Peak(s):  Humboldt Peak  -  14,064 feet
Date Posted:  03/16/2010
Modified:  05/15/2010
Date Climbed:   03/13/2010
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise

 Humboldt in Winter: Walkin' the Cat  

Humboldt in Winter: Walkin' the Cat

Peak: Humboldt
Route: East approach
Date: 3-13-10
Length: 13 miles RT
Vertical: 5600 feet
Ascent time: 6 hours
Total time: 11 hours
Ascent Party:
Michael, John, Rob, Kevin, Dan, Britt, Jim


It's the last weekend of the 2010 winter season. Eleven 14ers down, one to go. It's been a great winter, so why tempt fate with something challenging? Snowpack conditions in the Sangre last week are surprisingly good, so I decide to return for Humboldt. Kevin Baker puts in a trench the week before, but then we get blessed with 16" of new snow and lots of wind.

Cheap Thrills: The Catwalk.

We take the southerly of the two east ridges through the trees.

Entering the Wet Mountain Valley, the eastern Sangre looks pretty covered. Some boils off the tops of the peaks are foreshadow the winds that are to make the catwalk a little more interesting.

First view of eastern Sangre.

The day starts out pretty nice.

Britt and I take the "casual start."

Finally booted up and on the road, I begin to hit it hard to catch the early group and see what we've got. Britt calls me back. He decides not to summit, bids me well, I take off solo. It's 8:16 am.

The morning sun is hot, I'm drenched in sweat, not making very good time. A turn north follows the group's tracks another 10 minutes to the first ridge. I pull over to drop skis, don boots and snowshoes, and stash water. It's 9:39 am. I'm a half hour behind schedule, but figure I can catch the group by 10:45 am, plus 20 minutes to change out gear. I'm shuffling up the ridge on snowshoes by 9:56 am. 1300 verts down, 4300 to go. At least the ridge will burn off some vertical.


I'm impressed with the crew's route-finding, and the quality of the snowpack. Finally making decent time, I'm at treeline by 11 am. The slope above looks steeper than the low 20's map calculation. It's a large wind-loaded snowfield, with a wide run-out zone beneath, to my left. I could cut below the run-out on low angle snow, over to the trees, then up the alpine skyline, about 20 degrees or less. Or up the right side, which has some bare areas, but looks steeper. So where's our crew?


I find them 50 yards ahead, relaxing in the last of the wind-curled bonsai's, where I meet Rob Kevin, and Dan, and say hello again to Michael and John. We break for half an hour and assess travel options.

We go one at a time, connecting shallow areas on the slope. It feels right, and not as steep as it looks from below. We get to a larger rocky area where I drop snowshoes and change out to spikes. Dan plugs into his crampons. We pile plenty of rocks on the snowshoes. The wind is picking up. I thrill to the joy finally ascending a wind-scoured ridge.

The snowshoe stash at 12,400. (Pikes Peak in background.)


Cresting the hill at 13,300 yields a dramatic view of our objective. I approach the last snowfield alone, somewhat apprehensively. The angle is fairly low, no drum sounds underfoot. Where's the next man back? Dan's just cresting the hill 500 yards behind; he sees me, good. The wind picks up. I go.



On top, the ridge narrows considerably, with steep rocky drop-offs to the right, wind-loaded slopes disappearing 2000 vertical feet below into the drainage on the left. There's more snow than expected. There's some ice. The winds are gusting out of the north. The summit ridge looms impressive. I sit down to stabilize against the wind, and study the line. I scared. I'm trying to find within myself the confidence that comes after one has carefully weighed fear against risk. It's like leading difficult rock. You are scared out of your wits. You look down at your last piece. You look up at where the terrain backs off, or where you can get your next piece in. You look at maximum fall length, rope factor, and check for protruding rock. You separate fear from risk. At one point it clicks, you move forward with 100% focus. Only in this case, I lack the experience with what's right in front of me to accurately assess the risk. I'm alone. It's untracked. Gusts threaten. It looks frightening, even beyond the catwalk. Can I really do this? I reach deep within as I look up at the line confronting me. I think about Sarah and Dominic and wish they were here. Something clicks. I know I can do this. I get out my axe, look up at the untreked line, and prepare to stand into the wind.

