Via Upper S. Colony Lake TH
Friday July 18, 2008
After working all day Thursday I made ready and hit the road south out of Louisville at 7:05PM. Most of the rush hour had subsided as I proceeded south via route 93 to E-470, to I-25. At Colo. Sprgs I picked-up Academy Blvd (route 115) around Ft Carson, to route 67, to route 96 through Silver Cliff, to route 69 out of Westcliffe. A few miles out of town I turned right on Colfax Lane and headed due west after the road turned to dirt and headed up into the San Isabel Nat Forest.
The S. Colony Lake TH road is a long, 4-wd, rocky, bumpy, humpy, rutted, cruddy road and this is no secret to those who have been there. The US Forest Service has indeed improved this road with rock crushers and had pulled the dead Luv pick-up truck out some time ago. Bulldozers cleared some of the more prominent large boulders and created gullies to direct the water during rainy periods. After Sept 2009 this road will be closed somewhere around the Rainbow Trail or near the 1st creek crossing. This info comes straight from the USFS so I hope it’s true. It took nearly an hour to go from Route 69 up this road to the parking lot just before the last creek crossing.
The night was mostly cloudy and a full moon shined through from time-to-time to give the dark area a “glow” of sorts. There was a light breeze and occasional rain drops as I quickly made ready my Sonoma to bed-down for the night. The parking area had many vehicles but I saw no one and I went to sleep at about 11:25PM with a few sprinkles and the sound of rushing water from the creek; I was whipped and fell right to sleep.
At 2:00AM I was awoken by the same sounds I’d heard when I went to Conundrum Peak; a scratchy-digging type sound and I banged around and threw open the door to my topper’ leaned down and shined the flashlight directly under my truck. Nothing there………lousy Mynocks!!?? There were no further commotions until my watch alarm sounded at 5:00AM. The morning was quite cool and I stayed warm in my sleeping bag for a good 10 mins before stirring and getting the day started. As usual I prepared my normal breakfast fare of instant oatmeal, black coffee and a quart of Gatorade. I saw a couple of people drive by in a Jeep but otherwise things were very quiet. I made ready my pack and started up the trail at 6:25AM.
I crossed the creek and saw a good many people who had camped there who were also starting their day. The trail registry was poking through a snow drift and signing-in was out of the question. Many snowy sections still existed and I came upon a dead Porcupine and quills were everywhere. I hope the poor thing died of old age, instead of in a blizzard over the winter…..odd sight. The good trail then empties into a box canyon of sorts with tall peaks to the immediate left and in front with much taller peaks in the distance to the right including Crestone Needle rising tall above all else.
I hiked around and to the right where the trail moves through a brushy section and back into the forest where I saw a large doe and a young spike buck with felt horns right on the trail. I continued with a creek running hard on the right and willows now on the left as I made my way to where I could see Lower S. Colony Lake directly ahead. Here there were other people camping but it didn’t appear that anybody was awake just yet. After a short while I came to the sign for Crestone Needle standard route and at this junction the trails forked to the left and up through some more willows.
The trail then advanced higher over a couple of short rises and then into a rocky area with several switchbacks that gained altitude rapidly. The view is dominated with Crestone Needle to the right and Humboldt Peak back over my right shoulder and Lower S, Colony Lake between the two of them with a vast green basin a many low-lying willows and bushes. Up ahead I could now see Broken Hand Pass as the trail breaks-out above tree line and crosses a couple of snow fields before bringing me directly to the bottom of the couloir heading up to the pass.
At this spot I passed a guy and his young son as the trail deteriorates into a muddy, dirty, snow and scree filled mess of a passage and I found it easiest to just get on the dirt covered snow and climb up the old footsteps others had left from the day before. It was fairly steep and I advanced on all fours as I dug in my toes and clawed with my hands until I made it to where the trail became a bit more defined. However, there were several signs stating to stay off certain areas for restoration purposes and this limited just where I could go and I was glad to finally reach the top and stand on two legs again.
The view from the pass was quite a sight with Broken Hand Peak large on the left, Crestone Needle to the right, both S. Colony Lakes (upper & lower), Humboldt Peak, and ahead down below is Cottonwood Lake.
