Humboldt Peak - 14,064 feet
Humboldt Peak - 14,064 feet
|Day & Night on Humboldt|
This hike can be best represented from the first two photos shown below:
It was a long day that started before sunrise and ended after sunset. Challenges were faced, but it was a wonderful day in the mountains.
My hiking partner noob_hiker (Nick) and I had been eyeing Humboldt Peak's East Ridge as a winter or spring hike for several months now. The two of us hiked many of the easier 14ers last summer, but neither of us have had much experience with snowy approaches that require snowshoes.
We had been watching the weather and snow totals all week as we knew the Sangres were getting decent snowfall during the week. The most recent snowfall totals showed between 8-12" had fallen in this area the week leading up to the hike. So we knew that the previous trench through the forest would likely be covered. It was decided to hike on Saturday, even though we assumed we would be the first ones on this route since the recent storms.
We drove down from Woodland Park in the morning shooting for a 0500 start. The road from the junction (winter closure) to the Lower 2WD TH was snowed in, so we had to park at the junction.
We followed boot tracks all the way up the road to the Rainbow Trail junction. We decided to wear snowshoes the whole way up the road, even though they probably weren't necessary until turning off at the Rainbow Trail.
The boot tracks left us slightly optimistic that someone had been up the East Ridge in the past few days, but unfortunately the tracks continued up the road instead.
Ahead of us was 6-18" of untouched powder all the way up to timberline. This is what was assumed would be the most arduous section of the day, so we took our time, switched leading the way often, and had several, planned breaks. Even without a trench or trail to follow, route finding through the trees was never an issue. As the terrain steepened near 10,600', we actually found this section a bit easier to break trail than the flatter sections below. With our heel risers engaged, the pace felt much more natural. Not having much experience hiking outside summer season, the solitude and quietness here was remarkable. We found ourselves stopping multiples times just to stop and realize that we could hear absolutely nothing. Very peaceful.
There was a group of two hikers that met up with us near 11,400', and briefly shared trenching duties up until timberline. A solo hiker caught up to the four of us as we were resting at 11,800'. He continued up the ridge and we followed maybe 10 minutes behind him, as the other group stayed back. We had hoped that the terrain above timberline wind be windswept, allowing us to drop the snowshoes and cruise the last couple miles up to the summit.
The snow here was not as deep as below timberline (maybe 6" average) but after breaking trail for about 3,000 vertical feet, it was certainly nice to follow in someone else's tracks. As we were nearing the false summit, we looked down and saw the group of two turning back, somewhere near ~12,500'
We found this section to be the easiest of the day. Even though snow covered, we were able to ascend quickly and make up for some lost time.
The snow finally let up at just below the false summit, near 13,000'
From the false summit, our assumptions were wrong again, as the entire upper ridge had what looked to be deep snow cover.
After seeing the snow cover on the upper ridge, we considered if we should have held on to the snowshoes, but we continued on without them. We caught up with the solo hiker near 13,500' who was resting, and was unfortunately getting ready to turn around. We wished each other well, and continued on.
The last 500' to the summit was without a doubt the crux of the route for us. The snow was deep, and the ridge was narrow. The further from the ridge, the deeper the snow. Exhaustion was setting in, and by now we were alone on the mountain. But even as morning turned into afternoon, the weather was perfect. Winds had been mild all day, probably never more than 20 mph gusts.
We were trying to stay as close to the ridge as possible. But with deep snow directly above the cliffs, we also wanted to always stay a few feet away from the edge. The more we ventured from the ridge, the snow was almost too deep to walk though, especially without snowshoes. There were times toward the end where every few steps were so laborious that we were resting more than moving. There were scattered rocks to walk over, but there were many stretches that required crossing snow that was 2-3' deep. Once the cliffs eased a bit, there was climbable terrain to the right of the ridge crest. Several times we opted to stay right to avoid the snow, and found some decent class 3 moves to regain the ridge.
We finally reached the summit and enjoyed solitude and spectacular views of the surrounding summits. I hadn't realized previously that you couldn't see the Crestones until standing on the summit itself. This view was one of the main reasons we had been wanting to do Humboldt as an early season hike while there was still plenty of snow in the mountains.
After summiting had taken much more time and energy than anticipated, we took a much needed break on the summit, which was practically windless. We knew we would not make it back to the car before sunset, so it was time to get moving. We carefully worked our way back down the upper ridge. With deep snow and unseen rocks below, we knew that a sprained ankle at this time of day would make for an uncomfortable night near 14,000'.
We reached our snowshoe stash below the false summit and from there decided to keep moving all the way to the car. The sun was setting and warm food was on the mind so we opted against taking any more breaks (other than to take some photos) and quickly worked our way through the trees. The road from the Rainbow Trail turnoff back down to the car seemed to go on forever at this point in our trek. We enjoyed views of the nighttime sky with the incredible mountain backdrop.
|Comments or Questions|
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