‘Cliffed Out’ Climber Saved After Getting Off-Route on Colorado’s Famous Crestone Needle Mountain

by Amy Myers

Colorado rescuers responded to a call regarding a climber who “cliffed-out” and ended up off-route on one of the state’s 14er peaks, Crestone Needle Mountain. Notorious for its tough terrain, the peak is a part of the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mountains.

The rescue mission occurred on September 17 when Saguache County Search & Rescue contacted Custer County Search and Rescue (CCSAR) for assistance with a climber who cliffed-out, meaning they ventured off-route along a cliff where there was no way to backtrack.

While many rescues tend to involve climbers with little experience or preparation, this one involved a subject that knew to bring all the necessary gear. Once the climber realized their dangerous situation, they were able to use their neon orange bivy bag to help the rescue helicopter locate them on the ground. Among the other gear that the man had on him were a “Garmin InReach, a cell phone with charging bank, food, water … a headlamp, many extra batteries, and suitable clothing.”

After finding him, the emergency team was able to extract the man and bring him to safety. According to the report from CCSAR, it does not seem that the man sustained any concerning injuries from the incident.

“It is crucial when choosing to climb Crestone Needle that route research is thorough and precise. The terrain in this area is complex, exposed, and potentially deadly, underscoring the importance of skillful navigation. This is especially true if you are not ascending and descending the same route,” wrote Custer County Search and Rescue wrote on its website.

Crestone Needle Mountain Has Seen 24 Rescues in Six Years

Crestone Needle Mountain stands at 14,196-foot and only recently became one of the state’s Class-4 climbs. As of last month, the climb graduated from a Class-3 “cross-over” route that requires much less skill than the much more technical Class-4’s. However, thanks to a wash-out that took out a huge chunk of crucial rock, crossing the gully was much more risky and difficult, no longer making it a friendly route for beginner climbers.

The Class-4 rating is one below what rock climbers know. Think instead of a mostly-vertical, 90-degree rockface, a Class-4 has a bit more slant at 100 degrees. So, while you’re still reaching for handholds and footholds, you won’t need a belayer.

With the change in classification, the route may see more experienced climbers along the terrain, but in the past, Crestone Needle Mountain has become something of a hotspot for recues. Between 2015 and 2021, rescuers have had to complete 24 different missions, and 13 of those occurred when the route was a Class-3. Among these missions, there were two fatalities.

According to OutThere Colorado, descending Crestone Needle Mountain can be incredibly difficult because there are quite a few gullies that can confuse climbers and cause them to cliff-out.