Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Peak (right) as seen from nearby Humboldt Peak. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee.

Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Peak (right) as seen from nearby Humboldt Peak. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee.

A 44-year-old climber died in Colorado over the weekend after an incident on one of the most notorious peak-to-peak traverses in the state.

According to Custer County Search and Rescue, they responded to a Saturday morning report of an overdue climber that was set on summiting Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle – two 14,000-foot peaks in the Sangre de Cristo range that can be linked by a class five traverse with big exposure.

At about 1 PM on Saturday, search and rescue crews located the fallen climber roughly 300 feet below the traverse ridge. At the time, it appeared as if the climber had fallen and sustained fatal injuries. Because of the technical nature of the terrain, the recovery was postponed to the following morning.

At first light on Sunday, crews were dropped into the field via helicopter. They reached the fallen climber at approximately 10:20 AM, with the Saguache County coroner ultimately airlifting the deceased climber from the scene. Terrain in the area was crumbling and loose, which complicated the process. All rescue crews were safely out of the field by 2:30 PM.

This image shows Crestone Peak at 14,294' (red icon) and Crestone Needle at 14,197'. Image Credit: @2021 Google Maps.

This image shows Crestone Peak at 14,294' (red icon) and Crestone Needle at 14,197'. Image Credit: @2021 Google Maps.

According to Custer County Search and Rescue, the deceased climber was experienced and well-prepared. They had a GPS system on them with the ability to call for help and had an extensive amount of climbing experience.

What may have caused the accident was not a detail included in the press release. On this route, there's a fine line between life or death and any incident can be fatal.

The search and rescue organization made a point to mention that this is an example of how things can go wrong even in the best circumstances. This climber was solo at the time of the accident, which can be a factor when it comes to rescue response time. That being said, it sounds like there wasn't much that could be done in this situation. In the backcountry and on extreme terrain, consequences can be severe and the potential for an accident always looms.

When hiking in Colorado's backcountry, it's important to let someone know where you're headed and when you'll be back, regardless of how easy the hike is. Accidents can always happen and it's important to be prepared should that be the case. While having extra food and water is important, the exposure will be what kills you first. Pack extra layers and be prepared for dropping overnight temperatures.

Condolences go out to those impacted by this tragic death.

Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle are two of the most dangerous fourteeners to climb in the state, made more dangerous by the traversing ridge that links the two. This is a route that should be attempted by only the most experienced climbers. Navigation and route-finding on both peaks, particularly the Crestone Needle, is a major factor. Only those with proper preparation, gear, and abilities should be on these peaks.

While the class five traverse between the two is a well-known option, a class three climb exists to each peak, which is the most common means of summiting. In order to bag both summits in a single day without the more difficult traverse, climbers must hit one summit, descend to a mountain pass, and then make the trek to the other. Regardless of the route, summiting either peak, or both, requires a dangerous, long, and strenuous trek. Proceed with a high level of caution.

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Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorado's Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run. He's on a mission to summit all 58 of Colorado's fourteeners and has already climbed more than half.

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