South Colony Lake & Humboldt Peak Attempt 6/30-7/2/16

South Colony Lake Approach (4.3 miles one way), Humboldt Peak Summit Trail (2 miles one way). Trail head is on Road 120 / South Colony Road. San Isabel Forest, Sangre de Christo Wilderness. (3 hours / 160 miles from Denver). Parking at the lower 2WD trail head adds 2.7 miles one way. No fees for parking or camping in the wilderness area.

Optional: camped at Alvarado Campground (2 hr 45 min / 160 miles from Denver) the night before to get an early start. This put us 30 minutes / 15 miles from the trail head. Fees vary depending on season and type of site.

If you’re looking for a success story, maybe you should read some of our previous posts. We actually considered not posting about this trip at all. But the point of this blog is to cover everything involved with learning how to safely camp, hike, and backpack, and part of that is learning when to back down from a trip and set it aside for another time.

The plan was straightforward: Thursday the 30th, we’d get off work, drop our cats off at the kitty lodge, and drive to the campground. Friday morning, we’d get up around 6-7 am, drive 30 minutes to the trail head on South Colony Road, and hike up to South Colony Lake. Saturday, we planned on an early start (probably around 2-3 am) to summit before sunrise. We’d get back to camp, maybe take a nap and try fishing. Finally on Sunday, we’d break camp around 6-7 am and head home.

Nothing went according to plan.

Site 44 at Alvarado Campground

Site 44 at Alvarado Campground

On Thursday, I got off work late. We got to Alvarado campground at 12:30 am and it was raining, so we set up the tent as quickly as we could.

On Friday, we woke up a bit later than intended. We reached the trail head around 9 am and quickly learned that an “easy” 4WD road means no low clearance sedans. I know, this should be obvious that an old Accord can’t and won’t make it up anything worse than a washboarded road, but adding 2.7 miles to the campsites didn’t sound very appealing. So we parked at the lower trail head and hiked up the road all while talking about our budget and when we could finally replace the Accord with a Subaru.

Hiking the 4WD road was rough. The mosquitoes were out in full force, it was humid, and the sun just wasn’t giving us a break. 2.7 miles later, we reached the upper trail head. It started drizzling around the 4 mile mark. This wasn’t a problem; we’d already put our pack rain covers on at the trail head and lined our packs with trash bags just to be safe. We stopped to put on our rain jackets.

Colony Lakes Trails and Backpacking Sites

The trail comes in from the right (in green). We took the left (green) fork on the way up. The pink trail at the far left takes you to the Crestones. The pink trail at the top goes on to summit Humboldt.

Around the 5.3 mile mark (2.6 from the upper trail head), you can choose between two trails. Going right is a shorter, but steeper option at 1 mile and probably around 500 feet of elevation gain. Going left is slightly longer at about 1.7 miles and the same gain.

 

We went left. This way led to four sections of the trail that are covered with snow, one of which hid a stream that Daniel postholed right into. But, after 7 miles, we finally reached what looked like a campsite with a fire pit. It was good enough.

By the way, it’s still raining at this point. So we quickly set up the tent and tried to dry off and thaw out a bit. Now we have another problem: to make dinner, we had to go outside, get water, cook dinner, clean up, then get back in the tent while soaked. The other option was to eat some of the snacks earmarked the next day’s lunch. We opted for the hot dinner route since we had to go outside anyway to set up the tent’s guy lines so it would stand up to the wind overnight.

We finally got out of our soaked clothes and realized there was no place to dry them while it was still raining. So we put the damp things up in the gear loft and left our pants and rain jackets on our packs in the vestibules.

Despite being exhausted, sleep didn’t come easy. It’s not that our bags or sleeping pads aren’t comfortable (and trust us, they are), it’s that we kept going over where things went wrong. By this point, it had been raining for several hours, our only pairs of pants were soaked, and we were tired. In short, we severely underestimated this trail and the weather didn’t help in the slightest.

On Saturday, the plan had been to wake up around 2-3 am and summit Humboldt for sunrise. We woke up around 1:40. At some point it had stopped raining, so that was something. But neither of us was up for the 4 mile round trip hike with 2400 feet of gain. I turned off the alarm on my phone and we went back to sleep.

We woke up around 9 am and it was clear and sunny. We put our soaked gear in the sunlight to hopefully dry out a bit before the hike down. But it was clouding up and getting dark again toward the west. So we made breakfast and broke down camp as quickly as we could. It started to rain on the way out.

We were on the trail by 11 and this is when the problems started. Daniel was feeling ill. Sitting still didn’t help and moving made it worse. But a storm was in the forecast and we had to get down. We made our way down with frequent breaks to drink water and catch our breath. This time we took the shorter, steeper trail back to the main trail. It ended up taking just shy of 5 hours to cover the 6 miles back.

Just to round out the weekend, the storm rolled in just as we were leaving the trail head.

What we learned:

  • We need lighter gear or we need to learn how to pack just the essentials.
  • We need a tent that can either be set up fly first or all at once.
  • We need a tent that doesn’t allow the inside to get wet when entering or exiting.
  • We need more salt in our trail meals. Looking up the symptoms of salt deficiency seems to match exactly what Daniel experienced. We had meant to pack some pretzels and crackers and completely forgot.
  • We have rain jackets, but we need pants and gloves as well. Our hands were numb and stiff by the time we got to camp.
  • Our sleeping bags are rated to 20°F and are comfortably warm to around 40°F, maybe a bit lower. Note that this is with our current sleeping pads and while wearing t-shirts, shorts, socks, and beanies. We either need to pick up sleeping bag liners or start sleeping in long sleeves and pants base layers.

In summary, we severely underestimated this trail, the effect of carrying that much weight, and what the weather could throw at us.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get as many photos as usual because our phone screens can’t tell the difference between water droplets and fingertips. But here’s a few for you.

South Colony Lake Trailhead Humboldt Peak Crestone Needle South Colony Lake Trail South Colony Lake Trail South Colony Lake Trail South Colony Road Marble Mountain

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