I followed a well defined trail across a grassy section where things level-out a bit and then climbed into a rocky area where finding the cairns leading the way became more of a challenge. I followed the cairned trail to where it opens onto a large exposed notch to the right looking way down on the Colony Lakes and Humboldt Peak beyond.
Continuing on the trail brought me to a couple of spots where I found myself more or less guessing where the trail went and things were going OK as I would then find a cairn here and there to assure myself that I was indeed on the correct trail. I then came to what I determined to be the east gully and I began my ascent rather carefully as grabbing a hand & foot hold was the only way to proceed, I took my time and stayed hydrated as I was working pretty hard and trying to concentrate on where I was and where I was going. After a short time I heard voices coming up from below and then saw a group of five proceeding up behind me.
I continued my ascent until I just didn’t feel right about where I needed to go next. About 10 mins went by and the group of five was coming up fast lead by a person who kept constant verbal contact with the others so as to assure them of where to find the best rock and route. At this point the guy leading saw that a traverse to the left was near to exit the east gully and get over to the west gully. I had actually climbed a little too high and missed the blue ribbon designating the exit to the traverse. Three of the five made their move over across and up out of the traverse. Two remained a little behind and allowed me to down climb and make the move over with them. Without their assistance I would have missed this move entirely and wasted a lot of time back-tracking.
Once I emerged and exited out into the west gully I moved ahead of the others as they waited for the last two of their party to catch up. The one guy who was leading assured me that going up this long west gully would take me to the summit and so I went with much more vigor knowing that the quest was at hand. I made mental notes as I proceeded so as not to miss this exact point when on the way back down as this is the true crux of the climb. The climbing was fairly good and I made pretty good time advancing ever further and higher up the west gully; the gain was somewhat steep but quite direct on this portion of the trail.
I climbed up and out of the west gully and on up to the very top of a short summit ridge that circled left and took me right to an empty summit at 10:25 sharp. I removed my pack and sat for a long rest as I was pretty tired and relived to actually have met the party of five that helped me to stay on course and succeed. The views were totally blocked to the west as fast rising clouds flew upwards from down below and although the views east were OK every other direction was pretty well socked-in and really limited the photo opportunities. Oh well, no worries here. After about 10-12 mins persons of the party of five began to arrive and I introduced myself to Kurt the leader who was so very helpful to me and thanked him and his twin brother for their generous guidance. I somewhat viewed them as my fortuitous “guardian angels”. How lucky was I to meet these people when I most needed to? Call it luck, call it Divine, I felt watched-over and protected………..a most excellent feeling.
We all shared food & drink and took many photos of each other as we all knew that the rising clouds could soon change the weather and we wouldn’t have much time here on top. The party was of family and a friend and they treated me as one of them and I couldn’t have been happier to meet these good people. Kurt and his brother had been up this same summit last year and remembered the route very well, the others were first timers like myself and we all congratulated each other on our endeavor……..good stuff.
I finished my rest with a long drink, we bid our a dues and I started down ahead of the others. I had to turn back after a short walk as I’d forgotten to sign the summit register, once I did at 10:45 I then made my way back down through the west gully and made certain to listen for the five before breaking left and exited back over to the east gully and back down to where I could find my way down with little problem of losing the trail. I again stopped at the exposed notch and took a couple of pictures and wasted little time getting going again as the clouds were now starting to build all around. After a while I was back at the top of Broken Hand Pass and the unpleasant task at hand of descending back down the loose, rocky, snowy, muddy couloir.
I took my time and carefully made my way back down and “surfed” the scree in more places than one to finally get back down to the two snow fields where the snow was quite soft but the passage good. Getting back down into the firm rocky section and a few switchbacks brought me to a group of about 10 people from Colo State Univ. working as volunteers on a section of the trail. I asked if they’d seen the guy and his young son from earlier in the day and they had as they were coming up. I told them to expect the party of five before too long and then made my way back down into the willows. The clouds were now growing darker by the minute and I made quick work of the lower trail and got back to my truck as it started to sprinkle at 2:08PM. My 41st 14’er on this gifted day………….uncommonly sweet!!
The rains let loose on the way back down the bad road and I stopped at the bottom and made some lunch. I was there about 25 mins and the rain tapered-off. As I was getting going on home a large Dodge pickup pulled up after coming down the bad road and I was glad to see the party of five down safely. We greeted each other and I headed home certain that I would never forget these good people.