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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Humboldt Peak (2nd attempt)

I decided after my previous failed attempt at Humboldt due to insane trail breaking in deep snow, that I would try it again only 5 days later. The forecast the day before was a high in the 30s with a 15mph wind. The forecast changes quickly in Colorado. While I was leaving the house, I saw a "high wind watch" for this entire mountain range pop up.


Yet, I had already committed to go on this hike, and I had even agreed to pick someone else up along the way so he could climb a peak close to Humboldt. So, off to the Sangre De Cristos I go, hoping that the forecast was wrong. It wasn't.
I slept in the truck in the familiar spot at the winter road closure on S. Colony Rd. Woke to my alarm at 4am. I had breakfast, geared up, and hit the trail at 4:45am. The wind was already going pretty good, but I hiked on, hoping it would subside. It did the exact opposite. The higher I went in elevation, the worst it got, but I was determined.

I hiked the 3.1 miles of snow covered 4-wheel drive trail and .5 miles of the Rainbow trail all before sunrise. I captured the sunrise as I gained the east ridge.

I continued up through the trees with the wind howling around blowing snow in all directions.

As I hiked up, I watched as the wind took mere seconds to wipe away the imprints of my boots or snowshoes. This would mean that route finding on the way back would be difficult. The wind was easily sustained at 40 - 50 mph with gusts that would nearly knock me off my feet. With each gust I would plant both trekking poles into the ground and just hold on. The wind never quit either, it was absolutely relentless.

This video really does not do it much justice, but it'll give you an idea.

As for me, I wasn't terribly tired, and I was warm. I was geared up to the max. As I rose above the treeline, my goggles started to build a lot of condensation, and the snow was blowing so madly my visibility was limited to maybe 15 feet. It was at this point that I looked again behind me and couldn't tell where I had come from.

I briefly thought of how much of a pain in the ass it was going to be to find my way off this mountain. This led me to think, "The summit will always be there, I can always come back, preferably at a time where I am not risking my life as much.". This was when I decided to turn around. Upon turning around, I could not find anything that even looked like a snowshoe trench, or the even the remnants of one. So I just plowed east and down in elevation until I got back into manageable 40 mph winds.

It was at this point, standing in thigh high snow, I realized I was a bit lost.

I did not panic, even though part of me wanted to. I calmly broke out the Topo map and iPhone to try and figure out where I was and which direction I needed to go. I knew too far south and I would be in really steep terrain leading to South Colony road, and too far North and I would be off the ridge into the wrong valley. As I am studying the map, a gust of wind decides to rip the map from my hand and send it flying into some thick trees.

Knowing I was totally screwed without this map I basically ran down through thigh high snow in snow shoes chasing it. It got hung up on a tree stump long enough for me to stab it with my trekking pole and retrieve it.

Whew! That was close! The thought of spending a night in this bull shit weather crossed my mind when that map went flying and I was NOT prepared for a night out in this shit.

I figured that I needed to head southeast from my location and I would eventually meet up with the snow trench.
I trudged along for close to a mile before I finally made it back to the trail. I proceeded down the ridge, down the rainbow trail, and down S. Colony Road where my tracks from the morning were already long gone, replaced by knee high snow drifts and odd wind-shaped snow formations.

Back at the truck, I thought to myself how much I hate Humboldt Peak since I have now been turned back twice. However, I refuse to give up on it. I will be back, but it might be summer before I return.

1 comment:

  1. My son, the nut-case! Awesome pictures and awesome blog!