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Trail Report: Humboldt Peak, Colorado


 Basic Information

  • Name: Humboldt Peak
  • Where: Westcliffe, Colorado
  • Max Elevation: 14,064 feet
  • Distance: 16.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,380 feet
  • Time: 8-11 hours round-trip
  • Difficulty: EasyModerateHardDifficult
  • More Information: US Forest Service website

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Topographic Map of the Trail

Humboldt Peak Topo Map

Elevation Map of the Trail

Humboldt Peak Elevation Map

Narrative

Over the Labor Day weekend I decided to climb one more 14er this year to put my overall total at 30 over the past two years.  Getting to 30 had been my goal for this year and I did not expect to hit it by Labor Day, but due to the favorable weather over the weekends this past summer I was able to consistently bag 14-thousand foot peaks.  I decided to make Humboldt Peak my 30th because I wanted to get another peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range complete as well as just having a change of scenery from the mostly Sawatch Range peaks I hiked this summer.  Humboldt would end up being my second of the ten 14ers I needed to climb in the Sangre de Cristo Range.  The other 14er I had already climbed was the 14,047 foot Culebra Peak.  You can read my hike up this unusual peak at the below link:

Before going on my hike up Humboldt I did some research on the road that travels up to the four-wheel drive trailhead.  What I found out was not encouraging and I did not want to risk damaging my Ford Escape on this reportedly very rough road.  This meant that I had a considerably long round-trip hike of 16.5 miles ahead of me.  This caused me to get an early start with me leaving the 2-wheel drive trailhead at 04:30 AM.  The trailhead starts out in the open plains of the Wet Valley before ascending into the trees; not that I could really see many trees since it was so dark out.  The first four-miles of the hike was a boring ascent up the rugged four-wheel drive trail to the upper trailhead located at the South Colony Campground.  As I walked through the campground I could hear a lot of people moving around in the darkness as they prepared to hike up one of the mountains in the area.  The four wheel drive road ends at this barrier:

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To the left of the barrier is a nicely constructed bridge that crosses the creek.  On the opposite side of the creek is smaller four-wheel drive road that needs to be hiked up another two miles.  A few years ago people could drive their four wheel drive vehicles very high into the basin, but this was causing damage to the environment due to the number of campers accessing this wilderness.  So the Forest Service closed off the road at the creek so people who want to camp in the basin need to hike 2-4 miles into the basin to find good camp sites.  As I hiked up the road the mind numbing boredom of walking in the darkness was beginning to subside with the rising sun:

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Eventually the old four-wheel drive trail reaches an intersection where taking a left leads to Broken Hand Pass which is used to access the 14ers Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak.  For hikers heading up Humboldt Peak a right needs to be taken at this intersection; if not the trail over to Broken Hand Pass will add a lot of mileage to what is already a long hike if started at the 2-wheel drive trailhead.  Before heading up the trail to Humboldt Peak I highly recommend checking out the signboards that have been constructed at the intersection which explain the trails and history of the peaks around the South Colony Lakes:

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This section of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains has a very long and interesting history.  Native-Americans have of course lived around the Sangre de Cristos for centuries, but its modern history really begins with the arrival of the Spanish.  There are many tales of the Spanish using Indian slaves to mine for gold and then killing the slaves to hide the location of the gold finds.  Its modern history continues with the arrival of Anglo settlers who were responsible for naming Humboldt Peak.  According to the book “A Climbing Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners: Twentieth Anniversary Edition“, the naming of the peak can be linked back to the influx of German immigrants led to the lush Wet Valley in the Spring of 1870 by Prussian immigrant and Civil War general Carl Wulsten.  Despite various setbacks the towns in the valley slowly continued to be filled with German immigrants who besides farming also began to mine in the Sangre de Cristo Range.  In 1874 a man by the name of Leonard Frederick open the Humbolt Mine on the slopes of Humboldt Peak.  He named the peak after the famed German geographer, explorer, and mountaineer Alexander von Humboldt.

Alexander von Humboldt

Humboldt had garnered much fame for his exploits which included nearly summiting Ecuador’s  20,564 foot Mt. Chimborazo in 1802 when it was thought to be the world’s highest peak.  Considering his mountaineering exploits Humboldt is worthy of having a peak named after him, it just ended up being a peak in southern Colorado because of the German immigrants that settled there that wanted to honor him.  Humboldt was assuredly climbed much earlier than this by Indians, the Spanish, and miners, but the first recorded ascent of the mountain is in 1883 by it is believed T.P. Momson as part of a project by the Land Office Surveys.

