RT Length: 11.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 4682’
I’d attempted this peak a few weeks ago but had to turn back due to high winds above treeline. Today I was ready to try again, armed with a beautiful weather forecast and a full night’s sleep.
Since I’d been here 2 weeks ago and knew it had snowed here quite a big since then I didn’t even attempt to drive to the upper South Colony Lakes trailhead. I made it to the South Colony Lakes lower 2WD trailhead at 4am to one other vehicle in the lot. It looked as if someone was sleeping in their truck. I got together my gear and was on the trail around 4:15am. After hiking about 100 yards I came upon snow on the 4WD road and was glad I’d parked in the lower lot.
Unfortunately, it looked like someone had attempted to drive up the road in the past few days. When the road got too much snow on it they drove off the dirt road, kept driving parallel to the road, and then when they felt there was less snow went back to the main road.
This tears up everything people! Don’t do this! It also looks like they learned their lesson because they got stuck in a snow drift. I’m guessing there’s about 4 feet of snow here. Not only did they get stuck, they tore up the road trying to get out, which will make it more difficult for drivers to make it to the upper trailhead once conditions actually improve.
The road in was well packed in areas, soft in others, and covered in 2-6 feet of snow. It was still dark so I kept looking over my shoulder to see if anyone drove in behind me or was hiking with a flashlight but didn’t see anyone. I put on my snowshoes at the Rainbow Trail Trailhead.
This trailhead is still inaccessible by vehicle and covered in snow.
I had a map with me, but since I’d just done most of this hike 2 weeks ago I never took it out of my pack. From the Rainbow Trail I turned left (northeast) and followed the slope up to the ridgecrest. Here the tracks I’d put in earlier were still in place, and it looked like a few others had been here since then, so there was a faint trail to follow
At the top of the slope I immediately turned right and followed the ridge. The ridge looks mostly flat, but does gain in elevation, all except for one area where it dips down a couple hundred feet and then inclines again.
This was supposed to be a 7-10 mile hike, with about 3500’ in elevation gain, but for some reason it felt like a lot more than that. It seemed I was below treeline for much, much longer than I should have been, yet I knew I was still on track because as the sun rose I could see Humboldt peeking at me through the trees to my right.
Finally (and I mean finally) I crested a vertical slope
And made it to treeline.
Here the snow was hard packed and I was glad I had snowshoes (crampons would have been necessary otherwise). I traded my trekking pole for my ice axe and started up the hill.
The wind picked up, and remained a steady 15mph until I made it back below treeline. In this area it was impossible to avoid the snow
But as soon as I was up over this hill I had the option to stick to the snow or hike on tundra instead. I was tired of the snowshoes, so I took them off and kept to the right, following the ridge.
The view of the Crestones and Humboldt was beautiful!
The rest of the route was pretty straightforward, but I was curiously more tired than I should have been for just 3500’ in elevation gain. I was seriously worried I was losing my touch, or that I was getting out of shape? As I neared the summit the terrain became more rocky and steep. I found myself zig-zagging my way up, doing my best to avoid the random snow patch that had me post holing up to my thighs
I summited to some amazing views of Humboldt, the Crestones, and a bunch of 13ers!
Here’s my summit photo
It was a beautiful day, but that wind made it cold and my fingers were starting to burn so I turned around and headed back down the slope. Here’s a look at the way I came
Here’s what it looks like just above treeline. Snowshoes were helpful (and here I put them back on). I appreciated the full coverage of snow
The ridge back once again seemed to take longer than necessary. It felt like I was in the trees forever! I was still glad I had my snowshoes
The wind stopped below treeline and the temperature increased dramatically. I took off my hat and gloves and noticed my hands had some minor damage, but nothing that wouldn’t heal in a few days. I saw a couple of early season mosquitoes on the ridge, which were easily distinguishable against the white backdrop of snow. I made it back to the Rainbow Trail and followed it to the Lower South Colony Lakes trail, noticing the temperatures had warmed up the snow quite a bit and once again praising my snowshoes: The road was becoming a slushy mess.
I fully expected to see people hiking up the trail or skinning, or something, but I never did. I didn’t see another person the entire day, and as I rounded the corner and could see the parking lot it became apparent why: my truck was the only vehicle in the lot! I’d had the entire mountain to myself today!
It had been a beautiful day to hike: Little wind, warm temperatures, and solitude. When I checked my tracker it said I’d gone 11.6 miles and gained 4682’ in elevation in 6.5 hours. No wonder I’d felt out of shape! I’d expected a 7-10 mile, 3500’ elevation hike. As I’d been hiking I’d begun to doubt my physical fitness, but these new numbers seemed much more accurate.
Here’s my Relive (which I like this time because it portrays the snow above treeline)
I drove home feeling I’d gotten in a good workout today. This is a great ridge hike!