Tuesday, June 30, 2015

HHH- Humboldt,Humboldt & Horn: Sangre De Cristos: 6/20-26


Tomcat headed up, just above tree line on Humboldt Peak's East Ridge, 6/23/15
I remember reading in Lou Dawson's 14er guide that it's best to take an attitude of exploration rather than list-checking in Colorado's mountains. I think that's a sensible and appealing idea, and I've tried to let it guide me. Over a few days last week I did some exploring in my new neighborhood, the Sangre De Cristo range.

Scoping Out the Mountain

Last winter my friend Tomcat got me interested in the less-used East Ridge of Humboldt Peak as both a winter route and an escape from the long 4x4 road walk into South Colony Lakes by the standard West Ridge. Living in Salida, though, the Sawatch Range still had most of my attention through the snowy months and the Humboldt idea kept getting pushed back. When we moved to the Sangre De Cristo area in May, scouting  the off-trail track to treeline on the East ridge from the Rainbow trail was high on my list.  On June 1st I went up there and found it partially cairned & flagged from the Rainbow Trail up a narrow wooded ridge to the shoulder of the mountain. I hadn't expected to find much of anything, so on the hike out it felt really encouraging to have seen an actual "route" up there. Then, to  get a bigger picture of the whole mountain, on the 13th I walked into S. Colony Lakes on the rough 4x4 road. It was amazing just to see the legendary Needle up so close. Now that I'd seen both sides of Humboldt Peak, traversing from East Ridge to West was starting to seem like a really good idea, especially as a way to get out of the alpine faster if lightning threatened. I got in touch with Tomcat, and we made plans to go up the East Ridge early on Tues. June 23rd.

Previewing from the Summit

 I decided to go up & down the standard route before our traverse.  The now familiar 5-mile commute to the Lakes  went by quickly when I headed to the top that way on Sat. June  20th.
Crestone Needle and some lower snowfields
I left the lower parking at about 8,800' at 6:54 a.m. before the sun got too high. It would be in the mid-90's when I came back here in the afternoon. Once on the actual trail above 11,000' there was still intermittent snow, even in the woods, and LOTS of water flowing in the footway from rampant snowmelt. As the Crestone Needle came in view there were a few snowfields to cross before the grassy switchbacks to the saddle. The up close views of the Crestones  were stunning. 

Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle, Upper S. Colony Lake still frozen. Two days later we found it totally thawed.

It was a hot and almost windless day, and I  streamlined up with just a belt pack, shirtless, and a ball cap. About a dozen people were on the route, scoring a perfect day in the alpine. First time on this summit for me, in crazy mild conditions.

Grassy going reaching the saddle

Rocky Class 2 up the ridge

Last stretch to the summit, 14,064'

This marmot walked right over the cliff when I approached

Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak from Humboldt

Folks coming off the superb summit of Humboldt Peak
Made the summit at 11:12 a.m. in unbeatable weather, 4:18 for the 8 miles and about 5,300' vertical. I chatted with a guy named Dan who had finished all the 14ers a couple years back, and tried to I.D. the splash of summits all around. Spent about 25 minutes up there, then started down- Dan had offered me a ride down from the upper 4WD parking, which meant missing 2.5 miles of road walking!

The Crestones and Kit Carson, with Bear's Playground (R).

Needle & Peak

Kit Carson behind Humboldt Peak summit

Mt. Adams- High, Hard, & Handsome (HHH)

Looking down the East Ridge, Tuesday's project

 S. Colony Lakes & Broken Hand Pass from the switchbacks

Back to treeline
 The parking lot was almost in sight when Dan & Co. came running by me- whippersnappers- , but no worries, I was right behind them! About 7 hours hiking roundtrip, and 20 minutes more in the back of a pickup!





