Peak(s):  Humboldt Peak  -  14,068 feet
Date Posted:  01/12/2014
Modified:  01/13/2014
Date Climbed:   01/11/2014
Author:  michaelgrundy
Additional Members:   rohit
 Humboldt's Big Blow   

Mountain : Humboldt Peak
Route : East Ridge
Date : 1-11-2014
Mileage : 13 miles round trip

Times : Start from lower TH - 2:27 am
Rainbow Trail - 3:35 am
Summit - 11:00 am
Rainbow Trail - 2:19 pm
Lower TH - 3:00 PM

Party : michaelgrundy, rohit

The forecast for Saturday was supposed to be perfect for an assault on Humboldt. After checking for a week, no new snow was happening, winds dying down, temps were moderate, and the sun would be shining. The hike was on!

Rohit and I left Denver around 4 pm on Friday and made the drive to the trailhead. We got dinner along the way, and with full bellies we pulled in to the lower trailhead on the South Colony Lakes road around 7:40 pm and started setting up the back of the Pilot. The game plan: get as much sleep as possible and wake up at 1:30 am for as early as a start time as possible. We got prepped for bed, laid down, and started to doze off to sleep. That is when the wind started. At first, it was a light breeze -barely noticeable. But that didn't last for long. Within a couple of minutes, the winds were strong enough to shake the Pilot and play games with the clam shell lid. The winds roared during the entire time we were trying to sleep, so needless to say, we didn't get much sleep.

1:30 am comes early when you are trying to get some sleep before a hike; and that morning was no different. Groggily, we went through the motions of getting ready and we started the hike up the road close to 2:30 in the morning. In our packs: microspikes, snowboards, snowshoes, ice axe - we were ready to roll.

Me at the start

All geared up

The walk up the road went smoothly. We used microspikes to make sure we didn't slip but for the most part, it was mellow because the road had been traveled by snowmobiles since the last snow storm and left the snow packed and easy to walk on.

Starting up the road

In a little over an hour, we had covered the 2.5 miles to the rainbow trail crossing. Up until this point, we had been carrying our snowboards. Our plan was to carry them up the road, do the hike, and then pick up the snowboards and ride them down the road back to the car. We deposited them next to a fallen tree a little ways off the road, donned our snowshoes, and started our hike northwest.

The rainbow trail was easy to follow. We knew our first goal was to cross the stream below us. Within a few minutes, we were looking at a "detour" sign. Apparently, the bridge is not there. Luckily, we were directed to an area that crossed the stream. There were no outward appearances of an actual bridge, due to the snow cover, so we were careful crossing what could have been just a log. We continued hiking north along the trail for the .2 miles as listed on the route description, and after about 10 minutes we made our turn up the hill side.

The ridge was easy to follow, especially since I was able to find several cairns marking the way. They were a little unnecessary since all you have to do is stay on top of the ridge, but confirmation is nice along the way. Before too long, we were looking up at the steeper portion of the lower ridge which was completely snow covered, and trying to decide the best way to tackle it.

Sunrise on the ridge

Unfortunately, the snow was completely sugar. From the top of the snowpack, all the way to the ground, it was sugar. I don't know if you have ever tried to walk up a steep hill in sugar snow, with snowshoes, but it SUCKS! After trying several methods, we figured out the one that worked the best (zig zagging), and plowed through as best as we could. It only took us 2 hours to climb the steep hill (insert sarcastic tone here).

Once we reach the portion of the ridge that became less steep, we continued on a westerly course and eventually climbed our way to tree line. We found a nice tree with a unique twist and branch combo and deposited our snowshoes there. We ate a bit of food, rehydrated, and set out to climb up the ridge to the false summit. This is where hell began.

Up until this point, we had been sheltered by the trees from the wind. Well, above tree line, YOU are the wind barrier. To make matters worse, the direction of the wind was straight in your face. There is nothing like walking uphill IN TO the wind. I didn't have an anemometer, but if I had to guess, the winds were easily eclipsing 50 mph. At this point, communication between Rohit and I was impossible. We couldn't hear each other even if we yelled.

We made our way slowly up the ridge, stopping to avoid being blown off the mountain or wasting energy trying to move (it was easier to hunker down until the gust stopped). By 10 am the false summit was reached. For whatever reason, this is where the winds were the worst. There were no gusts, no reprieve, just solid W I N D. I lowered my head and pushed across the saddle to the next ridge.

Looking at humboldt


The ridge was easy to follow and didn't have much snow at all. The worst part was trying to avoid the funnels of wind coming from the bowl to the north. There were even a few places that I had to wait until the wind stopped and then sprint across the gap! At 11 am, the summit was attained!

Me on the summit!

Kit Carson and Challenger Point

Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle

Looking north from the summit

After only 5 minutes or so, hunkered down in a small shelter (which was needed to avoid being blown off the mountain), it was time to head back down the ridge. The winds were now behind me, which made me a little nervous since walking down the rocks, being blown by the wind, isn't the most stable of travel methods.

View south along the ridge

Closer view of the ridge

Returning to the false summit very deliberately and then to tree line took shorter than anticipated, arriving at the 'snowshoe' tree by 12:20 pm.

After another chance to refuel, we were putting our snowshoes on and making our way back down the trail that we had broken earlier.

View down through the trees

Me snowshoeing

I must admit, walking in a trench already made is a much easier mode of travel! In about 2 hours, we were standing on the South Colony Lakes Road and strapping on our snowboard. Time to get down this road!

Me on the snowboard

Rohit on the snowboard

Snowboarding down the road was much more pleasant than walking, not to mention easier on the knees! The only part that was truly awful was the last half mile to the car. The road was complete ice and the wind was pushing us down the hill! Needless to say, stopping was a bit of an issue. After a fall, I decided to just walk the last 100 yards to the car!

The winds of furry didn't stop there. Just a simple task of changing clothes became a huge chore! After we were in clothes worthy to make the 3.5 hour drive to Denver, we still had to put away the snowboards into the clam shell topper. This, with all the wind, was a 2 person job but could have been a lot easier with a third. Finally, after all the gear was put away, we were in the car and out of the wind!

This mountain was definitely hard! Between the sugar snow and the wind blowing non-stop, I had become extremely tired by the end. I can honestly say that I have never been in wind that strong for such a long time, even living for a year in Cheyenne! It was a great experience and I am glad to have done that mountain in January! It definitely gave me a hike to remember!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Way to go!!!
01/13/2014 00:40
Nice work fellas!!

01/13/2014 01:32
We were the group of two you passed below the false summit - thanks for breaking trail! You're right about the sugary snow.

Mountain Ninja
Good job pushing through that wind!
01/13/2014 01:46
And welcome to hiking 14ers in winter

Was planning on
01/13/2014 15:39
doing Crestone Needle on this exact day and decided against it because of the wind. I was very sad about my decision until I read this TR and got to the part ”this is where the hell began....”

Serious kudos to you for toughing out that wind. Fun TR and congrats on this winter ascent.

Nice job
01/13/2014 18:07
The winter winds on Humboldt are bad even in a good forecast, way to tough it out.

01/13/2014 23:42
Nicely done.

Lady McClimbsalot
01/19/2014 10:30
Looks like a blast. Way to tough it out!!! I can't wait until I ride down my first mountain! Great TR

01/20/2014 02:03
Nice job guys!

Great trip report.
01/27/2014 00:47
Good job. Very tough conditions. I am thinking about doing that climb in early Feb. Do you think a guy with backcountry skis and skins could get up to where you stashed your snowshoes? I assume after that point, there wasn't enough snow? Thanks.

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