For many years, Crestone Needle was considered "unclimbable" by Colorado mountaineers. The last Colorado 14er to be conquered, it was finally summited in 1915 by climbing legend Albert Ellingwood via the more technical "Ellingwood Arete," a low class 5 route with a 5.7 crux. Start early, wear a helmet, and be safe! Any rocks knocked down the gullies will get funneled right toward unsuspecting climbers.
Nowadays, however, many a hiker can summit Crestone Needle via the South Face route, an impressive climb in its own right. From the summit of Broken Hand Pass
, turn right on an obvious dirt trail. Don't get too used to the terrain, though, as once you hit class 3-4 terrain you stay on it. Shortly after adjusting to the nice trail after a rocky scramble up Broken Hand Pass
, climb over some rocks and drop into a large gully at 13,300 ft. This is the "east" gully. Continue up it until you get cliffed out after gaining about 300 vertical ft. While it does continue to the summit, it is a harder route.
To remain on easier terrain, climb up a 15-20 foot wall to your left (see photo). Many consider this the crux of the route. Once atop this rib the "west" gully will be readily apparent. Make a mental note of this spot so you don't miss it on the way back down - if you go lower in the west gully you'll get cliffed out! Once you've got a mental image, climb the gully all the way to the summit of Crestone Needle, about 600 vertical ft, angling left as you approach the top.
Don't be too alarmed by climbers coming up other routes. The class 5 traverse from Crestone Peak, along with the even more technical Ellingwood Arete, attracts dozens of climbers every year.
While you may see some wildflowers around Broken Hand Pass
, there's nothing but rocks, marmots, and pika up high.