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We have a history….sort of, yes and not really.
In February 2005, I went south for two days to attempt Humboldt solo. The bluebird forecast held true the first afternoon and a couple hours was well spent making a solid trench. The following morning’s 5am alarm brought an unexpected snowstorm and no reasonable chance of getting anywhere. By 8am it was snowing to beat the band(~10-12 inches overnight) and I retreated quickly before getting trapped in the Wet Mountain Valley. February 2007 brought similar frustration, only the time the wind foiled Jamie and my plan by creating impassable snowdrifts miles from South Colony Lakes Road. We spent the night with numerous locals at the Westcliffe Inn. They couldn’t make it to their homes until the plows went to work the following morning.
Fast forward to the present and here we are considering another attempt on Humboldt. Maybe this time we’ll actually get to attempt the mountain! After viewing Kevin Baker’s Marble report and the drier than expected conditions around the Crestones, I consider a solo jaunt up Humboldt Friday, January 30th to scout out the Crestones themselves. Last minute planning doesn’t work this time yet I end up having a lovely weekend hiking Pikes with my girlfriend, Jamie, and our friend Keith.
As the first week of February rolls along, I begin collecting beta from the groups who attempted Crestone Needle and Humboldt the previous weekend. With a positive forecast and trench in place for the week I begin a search for a Needle partner. No one was able to get Friday off, but that ended up being alright once the high winds played themselves into the forecast. Oh well, the South Couloir wouldn’t have been that enjoyable under those conditions. Meanwhile, Jamie, Mike and Prakash express interest in an attempt of Humboldt while Sarah’s looking for someone to head into Lake Como for an overnighter. My secret agenda overrides my desire of a winter backpack and bags are packed for Humboldt.
Upon arriving at the 2wd trailhead, we struggle with a deceptively strong wind while putting up the 4-man tent before getting to sleep around 10pm. During the night, Jamie wakes me while muttering something about her stomach and proceeds to head outside. It doesn’t occur to me that something’s seriously wrong until our 4:30am alarm reveals an empty mattress next to me. Where’s Nellis? Worried sick I can’t get dressed fast enough before running out into a still biting wind. Whew. There she is, lying on the passenger seat. My heart rate returns to normal yet I realize our climb is probably over already upon noticing the large puke bag next to my Subaru. My agenda, popping the big question today, is lying next to it.
While tending to Jamie, the wind picks up and snaps two tent steaks in half sending the vacated tent into a jumbled mess. This is turning into an interesting morning and the sun’s not even up yet! Prakash and I hurry back to the tent, place a couple of larger rocks as anchors, proclaim the tent okay for the moment and return our attention to Jamie. After hearing our intentions to pack up and get her home ASAP, she adamantly stated that we are to climb the mountain without her. She’ll be fine. Okay?
Returning to the tent for breakfast, we debate whether we should climb or return home. We decide to go with Nellis’ suggestion despite feeling uneasy with that scenario. It feels quite selfish but her insistence gets us moving. Mike wakes at 6am, we inform him of the situation before Prakash and I start up the windy road at 6:15am.
This is miserable. We have a strong, cold, west wind blowing directly in our faces across an exposed valley and the guilt of leaving my sick girlfriend behind. One step at a time, hopefully things will get better when the sun comes up.
Salvation from the wind comes as we reach the trees. We quickly warm up and shed a layer. Higher up we witness a beautiful red and white sunrise and an orange alpenglow on the lowest portions of Humboldt’s East Ridge.
Sunrise over the Wet Mountains
The Lower East Ridge on Humboldt
As the road flattens out, we engage in full-fledged conversation and our spirits rise. Joe and Jordan’s snowmobile track from last Saturday allows one to go without snowshoes also! At the Wilderness Boundary we look back for Mike. He gave us a 30-minute head start and should catch up around the Rainbow Trail.
A great view of Marble greets us at the Rainbow Trail. No Mike yet. The tracks up Marble from the previous week are visible and completely blown in. By the creek crossing Prakash and I are pleased with our pace since Mike is still nowhere to be seen. Can we make the turnoff at 10,700’ before he catches up? With this in mind, we discuss taking a break upon reaching sun line to allow him to catch up. Five minutes later, this conversation is a complete waste upon reaching the top of the large “Z” switchback after the creek where I notice Mike flying up the trail behind us. Man, you’re one sick puppy…..fast too! Ah, the sun’s here also, it’s break time.
With our team together we easily locate the old snowshoe track at 10,700’. Good thing we didn’t have to wait here in the cold shade! Snowshoes go on and grunt work begins, up we go. The week old ago is rock hard and re-breaking isn’t even a consideration outside of a few short sections. Following it through the woods proves to be a small challenge while Broken Hand Peak and Crestone Needle take turns grabbing our attention.
Crestone Needle makes a cameo during the snowshoe grunt to treeline
Meanwhile, a rapidly approaching treeline sneaks up on us.
Mike and Prakash nearing treeline with Humboldt's East Ridge barely visible between the trees
~11,900, we reach the end of the snowfields and cache our shoes among some large deadfall. The ridge at 13,400’ looks surprisingly close but the hideous scree field in between keeps us from getting too excited. We decide to go straight up through the jumbled mess veering only patches of grass.
Prakash and Mike hoofing it up the final, steep snow slope with scree nastiness awaiting us higher up
This works well and soon we reach the crest. Colony Baldy dominates the scene while Adams, Rito Alto and others compete for attention.
Whoa! The South Face of Colony Baldy dominates the northern landscape as we crest the East Ridge
Mount Adams and UN 13,580B compete for attention among the snow swept Sangres
Heading up the final slope, we begin to tire. 5000’+ vertical and no summit are really beginning to take their toll. Mike is quite nice and waits for me every few minutes. Prakash is further behind; he waves us on with a chilling wind beginning coming on stronger. We’ll regroup on the summit.
The final ~500' vertical of Humboldt's East Ridge rise above us
The steps leading upwards allow me to develop a nice rhythm and before I know it Mike announces “20 more feet”. Cool! As I gain the nice sized summit the Crestones jump into view. Now that’s what I’ve been waiting for! The large wind shelter draws our attention and we scurry over there to hide. It’s 12:50pm. I throw on the heavy jacket to stay warm. Prakash shows up 10 minutes later and announces he can have hot Ramen ready in 5 minutes if we have water. You bet we do!
1:15pm comes and we take the obligatory summit shot with the Crestones behind. I look ridiculous with the multiple jackets on.
Me, The Fat Kid on Humboldt, with my Crestones behind
Not wanting to keep Nellis waiting we start scurrying down the mountain. I get back to the cache first and descend into the trees to escape the wind before putting the snowshoes on. Upon arriving the guys inform they’ve decided they can hike out from here without snowshoes. Alright, I’ll avoid the trench while heading for the road to prevent destroying it for my friends. Powder skiing in snowshoes is my reward to the well-packed road. I cache the shoes and we begin the hike out glowing about the fantastic time we made today. The short reclimbs are minor, tiring obstacles but overall things go smoothly until we regain the trailhead at 4:45pm.
Jamie’s still feeling horrible. Luckily, she was able to sleep most of the day to pass the time. All we need to do finish taking down the tent.