Humboldt Peak in Winter

RT Length:  14.02 miles

Elevation Gain: 5562’

This was my third time hiking Humboldt, but my first time in calendar winter.  The last time I was here there was a terrible wind that was causing the snow to become clouds, and I couldn’t see the summit when I arrived (or my own 2 feet). This time I was here for better pictures of the route, and to count it as an official snowflake.  I arrived at the South Colony Lakes lower trailhead and was the only one in the lot when I parked my truck.  I put on my gear, using only microspikes as my footwear, and was on the trail at 4:30am.  As usual in winter, the snow started just past the 2WD parking area.  I always find it amusing to see how far the tire tracks try to go up the road.  This time, they didn’t go far.

The snow on the road started right away, but there was a good trench. I followed the road for 2.3 miles to the junction with Rainbow Trail.  It was still dark out, and as I rounded the last corner of the trail where I could still ‘see’ the trailhead I noticed there was another car parked there.  It seems there would be hikers about a mile behind me today.  Also, my flashlight started flickering.  Time to change the batteries!

At Rainbow Trail the trench spiked, one side going towards Marble Mountain, the other towards Humboldt Peak’s East Ridge.  There weren’t any tracks headed further down the road to South Colony Lakes.  I turned right and followed Rainbow Trail for .5 miles. 

I quickly came to a bridge, then took the trail to the top of a slope

At the top of the slope I was thrilled to see there was a trench in place leading up the ridge.  Last time I did this hike I’d had to trench it myself, and it had taken quite a bit of work.  Today, I was going to poach someone else’s trench!  Woot!

And what a trench it was!  I followed it as it for 2 miles as it ascended the east side of the ridge, all the way to treeline.  Here’s an overview of the route up to Humboldt Peak

If you keep heading west and stick to the rib/ridge, it will take you to treeline.  I could hear the wind above the trees, and got a bit anxious for the above treeline part of the hike.

As I hit treeline the sun started to rise.   I took a few minutes to enjoy the view.  (side note: there were a lot of rabbit tracks here)

The trench ended near treeline.  I could see where it was supposed to go, so I kind of re-trenched it as best I could wearing just spikes.  

Here’s the general overview of my route up the ridge

The wind had been intense all morning, but once I was above treeline it became difficult at times to even stay upright.  So much for the forecased 11-17mph winds!  I’d started early to avoid the most intense winds that were supposed to start around 11am, but it seems they started a little early.  I had to hunker down at times and turn away from the wind, which turned the snowflakes into glass, and was side-stepping as I hiked just to stay in a straight line.  I tried to take pictures, but unfortunately, wind is invisible.  I kept my gloves on and was glad I’d put on my balaclava at the trailhead.  Here are some pictures of the ridge. 

Here I noticed some bighorn sheep in the distance.  They also noticed me and trotted off.

At the top of the ridge was another ridge, so this had been a false summit.  Here’s the actual summit of Humboldt Peak.  It’s a straightforward ridge hike to the summit, nothing above class 2.

Here are some pictures of the ridge.  There was some snow, but it was all firm enough not to need traction

On this part of the ridge the wind really picked up.  I had to hide behind rock structures to get out of the brunt of it, and the noise it made as it came up and over the rocks was creepy.  The balls of my feet were frozen at this point (due to Raynaud’s) and it felt like I was walking with large rocks in my shoes (I wasn’t, it was just the ball of my foot that had frozen).  Several times I hunkered down to maintain my balance, but it was still a straightforward ridge hike.

I knew I’d made it to the summit when I found the wind breaks.  I never saw a summit marker, but I don’t think there’s one here?

I’ve summited Humboldt Peak twice before, so I knew I was at the summit at the first wind break, but I walked further west for better pictures.

I summited Humboldt Peak at 9:45am

Humboldt Peak: 

The views of the Crestones/Sange de Cristo range were beautiful!

Time to head back down the ridge

The wind was still fierce, and I was worried I was getting a nasty windburn in all the areas my balaclava didn’t cover.  The wind speeds weren’t supposed to be this high, so I’d left my goggles at my truck.  Note to self:  next time, bring the goggles. On my way back down the ridge I saw the Bighorn Sheep again.  They quickly turned when they saw me and headed over the mountainside.  There was a big drop on the other side, and I was surprised I couldn’t see them again when I passed. 

