I’ve been wanting to visit the Sangre de Cristo’s, especially the Crestones, for some time. I hadn’t yet climbed any of those 14ers though I had been through the area a few times and marveled at their beauty. I also read recently that they are thinking about closing or adding a fee to the South Colony Lakes road this year. The South Colony Lakes Trailhead is a point of departure for heading up to climb Crestone, Crestone Needle, Mount Humboldt, and even possibly Kit Carson and or Challenger Point. The Ranger station reported that there was “still a lot of snow up there’ and that snow would block the way after “just a mile or so”. I had also read a trip report from someone who climbed Humboldt the weekend before who said they had been able to drive to ‘1 mile short of the rainbow trail’. So, had more snow accumulated over the last week. I kinda doubted it.
My friend Jay was down for the trip, so we drove down on Tuesday and went as far as we could go toward South Colony Lake. Right were the snow blocked the road we saw signage for the Rainbow trail and some parking so we set the jeep there. After loading up some siege packs with a few days worth of gear for just about any kind of route we headed out on what we thought was the rainbow trail right as it started dumping snow. We heard some of the oddest sounds coming from the surrounding Aspen trees, the wind on old trees was making sounds like voices, and or music. It was truly surreal.
After about 45 minutes Jay looked at his GPS and announced we were in fact going the wrong way. Somehow we missed the sign in the snow and dark that pointed out that this was the Middle Colony Lakes Trail. We could not tell if we would even be able to hook it up Humboldt from there so we decided to head back and get on the right trail. On the way back Jay got nailed by a tree limb in the snow and dark that knocked him down and left a mark on his forehead that looked like he got hit with an ice-pick. Not only that but when he went down he landed on his ribs by his lower back. He shrugged all this off and we kept going. We took a break back in the jeep and laughed at our inauspicious start. So after our 2.5 mile warm-up we got on the right trail and headed up toward the South Colony Lakes.
The snow let up a little which made the going a little easier. We made camp a mile or so short of the lower lake in the woods on the snow, made some hot food and called it for the night. As often the case we got up about 5am without an alarm. Which peak to bag and what route? We decided for a longer but lighter (no ropes & pro, crampons, or ice axe) route up Humboldt via its west ridge with the idea that if we wanted to add a Crestone climb after we still had that option.
The route went up past the Lakes where we paused to pay our respects to where David Worthington aka TalusMonkey lost his life in 2009 after a valiant search and rescue attempt following his glissade accident coming down Humboldt.
As some weather started to dramatically move in, we decided against going directly up the couloir and instead angled for the saddle between Humbolt and the Needle to take the west ridge to the top of Humboldt. The views across to the Crestones and the San Luis Valley beyond on the way up are beyond description. As we approached the saddle we noticed another climber moving among the snow, rock and ice.
It was a Mountain Goat who was also making its way, from the other direction, over the saddle. After it passed we saw some of its tracks coming up from the other steeper side.
On the west ridge the wind was howling and weather was coming in pretty fast. We pushed hard for the summit while awestruck with the views. Looking past the sunlit summit back East the plains below were still in full sun but a dark band of bad weather was bending down, lower than we were. We had to yell at each other just to be heard. We hung out on top long enough to take it all in and snap a few more photos. There is a rock wind screen shelter on the summit which affords some protection from the wind.
We knew it was a much more direct route back to camp down the south facing snow slopes, but we knew the Eastern side of those terminated in some cliff bands. Respecting that danger we angled back West as we decended the South slopes until we got on some 30 – 40 degree snow fields that reached all the way down to the South Colony Lakes. We glissaded carefully and avoided launching ourselves off or into some of the smaller rock bands we still encountered on our way down. Had to creep across under a smallish cornice, there were signs of older avvys but the snow was super solid and stable at that time.
Looking back up the glissade route down, amazing we covered a couple miles of slope in about 15 minutes. In no time we were back at camp. We decided to hang at camp leaving open an option to go up the Crestone if we wanted super early the next morning knowing we had to be back to Boulder the next afternoon. As it worked out we didn’t feel we had enough time to bag Crestone and hike all the way out in time, but we were still rewarded with more awesome views as we made our way home the next morning. Overall an awesome visit, I can’t wait to go back.