| Humble Humboldt Peak - The Long Route
Start Time: 6:55 AM
End Time: 6:30 PM
Total Distance: 16.0 miles
Total Elevation: 5,320 ft.
I feel sorry for poor, humble Humboldt Peak, as I think it got a bit overlooked in the Colorado Fourteeners book. Roach describes it as a "shapeless hump that is easy to climb" and uses only a single short paragraph to describe its one route.
Contrary to this, I found Humboldt to be a very beautiful and striking mountain. Although it does have an obvious contrast with the cool angular forms of the nearby Crestones, it is nevertheless grand in its own right. I also found this hike to be a very fun and rewarding challenge. Maybe it's the fact that I took the "long" route, that there was quite a bit of shallow snow and ice coverage, and that there were some heavy winds on the ridge, that made this day especially exerting, but I certainly would not consider Humboldt to be written off as an easy climb. Like all 14ers, this peak deserves respect and must be earned.
First off, I wanted to share the conditions of the 4WD road. I parked at the 2WD parking area (a simple dirt plot, no restrooms/facilities) and hiked in the whole way. The first mile or so of the road is smooth and mostly dirt, but then the road quickly becomes icy and snow-covered. Since the first 1.5 miles of the road are along private property, I don't believe that 2WD passenger cars can make it in to the minimal 1.5 mile mark to park alongside the road. As the road ascends, the ice sections become MUCH worse, almost looking like waterslides. I will admit that my knowledge of the capabilities of 4WD vehicles is pretty minimal, but I don't see how any vehicle can make it all the way to the 4WD TH. There were a couple of tire tracks that seemed to go at least most of the way up, but I have no idea how old they were. The ice and snow was hard most of the way up, and did not soften up much at all in the afternoon. Here are some road photos:
The 1.5 mile mark:
Rainbow Trail Junction (~2 miles?)
First major creek crossing. Completely iced over with what looked like maybe 12 inches of water beneath. Log bridges for hikers to the left and right:
The really nasty ice slicks start up shortly after the first crossing:
The last creek crossing coated in solid ice. The gravel 4WD lot is just beyond and remarkably free of snow and ice. The hiker's log bridge on the right is very sturdy. Saw a cool buck run past here, but didn't get a photo.
The walk up the 4WD road was very pleasant on its own. The 5+ miles through the snowy forests with a steady but smooth ascent was a great warm-up. Although there were many slippery spots to watch out for, there was no deep snow and I was able to walk up the entire way in regular hiking boots.
After arriving at the 4WD TH and signing the register, the snowy trail takes a circuitous 1.5 mile loop around the base of Crestone Peak, re-enters the forest, and arrives at Lower South Colony Lake. The views of the Crestones and Humboldt are beautiful in the light of the sunrise.
Crestone Needle over Lower South Colony Lake:
The trail wraps around the eastern edge of the lake and slowly begins to switchback through brush up to the saddle ridge west of Humboldt. The trail was intermittantly covered in snow a few inches deep, but the snow coverage decreases the higher you climb. Just below the saddle, there was a pile of 40 lb. bags of top soil left behind by a trail crew. I can't imagine having to lug one of those up! Right by the pile of bags is a dirt-covered restoration area with netting stretched across it. This is a restoration area and NOT the main trail. The main trail continues on the other side of the prominent snow drift. As I ascended, the views back down in the valley of the Lower and Upper Lakes were great.
Up on the saddle, the wind really started to pick up. From here, I could look up the long rocky ridge of Humboldt. Just to mentally prepare you, the peak you are looking at from the saddle is a false summit; the actual peak is not far behind though!
On the past couple of 14ers I've done, once I reached the ridge, the summit was just a quick rockscramble away. Not so on Humboldt! When you reach the saddle ridge, your climb has really just begun. It is a long climb up the rocks being blasted with strong northerly wind gusts. Stay on the south side of the ridge whenever possible. Several trails wind up among the rocks, and there didn't seem to be any one main route. The route I took involved some more vertical climbing up the rocks than I had expected. But no matter what route you choose, you should eventually get funnelled onto the general main route. The northern face of Humboldt is a series of cliffs, so watch your footing around those parts towards the summit ridge! The wind only knocked me over once in a freak strong gust, but was otherwise tolerable as long as I didn't have any skin exposed.
After what seemed like a good long while, I finally rounded the false summit and made my way to the actual summit of Humboldt. This was my first time in the Sangres, so I enjoyed the different and beautiful perspectives of the surrounding lands. Here are some summit shots:
Having gotten to the halfway point of my day, I now began the long march back down. Again, the winds remained strong coming back down the ridge, but once I got back to the saddle, it was a pretty smooth hike back down to the 4WD TH. The sun sets quite early behind the Crestones, so the valley is in total shadow again by mid afternoon. For this reason, there is not a significant amount of thaw during the day and the ice quickly re-hardens.
Sunset over the Crestones:
Sun setting on Humboldt:
By the time I was back at the 4WD TH, the sun was truly beginning to set and I knew part of my hike down the road would be in the dark. It wasn't the most fun having to hike 3+ miles through the dark forest (I didn't see another soul the entire day), but I made it back to my car eventually tired and sore. Then I got to do the fun 4-hour drive back to Denver!
All in all, it was a fun, rewarding, and tiring day. This was #20 for me on my 14er list. If you are planning to do Humboldt, and think that it may be too easy, I highly recommend hiking up from the 2WD TH. Much like how A-1 sauce makes a hamburger taste like a steakburger, so does the extra mileage make a somewhat quick up-and-down into an epic day of hiking. And the best thing for me about yesterday's hike is that now I don't have to feel guilty when I gorge myself at Thanksgiving Dinner in a few days! 8)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):