The Main Event- Humboldt Peak Traverse

Glorious Alpine Meadows just above treeline on the East Ridge

We started up the now way-too-familiar S.Colony Lakes road at 5:45 a.m. Tues 6/23,in time to reach the trees just as the sun rose. About 45 minutes in we turned right on the Rainbow, down over a very appreciated bridge (creek crossings have been torrential this year) and around the corner to the couple of minimal cairns that mark the start of the "bushwhack". You just wander uphill for about 50 yards and a semi- distinct trail on a sharp wooded ridge emerges, sometimes really good, until  ending on the larger shoulder. From here there are a bunch of game trails that lead left and level, way too soon. We resisted temptation and headed uphill through  open woods, before long reaching the open meadows on the shoulder of the mountain.
Much more rugged terrain south toward Milwaukee Peak

We were pretty set on an up-and-over trek, but if we'd planned to return this way I would've done some flagging and retrieved it on my way out. The ridge is broader coming down, and it could help to find the most direct route back to the Rainbow Trail.
Very walkable ridge
Slightly rougher but ideal ridge hiking

Really classic, must be outrageous in Winter!
Looking down into North Colony Lakes

Upper East Ridge

View down the East Ridge
On the upper cone there was more scrambling to the summit, not hard, just fun. 

Tomcat had been chillin' on top for almost half an hour
Blanca group to the South

Kit Carson and peaks North-NW
The willows and Ellingwood arĂȘte, back in the basin

At around 9:35 I climbed onto the top, about 3:52 up, with Tomcat having been there since about 10 after. Temps were a good 10 degrees cooler than the other day, with a 10-15 mph wind, but still pretty nice 14er weather. We didn't hang out too long,  headed down and took a break a while later just below the saddle. I was felling slightly rough, but a handful of gorp and some Coca-Cola and I was good to go. An amazing amount of snow had melted in the two days since I was in the basin, and we flew over the lush willow lined trail, down the too-damn-familiar road, probably 15 miles and 5,300' vertical in 7 hours 28 minutes altogether to wrap up this chapter of a little project that started as an idea a few months back.....  


Horn Peak (13,450')

Horn Peak (13,450') from our cabin

After hiking so much on and around Humboldt, it was pure fun to hike Horn Peak, a local 13er we can see from our house. There's good trail access to timberline, and the wildflowers in early summer were outstanding.
Mountain Golden Banner on the Horn Peak trail

Crestone Needle peeking out
Moss campion
The false summit and the real thing


A family from Montana on the false summit

Out of the trees it was just a grassy slope to the false summit, about 12,700', where a family was taking in some Rocky Mountain High.
The Needle

The Upper Reaches of Horn 
I was having some fun with myself on the climb, comparing this mountain to one called "The Horn" that I'd climbed in Maine.

They're both mountains, just a 9,300' elevation difference.

Little scraps of "trail" here & there
I was totally digging Horn Peak. A nice little 13er, only 4.25 miles to the top, nice open ridge, half hour drive to the trailhead...
Down ridge to the false summit

Ummm. Alpine Community?

The ridge from Horn to Fluted Peak, Mt. Adams & Kit Carson on left
Horn has a compact summit that reminded me a little of Mt. Princeton. The ridge continued over to Fluted Peak and beyond, but it could wait. I was definitely coming back.
Down range to Humboldt & the Crestones, sure looks familiar.
Didn't start 'til 9 a.m., shortly after noon it started building
Neat perspective on 14er Kit Carson Mountain

Crestone Needle and Peak stand out as usual

Had the top to myself- the family turned back- for about a half hour
Like I told Tomcat, who climbed Mt. Adams via Horn & Fluted Peaks, Adams looks like the Matterhorn from here. 
The Wet Mountain Valley
Last look around the summit
Fairy Primrose

Pasque Flower, closed up!
A nice, relaxed, 5hr.55 min. roundtrip, lots of wildflowers, solitude, and inspiration for more hikes up this way, wow, it was a great Friday on the mountain. When I got home, before I could wonder what to climb next, my friend Bill got in touch saying he was climbing Mt. Shavano on Sunday, did I want to join in?