Peak(s):  Humboldt Peak  -  14,064 feet
Date Posted:  12/27/2011
Modified:  12/28/2011
Date Climbed:   12/26/2011
Author:  SurfNTurf
Additional Members:   dillonsarnelli, Claybird, SnowAlien, speth, Brian Thomas, LynnKH, MonGoose

 Old Man Winter says, "GET OFF MY LAWN!"  

MOUNTAIN: Humboldt Peak (14,064')
ROUTE: East Ridge
RT GAIN: ~5,500 feet
RT DISTANCE: ~13.5 miles
RT TIME: 9.5 hours (from Rainbow TH, 8 miles and 4,300 feet)
CLIMBERS: SurfNTurf (Jeff), dillonsarnelli (Dillon), MonGoose (Nick), Claybird (Clay), speth (Matthew), Brian Thomas (duh), nkan02 (Natalie), LynnKH (Lynn)

There are some winter days where you look at your partner and ask, “Is this really winter? Does this even count?”

The temperature is approaching the 30s, you’re down to your baselayers, the sun roasts you like a tanning bed. (Ahem, not that I’d know what that feels like.) The wind is nothing more than a caressing breeze that wipes away the sweat from your forehead.

That’s the kind of day Dec. 26 was supposed to be. With a forecast of 5-10mph winds, sun and a high of 25, it couldn’t be better.

But Old Man Winter decided not to be so welcoming, after all.

With calendar winter beginning Dec. 22, a day off on Dec. 26 and no plane ticket to visit my folks back East, I decided to gauge interest on a Christmas weekend hike. The response was overwhelming. After a bit of discussion, we decided on Humboldt Peak’s East Ridge. I wanted to throw in a winter camp to revisit fond memories of Horn Fork Basin last winter, and as plans firmed up a group of six of us planned on camping Dec. 25 and attempting the summit Dec. 26. A sizable group of dayhikers was supposed to meet us on the route, but in actuality only Lynn and Natalie ended up representing the one-day crew.

We arrived at the winter closure on Colfax Lane and started hiking up the road at about 4:45 p.m. Christmas night. We’d only made it a few steps from the cars before we saw a lone climber coming down. Spoke537 had summited, solo, and informed us we had a trench all the way to treeline. I had to restrain myself from hugging him. We knew we’d benefit from awilbur77’s fine effort up to 11,600 on Dec. 24, but we had no idea the trail would be so long and well-established.

The group gearing up (photo courtesy Claybird)

Brian starting up the trail in fading light

Do you think Santa Claus will find us out here? (photo courtesy Claybird)

We figured we’d be dealing with darkness anyway, so we took our time getting up to camp – something like two hours to cover 2.5 miles and 1,300 feet. Nick was experimenting with a sled and I wasted plenty of time scribing goofy messages to the dayhikers in the snow. Anyway, we eventually set up our three tents via headlamp at the Rainbow TH and got a fire going. We melted snow, drank a couple beers, gobbled down calories and went to bed at 10:30 or 11.

Huddling around the campfire

We got a leisurely start the next morning, giving the dayhikers time to catch up. We left camp around 7:30 a.m. In retrospect, we should have started an hour or two earlier. The trail, established by awilbur77 and further packed by Spoke537, was a highway through the trees. I reluctantly left my brand new (Christmas present!!!) snowshoe tails in my tent. We’d heard wind during the night, but the forecast hadn’t changed. We remained blissfully ignorant of what was to come.

First light at camp (photo courtesy Claybird)

Dillon, Clay and Matthew starting up the trail

Me and Dillon, reveling in the broken trail (photo courtesy Claybird)

The trail descends 50 to 100 feet to a creek, then starts steeply up. Eventually it gains a minor ridge and takes an abrupt left turn. The ridge flattens out for a good long while, and then the warm up is over. Once it starts getting steep again, don’t expect a reprieve until you’re on the summit – except for a short flat section high on the ridge.

Once the trees started thinning, we caught glimpses of Marble Mountain and the surrounding peaks. The Spanish Peaks had distinct snow plumes coming off their summits. We heard a bit of a growl up high. Uh-oh.

On top of the minor ridge, with the false summit and trench in view

Spanish Peaks, and our first hint of the wind to come

The track disappeared along with the rest of the trees, wiped away by the wind. We could see the distinct banshees and plumes dancing on all the surrounding summits now, including ours. The dream of a perfect bluebird day was dashed.

The trench fades away along with the trees (photo courtesy nkan02)

We climbed into the wind, breaking our own trail for a few hundred feet. The dayhikers Lynn and Natalie caught up to us about the time we stashed our snowshoes (buried under mounds of rocks to ensure they didn’t become kites) at 12,600.