I stay on the rock tops as much as possible. The microspikes stick the rock well, lending confidence in the driving wind and exposure. The rock is solid, though iced over in places. Deep, narrow chimneys descend into steep couloirs, partially bridged in snow and ice, dropping hundreds of feet to the right. I check everything as I advance slowly toward the steeper section of the summit ridge. I look back to see Dan starting across, crouching into the wind between moves.

Looking back...




On the ridge the angle is steeper, but the climbing feels more familiar. As if to allow passage, the wind backs off. I breathe a sigh of relief. The altimeter reads 13,850. I smile.

The summit: 2:14pm. Pieces of atmospheric energy from the next storm are already borne aloft in the western skies, headed our way. I'm thinking quick lunch, and get back across the catwalk before winds pick up again. Soon Michael and Dan arrive, in very good spirits.




We eat lunch, take some photos, and I start down, to encounter John, Rob, and Kevin, not far below. They all summit. I'm hoping they don't stay long; the sky is getting dark and winds are picking up.




Back on "snowshoe ridge," the winds are hideous, squalls kicking up snow, a steady few feet of blur above the ground looking like mist on a Scottish moor. It was nice enough when I came back across the catwalk, so I'm hoping the group didn't dally too long on the summit. I'm feeling good and prepare to head back up to see what's up, but waste a little time digging for more clothes, hoping they'll show soon.


A dot rolls across the crest of the hill above, then a second dot. Soon Dan, Michael, and I are looking up the hill in anticipation of Jeff, Kevin and Rob. After an eternity we look up to see a speck of black wavering in the ground blizzard. It's moving; soon followed by two other specks. Relief.

Meanwhile, Britt is up from his treeline nap. Despite the incoming weather, the mood is festive. We descend into the trees where it's much warmer. It's a little spooky trying to ski the sun-torched frozen snow in the dark. Already at the car, Michael is one fast guy. We hang around for an hour till everyone gets out. The beers definitely come in handy. The après-climb atmosphere is ebullient, as everyone expresses elation over achieving the summit and the exhilaration of navigating the cat walk. I certainly feel blessed today with more than just twelve for twelve. What an incredible winter.

Thanks to Michael, John, Kevin, Rob, Britt and Dan for a great trip today. Really nice to get half a dozen of us across that snowy catwalk and up onto the summit. Looking forward to climbing with all of you guys again soon.


Spanish Peaks at sunset.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
emcee smith

Thanks for the report
02/05/2011 00:22
Your report was great information to prepare for my attempt yesterday. I was going to give you a hard time for being cautious on the narrow ridge, until I got back and saw how much more snow you had. It was almost dry yesterday. Definitely would have shrunk my grapes a bit to cross in your conditions.

Thanks again!


Another outstanding trip report...
03/29/2010 15:15
And the hits just keep coming. You enjoyed an unbelievably productive winter and I am jealous. I love your photo work and the tasteful effects that you apply. The effects add an ethereal quality to your reports that really capture the beauty of what we do. Halfway to Heaven? I believe so. Now I have to get caught up with your other recent reports. Thanks for posting


03/23/2010 01:09
Thanks. I‘m using a Canon 1200 most of the time, especially in winter. It has all the shortcomings of a tiny point & shoot, but at $200 I can keep trying to destroy it. Winter has a way of being harsh on cameras. I also find that if I charge the battery each time before going, winter has never stopped this camera from shooting, even on our Huron trip, where we were battered with storm on the summit.

I also use a Canon SX110 which I love. It weighs 9 oz, vs. the 4 oz for the 1200 (you know by now that I‘m an ultralight addict.) The SX110 has a much longer tele lens, and overall better quality photos. I also have an XSI and assortment of lens and tripods - but those have not made it on a summit with me yet - partly due to weight and partly due to not wanting to destroy a nice tool.

