| Humboldt - Standard West Ridge
I know there is probably no pressing need for another Humboldt trip report. However, I am doing so for a couple reasons: the first is to simply share at least one of my 14er experiences and secondly, a friend of mine from Maryland is thinking about coming out later this summer to try a 14er, and I thought this might be a way for him to get a feel for it.
This was my third attempt at Humboldt. The first time was on my last 14er attempt in 2010—on October 10th. I made it to the switchbacks above the Lakes—about 12,200’ and it became too cold, snowy and windy for me to want to go on. The second attempt was last July. I had been sick a few weeks prior, and upon getting up to about 13,600’, I thought about the additional 5.5 miles return trip after summiting and decided I just didn’t have it in me to continue to the top.
I drove to Westcliffe from the Denver area Sunday afternoon with a rented 4WD and stayed at a motel in Westcliffe. Since I would be driving on the 4WD trailhead road in the dark Monday morning, I made my usual “recce” (reconnaissance) run Sunday afternoon to make sure there weren’t any surprises on/along the road. Everything looked like I left it last year. On the way out I stopped and picked up 3 hikers who had made it to the top of Humboldt that day. Their vehicle hadn’t been able to make it along the 4WD road, so they were forced to park it at the lower lot; they seemed to really appreciate even the 1.5 miles or so of hiking that the ride saved them.
The next morning departing the motel about 3:45 I looked up at the heavens and was reminded again that there is a whole Milky Way Galaxy to behold. One tends to forget that fact living in the light-saturated Denver metro area. I may mention a number of such things in this report—small things that really point to what makes getting out into our wonderful mountains very worth it. As I was nearing the 4WD portion of the road, I took one last look behind me across the wide valley and saw an orange-tinted crescent moon not too far above the horizon. Pretty cool. Uneventfully, I arrived at the 4WD trailhead and was ready to begin the hike at 4:25 a.m. It was still dark, with sunrise around 5:50 a.m. so I donned my headlamp. I was also struck by how warm it felt; I think the Jeep’s thermometer said 53 degrees: warm indeed for commencing a 14er at almost 10,000’ and at 4:30 in the morning!
The first 2.5 miles or so aren’t very exciting—going up the old 4WD road. Here’s a picture where the camera’s flash roughly duplicates what it looks like with a headlamp. Actually, as I look at it again, my headlamp doesn’t light it up nearly this much.
There were lots of places along this portion of the route where a little water was running across the road/trail.
Closer to sunrise and looking behind me I saw the moon again along with two other celestial neighbors: Venus and Jupiter. Another great part about this time of day immediately before and after sunrise is hearing the birds come to life and seeing the occasional robin flicker past. I always get a kick out of the active robins I see in the mountains because it reminds me that they aren't "city birds"--as familiar as they are to us who live in the city or suburbs.
At about 2.4 miles you’ll come across this sign (this is a variation from the Standard Route description). It’s on the right side of the road/trail. On the opposite side are three large information boards—similar to what are found at the trailhead and parking lot. This sign shows that the upper Colony Lake and Humboldt Peak can be reached to the right, and that the lower lake and Crestone Needle can be reached by continuing on the road/trail as described in the Standard Route. What this trail does is “cut the corner”—probably saving about 1-mile overall roundtrip from the trailhead to the top of Humboldt and back.
This trail to the right climbs through a forested area with lots of downed trees. I’ll have a couple more pictures later from the return trip since it was lighter then.
As you climb through this area, a look to the right shows a portion of Humboldt above you.
Soon you begin to get glimpses of the Broken Hand Pass area and Crestone Needle. As many may know, seeing this area bathed in alpenglow is out of this world.
Continuing, you begin to break out of the timber and can see where you’re headed—the switchbacks that will take you up to the saddle are ahead and will climb up on the right.
Of course, Crestone Needle dominates the view and it won’t be long now and Crestone Peak and the Traverse will come more fully into view.
Walking through the willows that almost cover the path in many places at the edge of timberline, there are great views of the Colony Lakes below.
I snapped this next picture without looking too closely, but when I downloaded it on the computer saw that on the right, on the rock, there appears to be something. I think it is a coyote climbing on the rock, though I cannot say for sure what it is…
Because I had to down-size the picture for uploading, you may not be able to enlarge it enough to help figure out what it is.
You’ll see a lot more of this on your hike. For now, all I can do is look at them, the Traverse, and pretty much marvel.
Climbing up out of the willow-covered trails I passed three young men—two from Wichita and another from Fort Collins, I believe. They had camped below the lakes the night prior. Our paths would cross throughout the rest of the hike. Here is a great view looking down from the switchbacks heading up to the saddle.
From the saddle, Humboldt presents a rather looming looking (false) summit.
As the Standard Route describes, the trail up the ridgeline at first tends to favor the left side most of the way. In general you’ll see a fairly well-defined path through the rocks on the way up and if not, there are usually well-placed cairns that help.
Again, as the Standard Route description states, as you near the false summit you’ll want to work your way to the right side of the ridge. If not, Photo #17 in the Standard Route description shows where you could end up below the false summit on the left. The three other hikers didn't do this at first and had to backtrack a bit and cross over to the right side.
It still amazes me the wildflowers and grass thriving at 14,000'+; we all know how harsh it can be up there.
Looking at the real summit from just below the false summit.
That’s a pretty steep and deep drop-off to the north!
Reaching the summit, my GPS said it was 5.54 miles from the trailhead. Here’s a panorama shot from the top.
Looking down towards the valley; Westcliffe is down there somewhere.
The weather on top was as nice as any I’ve ever seen on a 14er (20+ summits): not a breath of wind, bright sun, only a few clouds beginning to develop in the distance and it was quite warm. For a 14er it felt hot. It was so nice the four of us spent 30-35 minutes on the summit; a real treat.
Another summit view also showing the three other fellows, who arrived just after me, taking pictures and texting
Working our ways back down the ridge towards the saddle.
There were marmots galore, and unfortunately they all must have had some success mooching from hikers as they showed little or no fear of humans: brazen actually. No, I didn't offer them anything to eat--as much as they begged.
This marmot was about 100’ feet away when I stopped in the saddle for a break. It came over right away and I could have easily touched it. It wouldn’t shoo away, either, as hard as I tried. Finally, it only ran off (as pictured) when I stood up and put my pack back on. Sure marmots are cute, but expecting to get fed by hikers isn’t good for them at all.
On the way back down, I took some pictures showing the forested area that lies between the old 4WD road/trail and the Lakes. It really is a pretty part of the hike. I saw lots of different butterflies throughout the day below timberline just as I saw many moths in my headlamp that morning.
In this forested area you’ll also come across two small log bridges as well.
And before long you’re back on the old 4WD road/trail for the 2.4 miles or so back to the trailhead. Just like coming up, it’s dry and rocky, but at least has greenery along the side and occasional areas with water. Closer to the trailhead, you of course get close to the stream and can hear it again and finally you arrive at the bridge that crosses over to the trailhead itself.
In all, it was about 11.2 miles roundtrip, and my GPS showed 4,575’ of total ascent for the entire trip.
For me, this third time was a charm. As I headed back down the 4WD trail, I wondered why I had to rush back to Denver…?
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):