Humboldt Peak is an easy peak, right? Hardly worth a trip report,
right? Well, yes, but every once in a while things just don't pan out to
be as easy as they're supposed to be! So how do you turn an easy
peak into a hard day?
First, you don't get a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle and take ten
miles off the trip by driving up to the South Colony Lakes wilderness
boundary parking area. Instead, you start from the lowly 2WD parking area
and run up the god-awful road early in the morning, and then down it at
the end of the day. That adds (in my case; YMMV) about four hours.
Second, you wait just a little too long, so that the clear, dry, (and most
importantly) snow-free days of September have just ended, snow and/or ice
is on the rocks of the high country, and mist shrouds the Sangres every
And last but not least, you don't set out for Humboldt as your primary
goal. Instead, you try to solo Crestone Needle under the aforementioned
less-than-perfect conditions, planning only to dash over and bag the easy peak if there is time at the end of the day, after your much
more impressive climb of the big one.
All of the above is exactly what I did when the 29th of September
unexpectedly emerged as a date on which a travelling-light climb could be
arranged. After all, the 2WD trailhead is actually the closest 14er
trailhead to Colorado Springs (other than Pikes), and the weather had been
just superb! It seemed like a perfect opportunity to--finally!--add a
difficult Sangres 14er to my list.
Well, the best-laid plans, as the saying goes. I did wait just a
little too long, and the weather bit me. Totally socked in and unable to
see more than 100 feet or so, all my best efforts were to no avail on the
Needle. After investing basically the entire morning in the attempt, I was
forced to abandon the climb around 13,330 feet, to make sure that my wife
could pick me up, alive, at the trailhead at the end of the day. As I
downclimbed the approach to Broken Hand Pass (an adventure in itself), I
considered my options for salvaging some smaller victory for the day.
I decided that if I could make it back down to the lake by 1 pm, and the
weather did not seem to be getting any worse, I would give Humboldt a try.
I figured I could do a walk-up even if the weather conditions were
awful. There might not be any real views on the top, but at least I would
get a start on this range, where my total at the beginning of the day
stood at zero. And I wouldn't have to worry about sliding off the
So, arriving back at the lake at about 12:30, I munched a little, rested
just a little, and trudged off into the mist which still shrouded the
whole place to pursue my secondary goal. The primary weather element
affecting all of this was not snow, or even the fog, but wind, combined
with virtually 100% humidity. 30 - 40 mph winds had assailed the peaks all
morning. This was what had caused new ice to form on the rocks of the
needle, and the wind did not let up as I headed up once again. Instead it
increased in intensity, making all four layers of insulation I had brought
very necessary the whole way.
Naturally, and most welcomely, I made much better time up the Humboldt
trail, but that wind made the west ridge seem amazingly long. Also, the
light coat of snow already on the rocks kept me constantly wondering if
were going far off the well-trodden route, despite the many cairns.
Ah, but there's a silver lining to most clouds. The silver lining to the
wind was that it did, finally, succeed in stripping away the could cover
to reveal a gloriously sunny afternoon. It was still cold, but at least I
could see stuff! As I neared the summit, the mist first became ragged
wisps allowing peeks at surrounding peaks, then finally disappeared
entirely. If my hands hadn't been so cold from having my gloves get wet on
the Needle, I would have been able to take a whole album's worth of
stunning photos. As it was, I settled for a small collection shot with
gloves and mittens on. Still, the views of the Crestones and other nearby
peaks, as well as of the lowlands to the east, were truly impressive.
Humboldt is worth climbing on any clear day for this reason alone.
Even though I had felt slow as molasses on the climb, I was able to get
into a modest run on most of the descent. When I got back to the lake, and
stopped to reduce my clothing load and re-pack my belt pack, I discovered
that it had only taken me about 3 hours and 40 minutes to make the
up-and-back trip, which seemed acceptable.
Most of the rest of the day was sunny, and I stripped off more clothing
later. Still with some energy in my step, I finally arrived back at the
2WD trailhead just before 6:30 pm., roughly 12 and a half hours after
setting out. That's a pretty long day for bagging one "easy" 14er, but not
too bad for a really exciting day. The Needle will still have to wait for
another day... Oh, one other thing: aside from a trio of guys I met hiking
up late in the afternoon, as I was almost down to the bottom, I didn't see
a single other person the entire day. I had not only the summit, but the
entire basin, all to myself!
Photos can be found at: