| Humboldt: Right Place at the Right Time
Climb and summit ski descent of Humboldt Peak (14,064') via southeast flank
March 18, 2010
Ben (benners), Matt (pioletski)
Approx. 12 miles RT, 5460' climbed and skied, 10 hours
Spring comes early, they say, to the Sangres. I would add that snowcover is fickle, being very dependent on wind as well as snowfall. As a result it can be difficult to find Humboldt in condition for a summit ski descent, and it often takes several tries to get it done. With valuable recent beta from Bill and Jim (thank you, gentlemen), Ben and I were reasonably confident of being in the right place at the right time.
We met in Westcliffe at 5:10 am, having both overestimated the driving time by about 20 minutes. (There is no trailhead camping for this one, and neither one of us wanted to get a hotel room for a 3 or 4 hour nap.) The winter trailhead is just a few miles west of La Junta, CO. We strapped on skis and skins at 5:45, still about 15 minutes ahead of schedule:
Thursday morning, 5:45 am (pioletski)
The South Colony Lakes road is a gradual ascent into the woods, which allows for a long conversation:
Dawn patrol (pioletski)
Meanwhile delicate rosy-fingered Dawn spread across the eastern sky:
S. Colony road (benners)
We crossed the Rainbow Trail at about 7:30 and passed the summer 4WD trailhead about 15 minutes later (that part is downhill going in). Ben then stopped to take off his boots. His new goal is to be the first to ascend all the 14ers barefoot in winter:
Boots are just extra weight, anyway (pioletski)
Perhaps I shouldn't make light of Ben's troubles. Apparently his new Scarpa Spirits aren't quite dialed in yet. It doesn't seem to slow him down, but when we got back to the TH he found a nasty blister. To add insult to injury, his car had a flat tire!
But I digress. We were anticipating a warm day - NOAA said 37 degrees at 12000 feet - but we also expected high clouds and wind. We hoped that the last few days had settled and stabilized the snow and that the clouds and wind would keep it cool on our summit day, thus keeping things relatively safe. This turned out to be the case (although the snow did get mushy at timberline in the afternoon). Dawn broke through a sky filled with fluffy cirrus clouds, and as we skinned up the road, a large lenticular cloud formed like an umbrella above us. I took this picture to show the characteristic appearance of these clouds from underneath, with the dark center and bright sunlit edge:
Lenticular cloud from below (pioletski)
Breaking out above timberline, we found ourselves on hard snow:
Climbing traverse at treeline (pioletski)
We had turned off the road a little early, and broke timberline somewhat east of the gully that was our goal. The wind was picking up as we climbed/traversed toward the gully, and the hard snow made for difficult skinning, so we decided to ascend straight up to the east ridge an then walk the ridge to the summit. This turned out to be rather toilsome.
Climbing in earnest (benners)
We ended up booting up the slope on fairly thin snow over blocky talus, which tends to be harsh - your boots frequently break through into a well surrounding a rock. It made for slow going. Then we met the iridescent bug-eyed aliens, and had to fight them off before continuing:
Still climbing in earnest (benners)
Still, the day was astoundingly beautiful:
Near the ridge (benners)
We arrived at the summit at about 1:30:
Benners summits (pioletski)
Pioletski summits (benners)
Here's Ben admiring the Crestones:
Benners admiring the Crestones (pioletski)
And here's what he's looking at:
Crestone Needle and Peak (benners)
And Kit Carson:
Kit Carson (benners)
The cliche is true, that it's hard to get a photo of the Crestones that does them justice. They are magnificent. More on that later.
Skiing directly from the summit took a little creativity, as it often does. We took turns saddling up inside the summit windbreak:
Skis on at summit (pioletski)
Pushing off (benners)
and started off toward the south-southwest for a few feet, before turning east and picking our way through a reef:
Minor obstacle (benners)
In the open (benners)
Although we had to "billygoat" across a bare spot, we did keep skis on from summit to trailhead, which is a treat one often doesn't get later in the season. Once into the gully, we made a couple of tentative turns, found that the snow was bomb-proof, and opened up:
Perseverance rewarded (benners)
Ben made me promise that I would only post "good" pictures of him skiing, I think this one qualifies:
Benners rips it (pioletski)
We made a few more turns...
Skiing the great wide open (benners)
and still more...
Long way down (benners)
... quite a few more, in fact. The run is 3300' vert, uninterrupted, from the summit to the road. It reminded me of the Cristo on Quandary, but with the length of the Tuning Fork on Torreys.
Making tracks (pioletski)
The view of Broken Hand sayed with us all the way down:
Broken Hand (pioletski)
As we descended the snow became tricky to ski. There was a layer anywhere from nothing to 6" thick that had blown in on top of the firm base, which was of variable quality. Skiing it became more strenuous the lower we got. As spring snow tends to be, it was also very sensitive to aspect and shade - southwest facing open slopes at timberline looked a bit dicey.
With all these thoughts in our heads, we looked back up the slope...
Looking back at our tracks (pioletski)
... had a fairly fast ride out to the TH...
We're back in Kansas, Toto (benners)
... and then repaired to Edwardo's in Westcliffe for a bite, took care of Ben's car, and hit the road.
Postscript: Ben had the idea of rendering his photo of the Crestones in B&W, which I must admit captures their presence much better. I think I'll start calling him "Ansel."
Portrait if the Crestones (benners)
Thank you for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):