This was a simple ridge stroll, or, it would have been, without the wind

Here’s looking at my route back down the ridge to treeline

Here I met some hikers heading up.  The wind had died down considerably by this point, so I figured they had the better weather of the day (I found out later it picked back up again, and they said their summit was just as windy as mine).  My feet started to de-thaw, and I had a minor Raynaud’s attack:  think insane pins and needles as the blood started flowing again.  It lasted about 30 minutes, and to combat it I just kept hiking.  On a positive note, I could feel my toes! Finding my tracks back to the trail was a bit of a challenge, but I came across them eventually.

Then I followed the trench back to Rainbow Trail.  I should have put on snowshoes here, as I postholed ever 30 feet or so, but I really didn’t want to stop.  I was just glad I’d started early enough in the day not to need snowshoes (spikes worked just fine).  Anyone heading back down later than me would need snowshoes. 

Once back at the trail I followed it a half mile to South Colony Lakes Road

Once on the road I hiked the 2.3 miles back to the trailhead, noticing a lot of dog tracks along the way. As I neared the trailhead I saw a couple walking with two beautiful dogs.  It seems they were out on a day hike, and I thought this was a great idea, as it was a beautiful day below treeline.

Here’s a look at the trailhead on my way back. Easily 2WD accessible.

I made it back to my truck at 1pm, making this a 14.02 mile hike with 5563’ of elevation gain in 8.5 hours. 

Unfortunately, when I made it back to my truck I could hear the conversation the couple with the dogs were having. The man kept cussing at his female companion, and the dogs, over simple things like an overturned water bowl.  To me there’s no need for vulgar words, and he was using multiple ones in each sentence he uttered.  I felt the urge to say something, but no one else in his party seemed to mind his behavior, so I kept it to myself.  I’m not sure why women allow themselves to be treated that way?

The Humboldt Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here

Mt Humboldt – 14,064′ – Second Summit


Humboldt Peak – 14,064

9 miles RT (East Ridge)

5000’ Elevation Gain

I’ve been itching to do a 14er, but my schedule and the weather hasn’t been cooperating. My hiking days are typically Friday, and for some reason the weather in the high country’s great all week, but when Friday rolls around the temperatures drop, the winds picks up, and it starts to snow.

The weather didn’t look too great today, but I’d been following the weather surrounding Humboldt all week.  Humboldt is the only 14er (out of 35) I haven’t hiked solo, and to make this whole thing official I figured I’d try it from the winter (East Ridge) route since I took the West Ridge last time. The weather wasn’t great, but I had noticed in the past few days the predicted snow levels had gone down consistently (from 4-7 inches to 2-6 and finally down to 1-3) so that was a plus.  Unfortunately the wind levels were picking up (those rose to 55mph).  The temperatures hovered around the low 30s, which was great except that meant post-holing.

I didn’t need to summit today.  I’ve already summited this peak, so I figured I’d go into this as a learning experience.  Kind of a way to test my skills and see how far I could go without needing to commit to summiting.  I don’t have a ton of winter 14er experience and I wanted to see what a hike would be like in these conditions.  I could always turn back when I felt I’d had enough or if I didn’t feel safe.

First of all, that drive to the trailhead:  Insane!  I have a Tundra, and that thing can handle a lot.  I’ve done the South Colony Lakes 4WD trail in early June, and it was nothing compared to this!  I put my truck in 4WD and tackled it head on.  I wouldn’t recommend it an any time of year if you don’t have a high clearance 4WD, but particularly not now when the trail was covered in ice and mud and slush, and in the dark it was difficult to tell which was which.  I’m pretty confident driving off road, but I’ve never done the whole off-roading in this much  ice/mud/slush before, so I didn’t want to push it too far.  I probably drove further than I should have, and parked about ¼ of a mile before the Rainbow Trail Trailhead.  There were no tire marks after this point (note: I took most of these pictures on the way back because it was snowing too hard or too dark to take pictures in the morning).


I started at 6:45am.  The trail at this point was pretty dry.  I crossed South Colony Creek and turned right.


There were tons of downed trees on this trail!

4 Downed Trees

After hiking about a quarter mile I saw a cairn to the left.  It’s small, and you really have to be looking for it.  With more snow it’s most likely covered.

5 IMG_8600

This was my indication to start hiking northwest through the trees.  This is what that looked like.

6 IMG_8601

Obviously I wasn’t hiking this trail in “winter enough” like conditions.  I hiked up towards the ridge, and then followed the ridge southwest.