Thanks for the tip on Snowmass - I love that area, and am fairly familiar with it, but have not been there in winter. I‘d like to put together some good partners for a Spring attempt. I also want to be in the PLB to see Kiefer‘s Snow-Cap traverse attempt this summer. I‘m hoping to film it. I would haul an assortment of tele lenses and all the gear for that epic, especially if he does the PLB-Capitol-Snowmass-Heckert-PLB loop - which I belive would be a first ascent. (Keifer? Le gauntlet! Not that I have the nuts to do it... : )

PS - I find that the better the camera, the less work in post-processing. That little 1200 puts me through hell to end up with some nice images - but it‘s a tremendously lightweight tool, perfect for winter ascents, and the ”work” is done in a comfy warm living room. So I can‘t complain.


He‘s back from Hell! (Or was it Heaven??)
03/19/2010 22:06
Hey, Glad to see sgladbach still alive and kickin!

We heard rumors that you made at least two summits.

How was it?


What are you doing
03/19/2010 19:24
......loading up Kevin with après-climb beers? I refuse to condone underage drinking. No medical marijuana either , Dr. Dances at Moonrise! You photos are the best!!



Great Report.
03/19/2010 10:56
We are hoping to make Humboldt our first hike of the year in May or June. Thanks for the informative report....great pics too!


03/18/2010 15:35
Great TR like always Jim. I am looking forward to the Elbert Trip with ya.


03/18/2010 20:07
Outstanding pics and write-up as usual. Looks like a great day. Also, congrats on 12 of 12! Keep me posted on Cas/Con and San Luis.


Thanks, you guys!
03/18/2010 03:02
Bill, I can‘t take credit for the trench. Only for the ”trembling” on the catwalk! Thanks for including one of my photos in the new guidebook entry! (Blush...)

Michael, thanks for the complements. Means a lot to me, coming from you. I‘m so impressed with your speed and skill. Yes, I give us 5 stars too, this was a very good trip. One of my three favorites this winter.

Thanks, Britt - I‘m bummed you didn‘t want to summit, but I understand that some days we need to kick back - and this peak was already securely in your bag.

Sen, sorry to hear of your misfortune; we thought about you up there - particularly in the difficult parts, where your expertise was sorely missed. Hope you can make the next one.

Matt, gosh, yes, it‘s been a great winter. Time for a break I suppose...Though I have to say, that Harvard trip you guys just did made me every so slightly green with envy! You guys done good!

Nancy, you know what, that #4 was a ”windshield” shot. I‘m just glad I didn‘t have to clone out any smashed bugs out of the blue sky. Yeah, on the catwalk... How many times have we all been through something we thought was tough, only to realize later we didn‘t get any photos of it? That happens, because the camera is the last thing you‘re thinking of. The last time this happened I swored I‘d try to have the camera out when I‘m scared. Forget pre-viewing the shot in those conditions, just click the shutter a lot. That‘s my story and I‘m sticking to it.

Micah, as we muse about is interesting to consider that vibes came to me from there -- a TR hopefully is on its way from the pen of mentors I‘ve had the pleasure of travelling with this winter -- still I wonder, did they summit? Anyway, yes, it‘s on my 2010 list -- wet? Or dry?

bking14ers - I would guess from your name what you like to do. I‘ve got to hit one or two this summer on the bike. Which ones do you like?

All - We had a great crew, and a great time, and even a little bit of unexpected weather thrown in for good measure. The only bummer was that Pizza Madness in Westcliff closes at 8 pm on Saturday night. Can you believe it? Next time we‘ll have to send a scout out ahead to keep the doors open - (Michael?) - the group made it just as the last of the patrons was exiting! OK, we got the summit, but now we have to go back and get the pizza! Avenge the carbs!


03/17/2010 22:55
Great photos. I could look at pics. like these all day long. I had an icicle like the one in pic. #16 hanging off my gutter 3 weeks ago. Only it did‘nt have a mountain attached to it. I am climbing in the Crestone‘s this summer, and now I can‘t wait.