Wind gust (photo courtesy Claybird)

Our group, as first seen by the dayhikers (photo courtesy nkan02)

I told you it was windy (photo courtesy nkan02)

The wind gusted close to 50mph, routinely knocking us off balance. It diminished slightly on the false summit (which has its own false summit) so we regrouped as best we could there. Our destination was finally in sight: the summit of Humboldt Peak.

Humboldt comes into view on a flat area just past the false summit

Wind gust slams the group (photo courtesy dillonsarnelli)

Like a caged greyhound, Dillon scampered off toward the summit with seemingly limitless energy. The wind remained a nuisance, still gusting to 30-40mph. Considerable exposure lurked over the right side of the ridge. Most steps on the sugary, unconsolidated snow got one’s attention. Despite the difficulties, we all summited between 1:30 and 2 p.m. It was virtually windless.

Me and Lynn starting the final push up the ridge (photo courtesy nkan02)

Getting closer...

Looking back on the East Ridge

Dillon summits! Followed by the rest of us...

The views of the Crestones, of course, were astounding. Kit Carson, Mt. Adams, Broken Hand Peak, the Blanca Group, the Spanish Peaks – the summit panorama didn’t disappoint. Nick claimed the first Winter Tebow Ascent of Humboldt Peak, while I decided to start my own trend.

Dillon's first glimpse of the pristine summit (photo courtest dillonsarnelli)

And the best photo of the Crestones goes to... (photo courtesy nkan02)

Kit Carson Peak

Campers on the summit (L-R Nick, Clay, Brian, Jeff, Dillon) (photo courtesy dillonsarnelli)

Dayhikers on the summit (L-R Natalie, Lynn) (photo courtesy nkan02)

Cam Newtoning (he has a Superman TD celebration)

Realizing we’d be racing darkness, we started back at about 2:15 and high-tailed it down the ridge. The wind had abated a little, but it was still a pain.

Looking back on the way down, winds still whipping

Saying goodbye to the sun, from the snowshoe stash at 12,600

Me and Brian departing the ridge (photo courtesy dillonsarnelli)

Finding the start of our route back through the trees was a bit of an ordeal, as the wind had swiped away most of our tracks. We found it after about five minutes of searching and raced down to camp, which we reached at about 5 p.m. in the last remnants of daylight. We managed to break down our tents and get back on the trail in about an hour. Navigating by headlamp, we returned to the cars shortly before 7 p.m.

Breaking down camp. If it looks like we just went through a war, it's because we felt like it (photo courtesy dillonsarnelli)

Head down, motor out... (photo courtesy Claybird)

It was a first winter ascent of Humboldt for everyone except Lynn (her second), and a new peak for me, Dillon and Nick.

Merry Christmas!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

12/28/2011 01:25
Nice job! What's next? I have a week off.


No love for the gas station fiasco in the TR?...
12/28/2011 02:15
probably for the better...

a caged greyhound - haha - I'm definitely not feeling like a greyhound today! Excellent report Jeff as always. Great weekend and couldn't of asked for a better way to spend the holidays in Colorado. Thanks again for putting it all together. Very good meeting all of you. This was a sweet group. Will see you all soon I hope.


Image 18
12/28/2011 02:16
Is that what I think it is??? A Jesus Bronco fish on the leftmost guy (nick). Way to go on the summit!


Congrats to all of us on the winter summit!
04/02/2015 19:45
And the best photo of the Crestones goes to... (photo courtesy nkan02)


12/28/2011 17:57
Ah, fixed. This is what happens when you try to get information out of people after five hours of hiking in killer winds.


Lynn's 1st Humboldt winter ascent
04/02/2015 19:45
@Anna - actually, Lynn kept reciting to me your ”thrilling” hike last March on the way. We both sure were glad it took under 12 hours this time instead of 16 (and she finally got to see the snow-covered Crestones - it was totally worth the repeat visit). We only shaved maybe an hour off your time on the way up (and we had the snowshoe trench already in place), but had much better descent time. However, this was due to a much better weather also (no whiteout) and no snowshoe fiasco, so the following the trail on the way back was not an issue.

As SurfNTurf mentioned, even in nearly perfect weather, locating the snowshoe trail in the trees at 12K is not very obvious and took a little bit of time. Lynn said that in a white-out conditions like last March, you guys did not stand a chance.


Awesome fun!
12/28/2011 23:46
Looks like a lot of fun out there. Great write-up.


Yes, unfortunately my second...
12/29/2011 15:33
I know, Anna, I can't believe I went back either! But the view of the Crestones was totally worth the repeat. Like Nat said, trying to find the trail at tree line all I could think was we didn't stand a chance in those white-out conditions. No wonder!

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