I was fighting putting on my snowshoes, but I was postholing.  Each step put my boot at least a foot under the snow, and finally I said enough is enough!  I’d paid for those snowshoes and hiked them in this far, I might as well put them on!  So I did.  Woot!  This was great!  I was still postholing, but only about 6 inches or so instead of a foot or more.


The snow on the ground got thicker and so did the snow falling.  I made sure to step extra hard into the snow so it’d be easy to find my tracks on the way back down.  I wasn’t necessarily breaking trail, but there wasn’t a clear trail to follow either.  The last tracks were old and most of them had been covered by snow or melted.  The snow was falling as predicted, but it wasn’t intense.  It was actually kind of nice because it wasn’t freezing out.  The snow cooled my face.


As I hit about 11,500’ the wind started picking up.  I headed west until I made it to treeline.  At this point the snow had been thick, but abruptly stopped here, so I took off those snowshoes and put on my balaclava and goggles.


From treeline there was no direct route to the top: you’re supposed to make your own trail.  My directions said from here the rest of the route would be visible:  Just look for the peak and head towards it.  Um… not possible.  This was my view:


The wind was really insane here and there was no visibility.  Wind was blowing at a constant 35-40mph with many wind gusts (I’m guessing 55mph+, as predicted).  I could feel the wind gusts approaching.  After the second one knocked me down I decided to anticipate them and lie flat whenever I felt one approaching.

The only good part about those wind gusts was it cleared the visibility to about 50 feet in front of me for 2 or 3 seconds after it passed, so I’d hunker down, and then look up towards where I wanted to hike to see what was ahead of me.  I never was able to see the top of any mountain.  I took this selfie because I noticed everything about me was frozen and I thought that was pretty cool because I wasn’t that cold!


I couldn’t see where I was supposed to go, or even more than about 10 feet in front of me, so at this point I had a choice to make.  Turn around and head back, wait out the weather (it was supposed to clear around noon and it was about 9:30am) or pull out my map and compass and practice those orienteering skills I teach to others for situations like this. You can guess which one I chose.  (Note:  I should have turned back).

I headed northwest up the ridge, being careful not to get too close to the edge of the ridge and trying to stay away from large areas of snow (I used those as landmarks).  I kept trudging on, following the ridge.  I’m 95% sure I made it to the summit, because when I pulled out my phone and looked at the GPX file it said I was there.  You’d never guess though by the picture…


I went to get some pictures with my cell phone, and before I could do so noticed I was at 41% battery.  Time to head down.  Wait, 37%… 35%… 31%… all lost within about 10 seconds.  Argh!  No!!!  This was insane!  I turned off my phone and booked it down that ridge!  I have a lot of great survival skills, but knowing my phone was going this fast made me start to worry.  It’s like a safety blanket I didn’t want to lose. Yes, I know, I know, (I know!!!) but when it hits you as reality in these types of conditions your priorities change:  you really do want that phone to work!  (I’d left my portable charger in the truck because this was only a 9 mile hike:  never again!).

That ridge lasted forever.  Did I really hike all this way up?  It felt like it would never end, and without visually being able to see how much route I had left I kept checking my compass to make sure I was headed in the right direction and my altimeter to see how much further I should have to go.


I made it back down to where I’d exited treeline and looked for the snowshoe tracks I’d so carefully made.  They weren’t there.  Drat.  The wind had completely filled in those 6 inch post-holes with fresh snow! This is what I saw…


I quickly put on my snowshoes and started jogging as fast as I could carefully jog down.  I wanted to get off that mountain.  At this point the visibility was great… there just weren’t any tracks to follow.  I headed towards the ridge, and when I made it I breathed a sigh of relief!  Now all I had to do was follow the ridge until it ended and head southeast.


At this point my anxiety dropped because I could see where I was and I knew where I was headed.  But I was also exhausted!  I was wearing winter hiking boots, trudging through the snow in snowshoes that were postholing, and that wind took a lot out of me.  I haven’t been this tired at the end of a hike in a very long time.  And it wasn’t even that long of a hike!  I’d guess it was less than 9 miles total, but in those conditions, it was insane!

I noticed a small dam at the bridge…


I learned so much from todays hike. I really tested my abilities, and I’m proud I was able to use the skills I have to stay safe in a not so safe situation.  Also, I don’t think I’ll be purposely doing that again.  Anyway, I’m back at it!

Oh, and the weather cleared up as I headed back down.