Six of us (plus one well-groomed St Berdoodle) met at the I-25 and Woodmen park-n-ride in COS at 0430 and departed at 0440 for the east side of the Sangres and our first climb in that range by all but one. The drive was smooth and uneventful except for seeing a large cinnamon-colored bear near Penrose. We drove to the Rainbow Trailhead and had no trouble getting there in a Yukon and an F150. There were a few big rocks, but Subaru-type vehicles had done the same. Anything with decent clearance can make to there and beyond to the Colony Lakes Trailhead. We started hiking at 0650, crossing the small bridge and heading for the base of the East Ridge that leads to Humboldt. Weather conditions were perfect—with temps then around 50F with no wind and perfect skies. We overshot by about 100 yards when we realized that we were heading downhill, so we turned around and just started up the spine of the ridge, doing a little bushwhacking before finding a few cairns and a sparse, but discernable trail. The first hour up this trail was enjoyable and easy as well as fairly well-marked with small cairns. The trail had not seen much traffic, so one could lose it frequently, but if you just migrated back to the spine of the ridge, you’d eventually find something that COULD be a trail. We made a few of our own cairns along the way and augmented others as we waited for the more deliberate hikers in our group. The hiking was all easy Class 2 stuff with good footing in the moist soil, with just a few rocks and boulders. The biggest threat was from low-hanging branches that scraped us up a bit. As described in the route guidance, we broke out of the trees at exactly 11,800 feet and could easily see the false summit directly east of Humboldt as well as our first glimpses of the valley that held the south Colony Lakes and the peaks and ridges south of the Crestone Needle. From that point there was really no trail, but it was also very clear where we needed to go as all six in our group seemed to pick their own route of the gentle slope towards the false summit or along its south flank. The flowers were abundant throughout the entire climb, but for the first time on a climb this year, we also noticed that the insects were everywhere—lots of butterflies, tiny grasshoppers, large green crickets, flies, small hornets, etc. The lead hikers crossed the broad, flat plain above the false summit, clearly viewing the final path up to the Humboldt summit. We waited at the base of that pitch for others in the group to catch up, enjoying some snacks and water. A few people passed us at that point, including a guy who’d done the same route in March and knew it pretty well. When we started again, I followed him through the boulders on the scenic final 800 feet or so of vertical. The cliffs off the right (north) side of the ridgeline became more impressive with each step and I made it appoint to increase my distance from that edge as I ascended. The classification of “Class 2 trail with Class 3 exposure” is very accurate all along here. The views of Kit and Kat Carson also improved, though, and the small alpine lakes in the valley below the two and to our northwest came into view. It was now approaching 1130 and the skies were still clear and non-threatening, the winds low. I summited, followed closely by two others in our group shortly after 1130 and we toasted with a summit soda with the Crestones as a backdrop. There was a party of three young women who’d come via the west ridge route, so we chatted with them and took pictures. Piper the St Berdoodle and her master, Tom, arrived a few minutes later and our other two weren’t too far behind. From the summit, we could see climbers atop Crestone Needle to the west and were just amazed at how awesome those two peaks appear. Considering the nice weather and lack of interest in hiking down the trailless path we’d ascended, we took the advice of the ladies and others on the summit and decided to take the longer, better-marked west ridge trail in hike back to the trailhead. As most that have done Humboldt know, we were rewarded with one of the best marked, most scenic trails in Colorado, first down through the short, steep, well-cairned switchbacks and Crestone Conglomerate of the first half-mile or so, then (beyond the saddle) down the south face towards the lakes in a series of longer switchbacks at an easy grade. Steeper sections are characterized by well-formed stone staircases obviously set up by trail workers—nice job! It was as we descended that we encountered some bighorn ewes and lambs or yearlings, as well as some basking marmots that were enjoying the greenery and sunshine so much that we hardly bothered them in passing. .Once we attained the level of the upper lake, the trail passed through large areas of bushes and rocks before dropping into the trees just below the lower lake and beginning the rather monotonous and long, slow descent back to the Colony Lakes Trailhead parking area. This was by far the most boring and tedious part of the trip with the last 3-4 miles being a mid-day slog along a rocky trail that resulted in several fatigue-accelerated trips, stumbles, and near falls. We hit the very upper trailhead parking area (now closed) and then still had another hour of stumbling down the rutted and rocky 4WD road to the trailhead and then another half-mile farther to our trucks at the Rainbow trailhead. The three of us in the lead pack then drove our trucks up the road to the Colony Lakes Trailhead and relaxed with malted beverages, trail bars, and a box of Mike’s and Ike’s as we awaited our comrades. The lead group had completed the round trip by 1600 and the tail-enders were down and loaded by shortly after 1700. All in all, a most excellent hike along a loop route that I’d highly recommend. We all promised to do this one again in the opposite direction to take advantage of the morning light views of the valley below the Crestones. For those wondering, I’d suggest that those in good shape trying to hike this a little faster could probably plan on doing the whole loop in about six to seven hours. Enjoy!
PS – here’s a link to the 100+ photos taken during the trip. They'll all be in much better color than the ones above--not sure what 14ers.com software does to my processed JPEGs (I shoot RAW with a Canon 7D) but they don't look good here.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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