Nicely done.
03/17/2010 14:01
Jim, great job on the climb and the summit and photos. I‘m glad you decided to bring that new ice axe along. It looks like it served you well. San Luis- I‘m in, Capitol Snowmass link, im in. If we don‘t link, I will even bring my pup and you can enjoy him.

See you at the top!


03/17/2010 04:23
climb, TR and pics!
Hard to choose a favorite pic out of this batch - like #4, all the catwalk shots (extra kudos getting those with winds and somewhat sketchy conditions!!), #19 of the Crestones and #30.
What a gorgeous place and day - congrats on all far!


Excellent, Jim!
03/17/2010 04:03
You are rockin‘ this winter! Hope to be up there soon.


Great job guys!
01/05/2011 17:27
Great report Jim!

Boggy B

I give us 5 stars
03/17/2010 02:56
Great writeup and awesome photos, Jim!


Great write up
03/17/2010 03:38
and a great day to be out. The weather was nice even though there was a bit of a breeze above treeline. But what great views from up there. And your photos captured them. Nice job! And congrats on reaching your goal of 12 for 12. You da man!


Back work
03/17/2010 02:45
Thanks for the trench - I used it today. Well, what was left of it after 4-8” of snow on Sunday. I was still able to follow it to tree line.

Nice report!


Oh yes!
03/17/2010 01:32
Dr. No: Thanks so much for the complements! Yes, do get out there!! : )

Ben: Yes, some thoughts for spring and summer. First, of course, I need a bit of a break; it‘s been a great winter but I‘m impressed with folks that can do this week in and week out and still get the laundry and dishes done, if you know what I mean. The week in and week out is tough (but it will be a memorable winter that stays with me for a long time... : )
I would like to do some routes with Steve Gladbach this spring. Britt and I were talking about San Luis Peak.

The Elks are definitely a magnetic pull... I would like to do Snowmass, either spring, or after snowmelt. I love that area and backpack up there every summer. My pet and companion of 16 years passed on this Fall, so I was not able to get into the Elks last summer - this year I‘d like to spend a few days there.

Capitol Peak is my ”dream.” Perhaps I‘ll get it this summer. Scares the heck out of me. I‘d like to go with someone who‘s very familiar with the route. Possibly via the Pierre Lakes Basin; I‘ve been in the PLB a number of times. Wouldn‘t it be fun to link up a Snowmass / Capitol trip this August? Wow.

Also want to get a few roped routes: Possibly the Ellingwood Ledges (Arete.) Can‘t beat a ”50 Classic Climbs” route, huh?

Any of these appeal to you? Would love to get out with you guys some time.



Another Fine Writeup
03/17/2010 01:12
Thank you Jim for the TR. Your photos are stunning and your writing is just as colorful. I have to tip my hat to your persistence and strength this winter, 12 peaks is a lofty winter goal. Well done getting all 12 safely and in good style, anything on the radar for the spring/summer months?

Doctor No

My favorite is #10
03/17/2010 00:04
That anticipation when you finally see the summit on a long winter hike...

Always love your photos, DMR - makes me want to get out there!


Gosh, Thanks!
11/30/2010 17:28
You guys have no idea how much I appreciate the complements on the photography. It's a huge passion. I've been at it for two years now. Thanks so much for your kind comments!

I went in and fixed a couple things since you saw them - they'll now work on "large" and I've slightly adjusted #29 and cropped in #30. Hopefully these are "improvements." : )

Lot of work in post-processing, but I feel the output is so worth it.


06/02/2011 14:57
Once again I have to tell you how much I like your photography. I especially like #30. Wish I had the weekend off as I was hoping to do this one this winter.


Beautiful ...
03/16/2010 18:53
As always. Really love Photo #26. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


03/22/2010 19:24
Beautiful, as always! You make me want to take time to post reports again! I did a similar route on Humboldt a few years back with snow, very hard but the view of the Crestones are incredible, as you well know. Grats on 12 for 12, no small feat! The photography rocks, what kind of camera are you using?
Oh, and IMHO, there is no other way to do SNOWmass except on the snow (I did it late June, had consolidated snow on 95% of the snowfield)!

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