Peak(s):  Humboldt Peak  -  14,064 feet
Date Posted:  03/19/2010
Date Climbed:   03/18/2010
Author:  pioletski

 Humboldt: Right Place at the Right Time   

Humboldt Peak: A matter of being in the 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):

 Comments or Questions

Excellent Report
02/05/2011 00:22
Kick Ass - I‘m jealous!


Nice job!
03/29/2010 11:23
Finally got a change to read your TR Matt. Great job to you both - wish I could have made it work to join you guys. Hopefully we can get out this spring sometime! Thanks for the beta - I‘m headed down there soon to get it.


Winter Trailhead?
02/05/2011 00:22
"The winter trailhead is just a few miles west of La Junta, CO."

Gosh, no wonder it seemed to take forever to get to the car that night! : )

Great write up and nice photos, and good job getting that ski descent, gentlemen!!!

(Oh, and...Nice work, Mr. Adams. : )


Well done!
05/02/2011 14:23
Wonderfully put together Matt. Nice climb guys. We were thinking about skiing Humbolt Sunday but now planning to push it a week - this TR makes that so much harder!


03/19/2010 20:40
Congrats on the winter ski descent! Hopefully that gully will provide more descents this spring.


Good job guys
03/19/2010 20:15
I think a lot of us are anxious to get after some of that spring corn! Nice job getting a summit descent... I‘m hoping to ski Humboldt as part of a Crestones ski trip (anyone have any pics of how their ski routes are shaping up?), so the summit probably won‘t be in by that point. Great pictures and congrats on a strong day.


Great Writeup Matt
11/30/2010 17:28
You summarized the day nicely! I appreciate you're making good on your "good pics only" promise, it's best if all the skis-going-in-opposite-directions, backseat photos we took lower down stay in the closet for now . Seriously though, after what we skied yesterday I'm just that much more excited for spring corn season. Thanks for another memorable day out, Matt.


Nice work guys!
03/19/2010 20:12
Fun writeup and solid pics, IMHO. Also, thanks for the beta. After today‘s storm, the Sangres should be looking NICE.

Gotta love the return TH surprise - last April Adimmen and I returned to my truck at dusk during a gathering storm high on Highway 550 only to discover that my keys had fallen out at the last photo stop, some 4 miles away. After a fun ride in the back of a speeding pickup and a beer for the tow truck driver, we were back in the game.

Let me know if you guys want/need/mind a motivated partner in the upcoming months. Have quite a few peaks on the mind and would prefer to minimize solo-ing.


Aptly named TR
03/22/2010 19:26
Right place, right time indeed.

We did a summit ski yesterday that will go down in the epic column -- 14+ hours round trip punctuated by a ”ski” down S. Colony road which was covered in an incredibly sticky, white, concrete-like substance that may have once been the 12+ Friday storm snow. Imagine a cruel weight training program for skinning that invloves concrete blocks on each foot.

In any event, for those that want current beta on Humbolt, both the E Ridge route and S. Colony trail now have a nice skin track.


03/22/2010 00:50
And it has a flat landing with potential to find saplings in places you just dont want them.


Nice Work
03/21/2010 17:39
Much better summit coverage for you guys than I had a few weeks before. Jordan about skied right off of that cliff at the bottom of the gully. They should put a caution sign up.

Easy Rider

03/20/2010 17:41
the creek crossing looks like it is decent shape. Also, am I the only one who was a bit surprised to find a cliff at the bottom of this run?


A big one...
03/20/2010 21:12
At that Easyrider.

Nice work guys. Great meeting you in Fort Collins the other night Ben. Humbolt is normally a pain in the ass, way to get it with snow on it.


Thanks y‘all
03/20/2010 23:30
Ben, thanks for another great day in the mountains. Everyone‘s comments are appreciated. Cheers!


Nice work for 10 hrs
03/23/2010 00:35
Nice effort on summiting and descending in 10 hrs, like Lodgling (nice meeting you man!) mentioned, it nearly took us that much to summit. No better way to begin the spring descents with a 14 hour slogfest.

Looks like we both had something in common, a bluebird day.

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