Humboldt Peak
excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
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    Distance: 7.4 miles (round trip)

    Walking time:  5 3/4 hours

    : 2,870 ft. gain/loss
       South Colony Lakes Trailhead (start): 11,200 ft.
       Upper South Colony Lake: 12,030 ft
       Humboldt Peak: 14,064 ft.

    Trail: Generally good except for some minor scrambling near the top.

    Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The road to the trailhead is usually impassable from mid-November until early July.

    Vicinity: Near Westcliffe

    Humboldt PeakHumboldt Peak


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    Humboldt, on its own, is not a particularly notable peak. It is a relatively easy climb with no challenging obstacles and only one well traveled route. It is, however, located in a spectacular part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and therein lies its attraction. The hike to the top of Humboldt Peak passes some of the most notable mountain scenery in Colorado, including the South Colony Lakes, Crestone Peak, and the Crestone Needle. The 5-mile jeep road to the trailhead is a daunting obstacle that must be surmounted before even beginning the hike, but a surprising number of people each year are willing to endure the grueling drive to reach the incredible basin that surrounds the South Colony Lakes. Probably more than half of the visitors are serious mountaineers that come for the express purpose of climbing one or both of the Crestones. But many also climb Humboldt just for the opportunity to study their primary goal from above. And, after all, Humboldt Peak is one of Colorado’s fabled fourteeners. It is Colorado’s thirty-eighth highest peak, only 133 feet lower than the Crestone Needle.

    A crude jeep road continues beyond the locked gate toward the South Colony Lakes for a distance of 0.4 mile before turning into a foot path. From there the trail turns north as it meanders along the slope with very little elevation gain toward the lower lake. Humboldt Peak rises directly in front of you along this section of trail. It seems so close it hardly looks like a 14,000-foot peak at all, and, indeed, it is one of the easier fourteeners in Colorado. The assent route is clearly visible from this perspective; you will be climbing eastward along the ridge that rises up the left side of the summit.

    0.7 miles after leaving the jeep road the trail breaks out of the trees below one of the most magnificent mountain views in the state: the Crestone Needle. At this point the Needle is only 0.8 mile away, yet it rises over 2,500 feet above the trail to an elevation of 14,197 feet. As you approach the Lower South Colony Lake you will see a vague trail departing on the left near a sign that says "Crestone Needle, Standard Route". The easiest way to climb the Needle is to follow this trail west, across Broken Hand Pass to the southwest side of the mountain. There climbers can find a non-technical class-3 route to the summit of the Needle.

    Just beyond the Crestone Needle Trail the path crosses South Colony Creek and emerges on the eastern shore of the Lower South Colony Lake. As you leave the lower lake you will pass an unsigned junction where another trail departs to the east. That trail eventually ends back at the South Colony Jeep Road about 0.4 mile below the trailhead. If you left a vehicle at the end of the road you should take care not to get sidetracked onto that trail on the return portion of the hike.

    The trail to the upper lake continues its gradual climb away from the lower lake, soon crossing timberline and entering the alpine tundra that fills the upper basin. All heads will be turned to the west as you proceed, toward the breathtaking view of Crestone Peak and the Crestone Needle from the upper lake. A climbing route that is considered to be one of the finest technical climbs in Colorado begins at Upper South Colony Lake and proceeds directly up the northeast ridge, or aręte, of the Crestone Needle. This route, rated 5.7 in difficulty, was first accomplished in 1925 by Albert Ellingwood, and it is now called the Ellingwood Aręte Route. The entire route can clearly be seen from Upper South Colony Lake, and one cannot help but admire those who have climbed the mountain along this highly exposed ridge.

    After leaving the upper lake the trail begins switchbacking northward to the top of Humboldt Peak’s west ridge, finally topping out after an elevation gain of 830 feet. Once on the crest of the ridge the path turns east to follow it for the last 0.8 mile to the summit. The first half of the ridge trail is easy, gaining about 900 feet over 0.5 mile. But as you approach the peak you will be challenged by a field of sharp-edged thousand-pound boulders that you must pick your way through. Take care not to break a leg while boulder-hopping up this part of the climb. There is no easy way up the boulder field, but the terrain is slightly gentler on the south side of the ridge, so try to keep on that side as you climb. Unfortunately, this section of the trail is not well defined, and there are many misplaced cairns that try to lure you to the north side of the ridge. Follow only the larger monuments of stone, ignoring some of the smaller cairns, and, arduous though it is, you will be following the least difficult course.

    Finally, after an elevation gain of 2,034 feet from Upper South Colony Lake the route breaks out onto the west side of the summit, and from there it is a simple walk over the last 200 yards to the mountain’s highest point. From there you will be treated to glorious views in nearly every direction. The North Colony Lakes are below you to the north, shadowed by Colony Baldy, a high thirteener on the north side of North Colony Creek. Kit Carson Peak (14,165 ft.) lies 2.7 miles west, just to the right of Crestone Peak. And, of course, the South Colony Lakes are in full view to the south.


    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of Humboldt Peak
    we recommend:
    Sangre de Cristo Mountains  (Trails Illustrated, map #138)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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