| Humboldt or Bighorn Peak?!
This year I was trying to spend some more time in the Sangre de Cristos and attempt some good outings, though during each trip, the weather would have something else to say about my plans.
In early September, we were in the Sangres again trying to complete a few peaks, targeting slots of time in between the volatile weather that was happening while we were there.
My brother-in-law Kevin and I were going to do an overnighter and decided that Humboldt would be the best peak to do that on in the area. This decision was based on its suitable length/gain to justify an overnighter (18 miles, +5400ft gain) and considering the recent bear activity at Lake Como, made South Colony a more attractive option. This would be Kev's first trip sleeping in a tent, so figured an inaugural trip fending off bears all night may not be the best option.
Starting out from Walsenburg, the drive in was fairly long across a pretty nice, barren, rural landscape.
We got to the trailhead at a leisurely hour of 10:30AM and began the hike up the road to South Colony’s upper trailhead. The skies were fairly clear with some clouds on the horizon.
As this was Labor Day weekend, we were sure we’d have plenty of company on the trail today as the lower lot was full of cars.
In the sun, the road was pretty warm to hike up but soon cooled off as the day wore on and as we got higher. The hike up was pretty uneventful as hiking a dirt road could be. No Lions, Tigers or Bears..
Along the road, we passed several vehicles where people where either camped out or were out Elk hunting. The road seemed to go on forever, but soon we reached the now-high trailhead, which was packed with vehicles. However, as those know who’ve been here before, a road of sorts continues still higher after this point!
Soon though it ended and some nice cross country hiking began along a well-defined trail. The trip through the basin was magnificent with the Crestones dominating the view to the southwest. We remembered David Worthington “Talusmonkey” as we hiked all day.
Kevin taking in the views on a rest break we took heading up.
Humboldt’s eastern then southern flanks were soon visible to the north. I imagined that this would make a good snow climb when coverage was good.
As we hiked up, approaching 11,500ft, we spotted some movement in the distance, thought it was a deer. It was a bighorn sheep, then another, then another! There was actually a herd of them, maybe 25-30 animals, all females. It was pretty neat to see them all running up the mountain. I thought something might be chasing them (my Central Park defense mechanism must be at work again). They also let off a strong smell, literally the same smell as if on a normal sheep farm. The way they postured and situated themselves on the mountain, this was clearly *theirs* and they looked right at home here. They also watched intently as we walked by.
The weather was turning a bit unsettled with some darker clouds moving in from the west and wind picking up as it got later. We wanted to find a spot and setup camp before any bad weather moved in. After moving along higher in the basin, we found a perfect spot to the south of the trail a hundred yards before and under the upper lake sheltered from the prevailing west winds and with a nice eastern exposure.
Unfortunately, we were about five minutes too late. As soon as we go there, the winds really picked up and rain started in. The winds were not hurricane force (as we were having back in New York!), but strong enough to pick the half assembled tents up and toss them fairly far away if we hadn’t held on to them with a Kung Fu grip. Nonetheless, we had a good place to spend the night with million dollar views. The lower lake is in the photo below.
The rain came in fits and starts for the next two hours as we lounged around and ate a rudimentary dinner, doing some last minute packing before hitting the hay for the early start in the morning. I did some last minute filling of some water bottles from upper South Colony lake and turned in.
We awoke at 4:30AM, got dressed, donned our headlamps and hit the trail at just before 5:00AM in the cold morning air. The cloud cover from the night was gone and the sky was filled with stars from horizon to horizon and the Milky Way lit up the middle of the night sky above us. It never ceases to amaze me what we cannot see from Manhattan…
Coyote howls and barks in the distance echoed through the valley in the predawn darkness. They seemed to be camped out by the lower lake…I imagined it would have been an interesting scene had the pack of coyotes run into the herd of bighorns…
Kevin taking some more scenery in as we climbed up.
The climb up from our base camp was pretty straightforward, and moved along a fairly good trail until the talus base higher up where some boulder hopping is then needed. This proved a bit tricky as a thin coating of ice covered most rocks in the early morning hours. Hardened pika let out occasional chirps as we passed them, scurrying under rocks for cover.
Humboldt teases you with a false summit. We climbed up only to be met with a view of the true summit a little ways off, further east. From this vantage point, the views to the west are grand with my old nemesis Kit Carson Peak rising up with Challenger hiding behind it.
On the false summit, I saw a flash of brown darting between the rocks. It was not a pika and too slippery and fast to be a marmot. I patiently waited and after resurfacing from the alpine talus, it appeared to be a Long-Tailed Weasel. I’ve never seen one before, much less this high up. It seemed ‘friendly’ and very curious as to what we were doing in its territory!
We missed seeing sunrise from the true summit by about ten minutes, but saw what was probably a better view from after the false summit with the sun peaking up from the top and the remainder of the route silhouetted in the morning light.
We passed some exposed sections to the north on the summit ridge and soon after some more boulder hopping to the last step, we were on top taking in the fantastic scenery of the Sangre de Cristo Range.
Clouds lingered around the upper reaches of Broken Hand Peak and the Crestones.
This would soon burn off to reveal their cold, magnificent granite faces. I took shelter in the summit rock igloo of sorts while taking a quick snack break and tying my shoes.
The summit was very cold, though not very windy at the moment. Soon after taking in the view, we headed down, taking care to navigate down the icy boulders again. As we walked down Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak dominated the view to the south, while Kit Carson stared on from the west.
Along the way down we passed several other groups of folks who had camped further down the night before. All in all, a nice, fairly uneventful hike up and down. Uneventful is usually good!
Before leaving the area after getting back, we had a nice sunrise over the Blanca Massif from the Alamosa Wildlife Refuge
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):