| Humboldt, Crestones and the Shortcut to South Colony Lakes
In my study for the Peak, Needle and Humboldt, I found a few trip reports (TR) that mention a good climber's trail that is a nice shortcut in lieu of hiking the entire road and main trail up to the South Colony Lakes. I already posted a TR on the "Peak2Needle Great Traverse" but I thought I would add a TR detailing more specifics on my hike up Humboldt Peak and the "shortcut" trail to the South Colony Lakes.
The NEW upper trailhead has a road block just before the first stream crossing. The photo below shows the road block to the far right of the trail signage. You can also see a small quick-fix yellow sign that was put on a tree to point out the direction to a new bridge. The trail leading to the new bridge starts to the left of the trailhead signage. It's difficult to spot in the dark.
Here's a photo of the new bridge at the FIRST stream crossing. Continue going straight after you cross the bridge to rejoin the road.
The shortcut does not come into play until you reach the old 4WD trailhead, which is 2.6 miles away, so fire up those CHEVROLEGS and start up the road. The first mile or so along the road is steep (for a road) and it offers a nice warm up (or a painful ending on your feet/joints). After that, the road flattens out for a short bit and you arrive at the second and third stream crossings, which are close together. The SECOND stream crossing has a downed log on the left to cross it. The log crossing is about 10 feet long and it is elevated above the stream, so a slip or fall could get nasty. I took the log but my buddy wanted nothing to do with it and found a way to hop across rocks in the shallowest section of the stream. The THIRD stream crossing has a way to initially bypass it by staying high on the right side until you find a series of large rocks and a log (not elevated this time), which easily provides a safe crossing. After this, the hike is uneventful for another mile of so. However, it is not as steep as the first segment of the road.
The next 2 photos show the old upper 4WD trailhead as you approach it. The road continues straight (green line) and heads southwest towards Broken Hand Peak. The climber's trail and shortcut starts on the right side of the picture and leads directly west. I found 2 ways to the start the shortcut (red lines) and either one works since they quickly join up after leaving the road.
Here's the topo provided by 14ers.com reflecting the alternate route or "shortcut."
The initial part of the trail is flat as it meanders through a very lush area and crosses a couple of small streams. This is a great alternative to the road and a lot of hard work was put into this unmarked "shortcut" trail.
You quickly reach a denser area of forest but the trail is excellent. It also begins to climb at a steeper pitch. The wild flowers and lush landscape are beautiful. The trail also crosses under a few downed trees as seen in the next 2 photos.
The trail eventually climbs out of the forest and begins to approach a boulder field. The trail is easy to spot and follow and has natural stone steps at this stage of the route.
** Many of my photos were taken on the return trip so some of them are looking in the opposite direction of the approach. I also did this shortcut trail with a headlamp in the early hours and had no problem following this excellent (yet sometimes overgrown) trail.
Here's the boulder field you will cross. The first photo is looking across the basin and you can almost see where the road ends near the eastern base of Broken Hand Peak. The second photo shows how close the shortcut route stays to the southern slopes of Humboldt. Once you reach this point, you can easily see how direct the shortcut is, especially if you're climbing Humboldt.
You will also get a stunning view of the Needle from the boulder field. I had to include a classic alpenglow photo!
A couple of notes:
** The shortcut is a no brainer if you are climbing Humboldt. It cuts the mileage and will save you time. After passing through the boulder field; continue straight on the trail and do not take any of the smaller camp site trails that split off to the left. The shortcut trail will eventually dump into Humboldt's standard west ridge route when you hit the willows near the South Colony Lakes. The photo below shows the area near where these 2 trails meet up. The view is looking west and Crestone Peak is in the upper left of the picture.
** You may want to consider staying on the road and skipping the shortcut if climbing the Peak or Needle via Broken Hand Pass. If climbing the Peak and Needle, you will need to take a left at the trail split just after the boulder field that will lead you down a short slope that ends abruptly at a heavy and narrow stream, which is the drainage for the South Colony Lakes. The shortcut did get confusing at this stage as I did not spot a log or obvious route to cross the stream. After picking your line to cross the stream, you will need to climb a steep hillside that is also home to a maze of small trails and campsites. Don't expect cairns or nice trail signs for guidance. This is an easy area to get confused which can cost you time if you are unfamiliar with the area and are attempting it in the early morning hours. Regardless, you should eventually stumble across the main trail leading to Broken Hand Pass.
See my other TR for details on the Peak2Needle traverse. The link to this TR is below.
The remaining hike to the summit of Humboldt goes fast. It took me 45 minutes to climb from the South Colony Lakes to the top of the saddle and start of the west ridge. The trail is solid, easy and follows a series of large switchbacks until you reach the west ridge and saddle between Unnamed Point 13,290' and Humboldt. The following photos show the view looking back towards Broken Hand Peak and the Crestones as you climb towards the saddle and start of the west ridge.
Here's a photo of the view looking towards the false summit of Humboldt after gaining the west ridge.
Here's the view to the north after gaining the west ridge.
The route along the west ridge is well marked and solid but progressively gets more difficult as you near the top of the false summit. The difficulties never exceed class 2. Here are a few pics of the crux of the climb to reach the false summit.
After reaching the top of the false summit, you get a great view of the remaining hike to the summit of Humboldt Peak.
You also get a great view of Humboldt's dark side, the north face.
The view to the east from the false summit.
The remaining hike is mostly a walk up until you reach a final small cliff band blocking the summit. There were no cairns but it was easy to find a simpleway to climb it. I highlighted my route up the cliff band in the photo below.
Summit view to the south. Low clouds were building fast from the west after a bluebird morning.
A parting shot of the Crestones. This photo was taken during my descent of Humboldt.
Definitely take the shortcut back to the trailhead. You will see the shortcut split to the left once you return to the willows near the South Colony Lakes.
What a beautiful and unique area to Colorado. I met some great people en route. Upon my return to the trailhead I struck up a fun conversation with a super "cool cat." However, I learned by the end of our conversation that it was "Bulldog" from chapter 8 in the book, Halfway to Heaven. Cool dude.
I also witnessed SAR responding to multiple incidents during my time spent in the South Colony Lakes area. Tip of the hat to CCSAR -- You are a great service to the masses that visit this beautiful and dangerous region of the Sangres.
I originally did not plan to post a TR on my hike of Humboldt, which was also a "return trip" to look for lost gear from a week earlier. However, I would like to dedicate this TR to the memory of Duane and Linda Buhrmester. I had the brief chance to meet them during my descent from Humboldt. My thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to their family and friends. Their tragic climb on the Needle is a huge reminder of just how dangerous this area and other mountains can be regardless of your experience level. The link below provides more details on their story.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):