Hiking Colorado’s Humboldt Peak

Humboldt Peak, as seen from Broken Hand Pass. (Mike Zee photo)

Note: This is the next in a series of trip reports focusing on route descriptions rather than storytelling. Photos and beta only!

Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains offer some of the finest alpine adventures you can find in the southern Rockies, with anything from beefy hikes to serious climbs. The peaks are more remote, being that they’re not that close to any larger cities, and some of them require a sturdier vehicle to reach trailheads.

One thing about the Colorado Sangres 14ers: There are not a lot of easy entry point peaks. All but a couple are Class 3 and 4, and some of them are among the toughest of the state’s 14,000-foot peaks.

But if you’re looking for a mountain that will give you those spectacular Sangres views without the commitment of a Class 3 or 4 climb, then Humboldt Peak might be your ticket.

Humboldt is one of three 14ers surrounding South Colony Lakes and is accessible via the same road and trailhead. It’s technically a walk-up, though I found a couple of more difficult scrambly sections higher on the mountain. The big reward for reaching Humboldt’s summit is the incredible platform to see Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak, just west of South Colony Lakes. That alone makes Humboldt’s summit a worthy prize.

There are two ways to get to the top: One is via the very long east ridge, the other a shorter route with less vertical gain via its west ridge. This will be about the latter.

You can drive on 120 Road near Westcliffe for a short distance to a two-wheel-drive trailhead or, if your vehicle is four-wheel-drive and capable, continue 2.7 miles to a gate that marks the end of the drivable portion of the road.

Easy hiking past the road and into the woods near South Colony Lakes.

From the four-wheel-drive trailhead, hike up the road past the gate and over a foot bridge until you reach a trail junction turnoff to your right. Follow easy trail hiking through the woods and past some campsites. (Many people hiking Humboldt or climbing the Crestones choose to backpack and camp here, then begin their ascents the next day. It’s a beautiful place to camp.)

Humboldt Peak, as seen from the south. (Mike Zee photo)

Gaining altitude, and seeing Crestone Needle along the way.

You’ll be hiking the trail east of and above South Colony Lakes. From here, you’ll begin hiking up long switchbacks on a headwall leading to a saddle between Humboldt’s west ridge and an area nearby called Bear’s Playground. Turn right at the saddle to gain to Humboldt’s west ridge.

Hiking up to Humboldt’s saddle, you get this view of South Colony Lakes and Broken Hand Peak.

At Humboldt’s saddle. The peak pictured here is not your target, but rather a point of interest on your way to Bear’s Playground if you’re headed that way.

A view of Humboldt Peak as seen from Crestone Needle’s summit. At lower left, you can see the saddle, and trace your route to the top on the mountain’s west ridge. (Mike Zee photo)

The trail steepens as you gain the ridge, and as you ascend, you’ll end up doing some rock-hopping and light scrambling. The route is well-cairned, and the cairns are fairly accurate. At times, the trail will disappear into jumbled rocks, then reappear when the terrain eases.

Getting closer to the top.

Almost there. It’s hard not to look over your shoulder at that view.

Eventually, the ridge will take you up to Humboldt’s false summit – there is still some work to do. But once you reach this point, the ascent is almost done.

Past the false summit, with the real summit in view. Easy breezy from here.

Summit view.

Past the false summit, the steepness eases with only a few hundred yards of easy hiking left to the top.

Once there, you’ve earned one heck of a view. Two your west is one of the most spectacular mountain scenes in the Sangres, that of Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle, Broken Hand Peak and the South Colony Lakes. If you time your hike right, you’ll catch the sunrise alpenglow on Crestone Needle’s east face – an incredible and unforgettable sight.

Humboldt Peak’s real treasure is this view of the Crestones. Not easily forgotten.

The route is Class 2, 11 miles round trip with 4,200 feet of elevation gain and mild exposure.

NOTE: If your car/truck does not have four-wheel drive and good clearance, you’ll need to park at the two-wheel drive trailhead. This will add 5.4 miles and another 1,100 feet of elevation gain to your route.

Want to read the original trip report? Check it out here.

Bob Doucette

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