boulder. Before we knew it, Andrew and his friends were taking us out for a daywalk out near Blue Lake north of Boulder, showing us around town (aka the craft breweries), and… taking us along to the Dead & Co concert at Folsom Field! We even ‘found a miracle’, being given two free tickets at the door! We had an absolute blast, and were so grateful to Andrew and his mates for such incredible hospitality and kindness!
Sherman was ready to go again on the 5th, replete with new shock absorbers (this time NOT attached with zip-ties), and we set off with big smiles towards Wyoming and the Wind River Range!