- Date Hiked: September 20, 2004
- Miles Hiked: 5.6
- Elevation Gain: 3,004'
- Hiking Partner(s): Jim Bennett
- For some reason, I seem to have a way of turning a few of the easier
14ers into difficult hikes. I have done this with Torreys, Yale,
and Elbert. Humboldt is no exception. I was contacted
by Jim via email to attempt something in the Sangre De Cristo
Range. We decided to try the 14ers in the Crestone region and play
it by ear. I was disheartened by the forecast all weekend, but we
stuck with our plans and met at the lower trailhead of South Colony
Lakes late Sunday night.
- Jim drove from Norman, Oklahoma, so because of his already long day
and the currently questionable weather, we camped at the lower trailhead
for the night. We were awoke around 1:00 am by search and rescue
personnel looking for an individual who had been missing in the area
since 3:00 pm the previous afternoon. After they determined we
weren't who they were looking for, three vehicles proceeded up the road
and we fell asleep for a couple more hours.
- The wind blew hard all night as it also rained much of the time.
Jim woke me shortly after 4:00 am and we began the laborious drive up
South Colony Lake Road. My pessimistic attitude didn't show
through, although I felt as though we were making the drive for no
reason. The God-forsaken South Colony Lake road lived up to its
reputation. Because of the area's popularity, I can't understand why
they don't take a bulldozer to it once a year. Nevertheless,
through the darkness of the morning, we worked our way up the wet road
with my speedometer never registering an actual speed.
- Of the numerous "pitches" of this road, I would say there
were at least 4 areas I could have classified as the
"crux". Going up in the dark may have assisted because
it forced us to focus on the 50 feet in front of us rather than seeing
farther ahead and becoming demoralized. I have to say that I was
extremely impressed with my Isuzu Trooper's performance. In 4WD
Low, we crawled up the 5.2 miles and finally made it to the upper
trailhead after 1 hour and 50 minutes of driving. Although making
it to the upper trailhead was a small victory, it would later have to
take a backseat to our summit climb.
- With extremely overcast skies and strong winds, we started towards the
Colony Lakes. Holding in my skepticism, we enjoyed our hike to the
lakes while getting acquainted. Once at the lakes, the wind
swirled around us as though it was unsure what direction it wanted to
go. We stopped for our first break when I finally admitted to Jim
that I felt it was futile to continue. I refused to attempt the
Crestones in this weather, but knew that Humboldt was class two.
He asked a few more details about the route conditions, and I explained
that I thought there was trail almost the entire way to the
summit. He suggested we hike a bit farther and I reluctantly
- From the lakes, we couldn't even see the bottom of the Needle's east
face. It remained overcast with the winds now stronger as we
started up to the pass between Humboldt and Point 13799. We took
one intentional break approximately half way up where we found shelter
in some rock outcroppings. Other than this, we stopped only when
the wind became so strong that we had to brace ourselves. Before
too long, we found ourselves above the switchbacks sitting on the saddle
at 12,800'. The lakes below were only briefly visible in small
windows of the swirling clouds.
- As a pilot, Jim was entertained by the fluid motion of the clouds over
the ridge in front of us. We assessed each other's condition and
decided to proceed up the mountain. The one positive thing that we
had going for us was that the clouds we had ascended into did not appear
to contain significant moisture. Once again, the wind was
stronger. On a number of occasions, you could hear the gusts
screaming up the side of the mountain like a jet engine. Whenever
this occurred, we warned each other to take hold and brace for the
- We proceeded up the ridge in bits and pieces finding cover in the rock
as we went along. At 13,100', only 300' from the saddle, we had
our first real conversation about calling it a day. Progress was
slow, the winds were not relenting, and our breaks were becoming too
frequent. I knew that we still had over an hour of climbing left
and wasn't sure if we could sustain the weather for that long. In
addition, I personally questioned Jim's clothing although I didn't tell
him that. (Check out his summit photo.) He insisted that he
was fine. Since we were both comfortable temperature wise, we
concluded that as long as we could follow the cairns back down, we could
- I took the lead for route finding and forced a stronger pace onto
Jim. He responded well and we always keep each other in
sight. During the lulls (if that's what you call a 20 mph wind),
we moved rapidly to the next area of protection. Occasionally,
there was a short break in the clouds that allowed us to see the
remaining ridge. I warned Jim that I was certain there was a false
summit so don't get your hopes up too high. Around 13,900' (I
didn't check my GPS.), the winds were becoming unbearable. We hid
behind a cairn when I told Jim I thought I had a shot at the summit
trying to get a feel for his condition. He told me to go for it
and he would continue as far as he felt comfortable.