After reading the signboards I then proceeded to head up the trail towards Humboldt Peak:

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A short while later I had my first views of Humboldt rising above me:

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It looked like I could take one of those avalanche shoots right up the mountain, but according to the route description they do not recommend this approach unless there is stable snow due to the steepness and loose rock.  Next the impressive 14,197 foot Crestone Needle came into view:

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This peak is just amazing to see from close up after hearing and reading so much about it.  The views of the peak became even more impressive the further up the trail I hiked:

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Another impressive mountain that came into view was the 13,573 foot Broken Hand Peak:

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This mountain is so named because the rocky hand that can be seen on top of the mountain:

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Here is a panorama of photograph of this amazing view:

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As I hiked higher up into the basin the first of the various South Colony Lakes came into view:

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As I hiked near the lakes the trail became noticeably muddier:

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Fortunately my waterproof Danner Crater Rims had no issues with all the mud.  After the muddy section it was then time to begin switchbacking up to the ridgeline that would leads to the summit of Humboldt Peak:

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The trail was in great shape with some sections that even had stairs constructed to assist with the ascent:

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Once again I found myself continuously stopping to take in views of the incredible Crestone Needle:

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Once on the ridgeline I then had to hike up a fairly easy ridgeline trail that took me above 13,000 feet in elevation:

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As I hiked up this ridgeline I had my first views of the mountains and valleys to the north of Humboldt Peak:

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Looking at these mountains and valleys it was easy to picture the glaciers that once carved out these valleys.  Just looking at the rock I could see the sections scarred by the glaciers:

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As I continued to hike up above 13,000 feet the trail became much more difficult as I made way up and over a number of large rocks:

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Fortunately most of the rocks are quite stable, but care still needs to be taken since there are a few loose rocks that someone could sprain a knee or ankle on.  This hike is considered a Class 2+ for good reason because there are sections that require the use of hands and feet to climb up and over various rocks.  The final summit approach though is pretty easy stroll across a high ridgeline to the final summit rock outcropping:

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There is little exposure on the southside of the ridgeline, but on the north side the exposure looking down the valley is extreme:

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Here is a view from this high ridgeline looking back towards the Crestones:

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After climbing up the final rock outcropping I found myself on a broad grassy summit plateau:

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The hike up Humboldt Peak had been mostly in fine weather, but once I was on the summit ridgeline a cold wind could be felt blowing over Humboldt Peak.  On the summit there was a number of people in shorts and t-shirts who were quite cold and left the summit just about as soon as they got up there.  Since I always pack cold weather clothes I was well equipped to explore the summit:

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Here is the view looking towards the northern most peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains:

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Here is the view looking at the 13-thousand foot peak directly north of Humboldt:

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Here is the opening of the valley below Humboldt that opens into the lush Wet Valley:

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Here is a view of the small village of Westcliffe which is the main town in the Wet Valley:

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Looking to the north I could see Humboldt’s gentle northern slope that is considered the safest way to hike up the mountain during the winter months:

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I thought about taking this route back down the mountain to create a loop hike, but decided to go back down the standard trail because I wanted to take more pictures of the incredible Crestones.  To the east I could see off in the distance the beautiful Spanish Peaks:

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Here is a closer look at the Spanish Peaks:

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You can read more about the Spanish Peaks at the below link:

The views to south featured a number of rugged looking peaks to include the Blanca Massif far off in the distance:

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Here is a closer look at the Blanca Massif that features four 14-thousand foot peaks:

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To the west the views were completely dominated by the amazing Crestones which are such a sight to see:

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To the southwest another pair of 14ers that are no where near as scenic as the Crestones can be seen, Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point:

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Here is a collection of panorama photos I took from the summit of Humboldt Peak with this first one showing the view looking towards the Wet Valley to the North:

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This next view is looking towards the various Sange de Cristo Peaks to the northwest:

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This next view is looking west towards the Crestones:

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Here is the view looking southeast where the Blanca Massif can be seen in the distance:

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I spent about 30 minutes on the summit before deciding to head back down because of how bad the wind was.  The hike down was uneventful as I carefully picked my way through the rocks:

