Sunday, July 10, 2011

More Running in the Sangres: Humboldt Peak

Humboldt Peak (14064')
Standard Route from lower 2WD TH
18M RT, 1M elevation gain
~5:10 moving, 5:45 total

I wanted to maximize my time with a quick weekend in the Sangre de Cristo Range, so I checked out Humboldt Peak. Among 14ers, Humboldt is deserving of its reputation of being comparatively easy, especially among the Sangres, when approached from the Class 2 walkup standard route from Colony Lakes. However, this "shapeless hump", as Roach calls it, also provides a great vantage point for viewing the Crestones, shown here in morning alpenglow:

The Colony Lakes area below is a common approach to Humboldt and surrounding peaks, and is therefore a popular backpacking spot. In the last couple years, several miles of very rough road have been gated off, to the dismay of the drive-slower-than-I-could-walk-or-bike crowd. The lower part of the road is still open and more manageable when going slowly, but in order to make this route interesting, I started at the very bottom trailhead. I am (still) not collecting 14ers, but this sounded like a good addition to a decent run.

I set up camp Saturday afternoon at the trailhead, where a few cars were parked and another showed up shortly after, with Sal(?) and his son Mario and dog Jake. We chatted a bit that night and the next day, it turns out 8-year-old Mario is into climbing the 14ers and has done quite a few already, eager to do more. The best part was when he said to his Dad, "Well I think I'm going to start getting ready for bed so we can get up early tomorrow!" It was cool to see his enthusiasm. They were setting up a camper and planning on driving up to the upper TH in the morning.

My 'camp' was sleeping in the back of our Civic -- did I mention we bought that for gas mileage (~40mpg for my Denver commutes) and that part of my test drive was folding the seats down to see if I could fit? Anyway, I do and it works nicely.

I wanted to get up around 3 for an attempted sunrise hike, but awoke to some light rain. I thought about it some more and then heard thunder, which settled it for me. I waited a bit, and by 4:30 the rain and thunder had both passed. That also meant more sleep and less time jogging at night during prime mountain lion time. So by 5AM, I was off, and only needed the headlamp for less than half an hour.

The road was a nice start to the run because it's easy and straightforward even at night. I had thought that I might be passed by cars heading up on the road, but instead my run was blissfully quiet and calm. Eventually I hit Colony Lakes, where I saw 2 people heading down from dawn patrol. Seeing them bundled up, I then remembered that sunrise hikes are always more romanticized than reality: usually the wind picks up right as the sun is rising, and none of the peak is yet exposed to the warmth of the sun, so you might be sacrificing 10-20 degrees of temperature right there.

After the road ends, the trail narrows and undulates before finally reaching switchbacks at timberline. Were the switchbacks runnable? This guy says yes:

Unfortunately, I tired out a bit and hiked most of this, so I wasn't making any blazingly fast progress. Mostly, the incessant wind made it even harder to breathe. But I caught up and passed the only other 2 guys above treeline. Rather than being busy with peak-baggers as I feared, the early morning was serene and I only saw 4 hikers on the way up. Finally, the views (and wind!) opened up at the top of the ridge, which is all Class 2. Some faint trails and cairns wind here-and-there, but awkward steps, wobbly talus, and directional changes mean that the running is over up here, and it was also time to put on pants (legs), wool hat, and wind shell. Most of the work, then, is up to a false summit, and then a quick bolt up the ridge itself to the summit.

I enjoyed the complete break from the wind and thawed my hands in the sun, with the summit to myself for about 15 minutes, before heading down. On the switchbacks, I saw the trio from the night before, and Mario was still in good spirits, ready to get up top.

After that came more folks in bunches, but still not the huge crowds that I feared.
agoracrophobia (noun): An irrational fear of crowds in high places. Also see: a psychiatrist! (rimshot)

Finally, a long but enjoyable descent on South Colony Road. I took it easy until the last 3 miles below the upper trailhead, and then had fun opening it up a bit. The cursed, rocky road -- no fun for walking or driving -- can be fun for running, with the right attitude.

All in all, another fun route for running, plus an easy scramble up top. I'm just feeling like exploring now when I can on the weekends, which is what summer is best for, I guess. I feel like I'm going pretty slowly, which is the bad news, but I feel like I can keep going slowly all day and night, which is hopefully good news.


  1. Mike - Been thinking about this since you wrote it. I've run all the nearby 14ers so I'll be heading down to the Sangres for the next item on my peak-bagging/conquest/domination/smackdown/bitchslap checklist (joking of course).

    Don't suppose you have any tips regarding car camping? Never done it. As in: don't forget the...

  2. That time, and a few others with J, we just ended up sleeping in the car at the TH. It gives a good place to start, and since there are a few other cars around, the camping isn't that remote (at least for Humboldt, the lower lot is kind of an open field).

    Don't forget the "coffee" is what I'd suggest! I'll see if I think of anything else, but generally just bring more junk than necessary to leave in the car.

  3. Also, too bad we're out of sync, as I'm going to want to head to IPW soon! But in the Sangres, I'd strongly suggest further exploration besides just Colony Lakes. Comanche-Venable was a great loop, and Horn Peak (9 mi RT) supposedly has a decent trail the whole way. Some of the Peaks up there are too gnarly to run, but the upper lakes and mt. passes would be worth a visit. If you look at a map, the Rainbow Trail runs along a line parallel to the Sangres (and is in great condition, although below treeline), making other connecting loops possible, possibly including some passes. More exploration needed!

  4. Mike - Thanks. Yes, coffee is an essential ;) Though camping is an uncharted gear area for me, so prep will be... interesting.

    I'll check those various trails. So many options.