- I'm not sure if this was the right decision, but I dropped my pack and
left Jim for the summit. The wind practically carried me up a
short section of class 3 climbing for 100', and I reached what I thought
was the high point. (Jim later concurred that the wind assisted in
the hiking for the last couple of hundred feet.) I crawled around
on my hands and knees for five minutes desperately trying to find the
summit register to confirm the ascent and keep from being blown off the
north face of the mountain. As I looked to the east, I caught a
glimpse of another cairn which instantly crushed my summit
elation. In the mean time, I could see Jim approaching from the
- The wind was slightly less strong below the ridge, so I stepped off
the crest and waved Jim on. It appeared as though he was as
determined to reach the summit as I was. The ridge traverse from
the false summit to the actual summit was a test in not getting blown
forward onto your face. I finally saw the rock shelter after only
a few minutes and dove in to take cover. I raised my hand over the
top to announce our arrival to Jim. He joined me shortly, and we laid behind the rock wall
only long enough for a quick congratulation and a couple summit
shots. There was a lot of work left and we wanted to get the hell
off of the mountain.
- I warned Jim to cover the left side of his face as we descended so it
didn't get too cold, and with that, we left the comfort and safety of
the summit to make our way back down. Of course, going down is
always easier, but we still had to concentrate and make our way from one
cairn to the next. We grabbed our packs and continued to work our
way down the ridge. The wind remained strong, and it wasn't until
we were back at the trailhead when Jim told me that on the descent, one
of the gusts almost blew him over the edge.
- Back at the vehicle, we had a beer, discussed our adventure, took a
nap, and then had a warm dinner. We spent the night at the upper
trailhead thinking we might attempt the Needle on Tuesday, but the
weather was worse than the previous morning and we weren't going to
attempt the Needle's steep ridge in similar circumstances. The
blizzard I drove through on my way home further confirmed our decision
to exit the mountains. (I went through Salida, Buena, Vista, and
Fairplay since I had the time.) We made it back down the road in
the same time it took to get up it and bid farewell.
- After reading this report, it seems a bit dramatic, but I can honestly
say that this was an extremely challenging hike. Again, with Jim
being a pilot, he is familiar with wind speeds and estimated the gusts
to be at least 40 mph on the summit. We certainly aren't high
altitude mountaineers on the South Col of Everest, but this is as close
as the two of us will ever get. We definitely had reservations and
were in danger, but I also think we knew our limitations. If it
had been raining, snowing, or if the temperature was even 5-10 degrees
less, we would have immediately turned back. Without Jim
encouraging me to continue early in the day, and without me pushing Jim
higher on the mountain, neither one of us would have made the summit.
||4WD Trailhead - Lower South Colony Lake
||Lower South Colony Lake - Humboldt Peak
||Humboldt Peak - Lower South Colony Lake
||Lower South Colony Lake - 4WD Trailhead
||Cumulative Elevation Gain/Grade/Miles
here to view a 2D
map of the area where this hike is located.
- A look back at Lower South Colony Lake as we
hiked up to the pass between Humboldt and Point 13799.
- This was actually one of the more clear looks we had at the west
ridge of Humboldt Peak above us. Visibility was generally
- A photo of the false summit to the west of
Humboldt's actual highpoint.
- Jim looked like an apparition making his way
through the wind and cloud cover.
- We found some much needed protection from the wind in the rock shelter
on the summit as I took quickly took Jim's summit
photo before my camera died.
- Coming back down, I caught this glimpse of Broken
Hand Pass across the valley. I also thought the color variance
of the upper and lower lake was was interesting. You can see the
upper lake was aqua green while the lower was brown.
- We were fortunate to see the Crestone Needle
expose itself briefly later in the day.
- Although the clouds lifted, the wind remained strong throughout the
day. Here is Humboldt Peak as we
approached the 4WD trailhead upon our return.