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

Marble Mountain A – 13,266


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!

17 crestones

Here’s my summit photo

18 Marble Mountain A 13266

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!