West Ridge from Upper Trailhead
Saturday July 28, 2007
After working all day Friday I got myself on the road by 7:10 PM under mostly cloudy skies. I drove out Route 93 out of Boulder to Route 6 and then on to C-470 to I-25 south. The traffic was surprisingly light so it was a good move to leave a bit later rather than sooner. I then took Route 115 off Academy Blvd. in south Colo Springs past Ft Carson and then out Route 67 through Florence and on to the little town of Wetmore. Here I connected with Route 96 heading south and drove through the night with rain showers and lightning to the west. The good road winds around until I reached Silver Cliff and then soon into Westcliffe where I picked up Route 69 south. The rain really started coming down hard as I stopped at a Diamond Shamrock self-serve to top off the tank before heading out of town. I continued south about 4-5 miles to Colfax Lane where I turned right in a drizzly ground fog. I drove to the end of Colfax and turned right on a dirt road heading due west, then straight on up the dirt road past the lower TH. The night was black but the rain was tapering off and the road was now actually dry and 2-wheel drive was fine for a good 1.5 - 2 miles before I put the old Sonoma into 4-wheel drive. This road is now a rugged little SOB the rest of the way up and choosing the right line through the rocky spots was most important, but I never had to drop it into low range and made my way through the river, past the abandoned LUV pickup and on up to the clearing just before it crosses the creek again. I saw lots of people camping all along the road coming up and here at the end were several SUV’s, Jeeps, and a couple of pickups. It took nearly an hour to drive up from route 69 to this Upper TH. The rain started again as I bedded down at 11:30PM in the topper of my truck.
I set my watch for 4:10AM and laid around a little bit before getting up and making a quick breakfast of oatmeal and black coffee along with a quart of Gatorade. The weather was scattered clouds and sprinkling rain. I saw a couple of people with headlamps go by and then two guys stopped and we chatted a little as they were heading for Crestone Needle if the weather held. They had camped 2 miles down the road where it crosses the creek and had taken an hour to reach this point. We bid our a dues as I told them I was trying for Kit Carson Peak, if the weather held.
I started on the trail at 5:35 and crossed the creek on some rocks around a pretty muddy area and then up to a large gate where the trail loses a little altitude and heads directly into what appears to be a “box-canyon” with tall peaks all around. The trail is very well defined and soon begins to flatten-out as it proceeds further away from the creek in a valley of sorts. The weather was partly cloudy and the sun still hadn’t risen above the peaks to my back-right, things were quite wet and humid.
The fact that the sun hadn’t quite reached where I was yet was good as it kept things cool as I now started climbing up out of the valley as the trail goes to the right and winds through some bushes and a small creek below to the right. Before long I was at a junction in the trail that had a sign for “Crestone Needle Standard Route” going to the left, I went straight. Lower South Colony Lake now came into view as Crestone Needle dominates the skyline to the left and Humboldt Peak to the right. It was starting to get a bit warm and I was wet with perspiration especially along my back which seemed to be getting a bit sloppy. I crossed the creek coming out of Lower South Colony Lake and stopped to take a brief rest. As I removed my pack I realized how wet things were and checked to find that my hydration bladder had sprung a leak and that I’d lost about ½ a quart of water, explaining my “sloppy-wet” back. Not good, time for Plan B.
Plan B would be to climb Humboldt Peak; it was right there and was a shorter hike and I was sure I had enough water to manage. The weather was also a determining factor as it continued to sprinkle and was “sketchy” at best with building clouds and distant thunder to the west. I made my way up to Upper South Colony Lake where the unmarked trail breaks right and up a series of switchbacks heading up the grassy slope. I stopped and spoke to a young guy who assured me that this was the way to Humboldt as he was heading back down due to a bum knee and two of his friends were ahead going up. Wildflowers were everywhere and spectacular with yellow, red, orange, blue, purple, and white with lots of green and maroon as well, this area had obviously been getting plenty of rain recently. Some of the biggest marmots I’ve ever seen reside way up here too, really beautiful as I made my way up to the grassy ridge.
The trail heads right and up to the rocky summit ridge where the trail is a bit less defined up here, but there were cairns spaced apart that lead the way up continuing to the left of the ridge as it climbed higher onto the mountain. I climbed up the ridge and got too far to the left as I neared what turned-out to be a false summit, the trail disappeared and I ended up under some rather chunky looking overhangs as a rain shower began to move through. I then retraced my steps back and then headed to the far right side of the ridge where I again found the cairns and a spotty trail. Looking back down and across to Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak and all the way back to Kit Carson the weather was starting to deteriorate with heavy shower activity clearly visible. I cleared the right side of the false summit and here I met the two whose buddy had the bad knee. They told me they had made the same mistake I had and the same correction and the cairns now lead straight to the summit. I reached an empty summit at 8:36AM with the sun still covered by clouds and three separate shower systems in view.
The views were awesome and I could see many people across the way on Crestone Needle summit. I signed the summit log, took a few photos, had a bite to eat & drink, and stayed about 20 mins. The weather from the west was approaching fast and carried some more thunder & rain as I made ready to head back down. I had been drinking from my hydration bladder the entire way up and it was now about spent, I thus had started drinking from my Nalgene bottle and figured a had just over a liter to get back down, no worries.
I saw other groups heading up as I went down and advised them to stay to the right as they approached the false summit to avoid the troubles I had. The rains seemed to skirt around where I was and only sprinkles kept thing cool and relatively dry and I was glad things didn’t get too wet and the footing was still quite good on the rocky ridge. The grassy slope was a bit wetter and by the time I got back down to the South Colony Lakes the trail was getting noticeably muddier. I got pretty well wet pushing back through the bushes on the way back down and looked back up to see heavier clouds building above Crestone Needle. I just made it back to my truck by 10:38AM as another rain shower started in.
My 30th 14’er…………Sweet!!
The road back down was every bit as difficult heading down as it was going up and again it took nearly an hour to reach Route 69.
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