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What I enjoyed the most about the hike down was the fact that the Crestones just dominated the view in front of me:

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The views to the northwest of other rugged peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Range were quite scenic as well:

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I eventually came back to the switchbacks that leads back down to the South Colony Basin:

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Here is a panorama of the view above the switchbacks:

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Here is a panorama of the view looking back up towards the summit of Humboldt:

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As I descended the switchbacks it was around noon and there was still a lot of people heading up the mountain:

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Here is a panorama view looking down the switchback:

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As I continued to descend the view of the Crestone Needle just continued to impress:

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Something else I noticed while descending the switchback was that a number thistle plants which I think is the ugliest plant in Colorado could still be seen:

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Here is a view looking back up the ridgeline from the bottom of the switchback:

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At the bottom of the switchback I decided to take some more time to take pictures of the Crestones:

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Here is a close up look at the summit of the Crestone Needle:

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From the basin I could actually hear the voices of people up on the mountain climbing it.  This next picture is a close up of the various crags that compose the dangerous traverse over to Crestone Peak:

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Here is close up of the approach up Crestone Needle by its standard trail:

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Next is a picture of the ascent that has to be done to reach the top of Broken Hand Pass:

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Here is a closer look at the pass which is the primary route to access both the standard trails up Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak:

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After spending about 15 minutes taking pictures I then began to head back down the trail again.  I made sure to periodically turn around to take in more views of the Crestone Needle:

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As this next picture shows the views of Humboldt Peak are no where near as scenic as the Crestones:

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Here is a panorama view of the Crestone Needle and Broken Hand Peak:

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Here is a view looking back up towards Humboldt Peak:

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Here is a wide angle panorama of the peaks that surround South Colony Basin:

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The above panorama was my last view of these great mountains since I had to descend back into the trees:

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I made good time heading down the trail and found myself soon enough back at the large bridge that crosses the creek near the South Colony Campground:

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Here is a picture of the creek flowing below the bridge:

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I also stopped to read this sign posted near the bridge that provides a nice description of the trails up ahead in the basin:

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I next walked back through the South Colony Campground which was now an absolute madhouse:

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There was vehicles parked literally everywhere with cars unable to park circling around and heading back down the road to find more parking.  For most of my walk back down the four-wheel drive road I got to dodge cars going up and down the road.  The walk down the road did give me a chance to take a few pictures of the road conditions.  Many areas of the road had rough rocky areas requiring a vehicle with some clearance and at least all-wheel drive:

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This section below was the worst spot that I saw where much care has to be taken for vehicles without high clearance:

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I was also able to get a picture of the trailhead for the Rainbow Trail which is another prominent hike in the area:

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As I approached the end of the four-wheel drive road I came upon the section of private property where many no parking signs were posted:

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I then came out of the trees and began to walk through the grasslands of the Wet Valley:

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It was hard to believe how cold the temperature was on top of the mountain compared to how hot it now was below it:

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Up ahead I could the two-wheel drive trailhead:

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I could also see the 12,437 foot Greenhorn Mountain in the distance:

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Here is a panorama photograph of the view across the Wet Valley:

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Soon enough I found myself back at the trailhead looking back up towards Humboldt Peak:

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The two-wheel drive trailhead had a lot of cars parked there as well, but was no where near as crazy as the upper trailhead. Here is a panorama picture of the view from the two-wheel drive trailhead:

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After packing my gear in my truck and cranking up the air conditioner I began the drive back to Colorado Springs.  During the drive back I had some really nice views of the Sangre de Cristo Range:

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I was eventually able to see the Crestones out in the distance:

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I was even able to spot Broken Hand Peak:

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Here is a closer look at the Crestones in the distance with Humboldt Peak in the foreground:

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Here is a nice panorama view of the Sangre de Cristo Range:

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Conclusion

Overall it ended up being a long 16.5 mile hike for me up Humboldt Peak with 5,380 feet of elevation gain that I completed in 8 hours.  The distance and the elevation gain made this a challenging hike, but I was rewarded with some great views from the summit.  For those with sturdy four-wheel drive vehicles this hike becomes an easier, but still challenging 11 mile round-trip hike with 4,200 feet of elevation gain.  Humboldt is considered an easier 14er in the Sangre de Cristo Range, but do not let this fool you because this mountain will still give you a good challenge to climb it.

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