Friday, September 27, 2013

Sangre de Cristo Trip: Humboldt Peak

I was really excited to spend a night or two out at South Colony Lakes. From the pictures I had seen, it looked like an amazing place with a beautiful view of one of the most picturesque peaks in Colorado - Crestone Needle. It was going to be nice to just spend some time away from the roads and just relax in the wilderness.

We left early this morning, around 4AM. It was going to be a long walk up to the lakes and we would be carrying our big backpacks with all our camping gear. Little did I know, my partners were planning on taking everything but the kitchen sink for this short, 2 night backpacking trip. Their packs weighed over 50 lbs, and I was carrying less than 25lbs, still falling into the "heavyweight" category according to ultralight hikers. The hike up south colony road was painfully slow. Eventually, we got to the old trailhead where a small trail cuts north to the lakes and the sun was starting to rise. We hiked through the woods as the trees started to thin and finally got our first good view of Crestone Needle.

Soon we arrived at the lower south colony lake and looked around for a campsite. Being Labor Day, many of the camping spots were full, but we were able to find a good one sheltered by short pine trees, close to the creek where we could collect water. We didn't eat a proper breakfast that morning so we set up our tents and spent some time cooking oatmeal. Enough lollygagging around, we decided to head on up Humboldt before any storms came in.

The classic Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle

The climb up Humboldt was much harder than I expected, mostly because I've started a bad habit of not paying attention to route descriptions for "easy" hikes. The hike starts out with a bunch of switchbacks up to the saddle below Humboldt. I was expecting this to be the only hard part and the rest to be really easy. But it was actually the other way around. From the saddle to the top, it was a bunch of tiring boulder hopping up a steep slope.

Slowly but surely we made progress. I could tell that Richard was starting to acclimatize. He still said that he felt very tired, but he was climbing noticeably faster than yesterday. The hike itself wasn't anything to write home about, but the views certainly were with the Crestones in full view.

We made it to the summit and as usual, we only spent about 15 minutes there and made our way down to avoid storms. We saw a young couple taking two corgi dogs up the mountain and it looked like a horrible idea with all the boulder hopping. It wasn't long until we looked back and saw that they gave up because of the dogs' slow pace and headed back down. We made it back to our campsite and began our day of lounging around.

While we were lounging at camp an older man told us that his water filter was clogged asked if he could borrow ours. So I went down to the creek with him to help him fill up. I got down to the creek and realized that I forgot the bladder for my filter, so I left the filter with the man and jogged back to camp to get the bladder. At this point, it was starting to rain and by the time I got back to camp, it started to pour. I had no interest in going out in the rain to get my filter back, figuring the man would return it. So I just hunkered under a pine tree to wait out the storm. Tony found a tree nearby to stand under and Richard went into his tent. We figured the storm wouldn't last too long, but it wasn't stopping. The older man, soaking wet, came up to our camp to return my filter. I had some dirty water in my bladder, so we sat under the trees and chatted for a few minutes while the water filtered into his Nalgenes. He thanked us and ran over to his site just 100 feet from ours.

The storm didn't get any better. It started hailing and the lightning was getting closer. We were staying relatively dry under the trees, but the hail was able to get through the branches and there was really no place we could stand without getting pelted. We started to notice that a stream was starting to form and it was flowing under our tents. Tony and I tried to dig some quick trenches to get the water to go around the tent, but the hail just got worse and we gave up, just praying that the tent stayed waterproof and didn't let our down bags get soaked. We felt horrible for choosing such bad places for the tents. My dad had always taught me to not set up a tent where water would flow, but over the years I had grown lax and just chose the nice flat spot.

The storm had been going for 30 minutes at this point, with 15 minutes of rain and 15 minutes of hail, and I was starting to shiver. I was wearing a rain jacket with a t-shirt and hiking pants. There were no signs that it was going to stop anytime soon, so I opened up my pack to get my puffy jacket, hat, and gloves and I put them on under my rain jacket. This helped a lot, but I was still cold. The hail was piling up and Tony and I decided we would try to get into the tent to stay warm. When we opened to tent and Tony jumped in, it was floating on 2 inches of water and it just didn't seem like it would be very helpful for us to sit in there. So we continued waiting under the trees. The hail finally stopped after coming down for 30 minutes. The rain continued coming down, but seemed to be relenting a bit. At this point all 3 of us were cold and most of our gear was wet. The hail had piled up to about 3 inches. If we stayed there for the night, we would be cold and wet and none of us really felt like having a miserable night, so we decided to head back to the Jeep, which would take 3 hours. We packed up all our heavy soaked gear and headed out. It was a long, tiring walk, but we made it just as it was getting dark. We threw in the towel for the day and decided to stay in a hotel where we enjoyed a nice shower.

I was really disappointed and upset with myself for not choosing a better camping spot. It we had chosen a higher spot to put our tents, we probably could have comfortably stayed the night and had a chance to attempt the Crestones the next day. That night at the hotel we were talking about what we wanted to do for the rest of the week. It seemed that our plans for the week were toast. We were a bit turned off from backpacking and unfortunately the other hikes we had planned would include at least one night of backpacking. We almost decided to leave the Sangres and do some day hikes in the other ranges, but that would have been really disappointing to have driven all the way down there only to hike 2 14ers. So we decided to just spend a day drying out and drive to the other side of the range and then attempt to do two really long day hikes up Kit Carson/Challenger and up Crestone peak from the west side.

The two lakes in the hail piles where our tents were

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