American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Crestone Needle

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1961

Colorado, Crestone Needle—With the intention of doing winter mountaineering in the Crestones, Lief Patterson (25), Eliot Goss (24), and David Isles (24) met Stuart Krebs (25) at Westcliffe, Colorado on Saturday evening, January 30. Sunday they packed in and made camp by the South Colony Lakes. Monday, February 1, was clear with a slight wind and a temperature which averaged around 20° F. The Crestone Needle was climbed by the regular route; the rock was free of snow and no rope was needed. The summit was reached at 1:00 p.m. It became clear that altitude was telling on some members of the group and that the projected Needle to Peak, traverse would be impossible. On the basis of the following passage from Orme’s “Guide to the Colorado Mountains” page 116 (3rd Edition, 1955) they decided not to retrace their steps: “It (the ridge traverse) starts with a steep descent to the first col, for which parties usually break out rope, and continues along cliffs on left or S side of ridge, dropping about 400 feet and then climbing to high col between two summits and thence to left (SW) summit. Descent returns to high col and goes down steep red couloir running NWW.” Their decision was motivated by a desire to avoid the extensive rock they had met coming up.

They learned later that “high col” referred to lay between the two summit cones of the Crestone Peak and not on the ridge between the two peaks of the Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak. Once one knows this, the passage is clear, however, it was their opinion afterwards that the wording was somewhat ambiguous. Apparently, this ambiguity doesn’t occur in the earlier editions. At 3:00 p.m. they reached the most prominent gully leading down from the ridge that was immediately to the left of the India Route on the photo (page 187, Ormes). They started down the steep snow. Rope and belays were necessary. The weather deteriorated and snow was soon blowing up the gully. An abseil brought them to a lower slope where at about 6:30 p.m. with zero visibility and a second drop off, they were forced to bivouac. They dug a snow cave and spent a comfortable night. The next morning, Tuesday, it was still snowing and small avalanches came down from above. Two more long abseils brought them to the snow fields at the base and around 4:30 p.m. they were once more at camp.

Isles had had one hand slightly frostbitten while descending and, being extremely weak, was rushed into his sleeping bags. Next morning, he discovered that both feet were badly frostbitten, all the toes and part of the soles being blue. He dressed himself warmly, put on down socks and mukluks and with the others who broke camp and carried his gear they reached the autos without incident. Eliot Goss drove him to a hospital in Canon City. Since then he has been hospitalized intermittently. Damage was confined to the right foot with the loss of the first joint of first and second toes and a graft on the heel.

Source: David Isles.

Analysis (Isles): “I never felt that my feet were uncomfortable, perhaps because we were too busy or I was too tired. The wetting of socks (traceable to failure to wear gaiters) and the night in a wet sleeping bag finished the foot. Though I had extra socks with me, I made no attempt to change them in the bivouac, the effort involved, at that point, being too much for me.”

(Additional factors may be the fatigue due to the drive out and the poor physical condition—ed.)

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