Summiting Mount Humboldt in Colorado

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Hiking to top - 1 hour into hike - finding new poles helpful

Here I am – 1st hour of 3 hour hike to the top – finding new poles helpful

I include this activity in my blog because I think summiting a mountain is an interesting metaphor for life. It can be a tough haul, the trail can seem never-ending, if you keep your head down all the time working to get up the mountain you’ll miss all the scenery, you can and should prepare yourself to succeed, the more knowledge you have of the way the better your chances, camaraderie can make the trip more bearable even enjoyable, there is usually a false summit, and then the summit where you can bask in the sun for a while, then the long walk down if you don’t fall off first. And yes, some people quit life. quit trying to find the summit, or mistake the false summit for the real one they could have achieved if they had only pushed on.

In 2013 I failed to reach the summit of Mount Humboldt. I became too winded – I hadn’t stayed at altitude long enough, failed to acclimate, before attempting the hike, so I was not able to breathe in enough oxygen for my legs and lungs and my heart which drummed fearfully in my ears. I waved the boys on and simply took pictures down below that year. So when I was invited to attempt the hike again in July of 2014 by my colleagues in Colorado, I jumped at the chance, but with better planning. More time at altitude before the climb, lighter shoes, hiking poles, and too I knew better what to expect and how I should pace myself.

We cut 3 miles off the uphill hike this year by driving up a 4 wheel drive only road, a nasty, kidney busting half hour in my colleague Pavel’s son’s jeep. From this upper parking lot, we hiked through forest for 3 hours to our campsite next to a stream near the lower lake.

3 hour hike uphill to the campsite with loaded packs (tents, sleeping bags, food, water, change of clothes)

3 hour hike uphill to the campsite with loaded packs (tents, sleeping bags, food, water, change of clothes)

It is important to camp near a water source, so you can use the new filtering systems they sell for about $100 that instantly filter the water, to make enough water to last a couple of days. For dinner we boiled filtered water over a tiny gas stove, and used that water to inflate packages of freeze-dried Chicken Alfredo. This is a great luxury, to get warm food after a long hike on a cooling night.

co stream

We each had our own tent – as usual I slept only a couple of hours, freezing, uncomfortable, hearing animal noises and then early risers, for the harder peaks in the area require pre-dawn launches. We rose at 6, with the sun, packed small bags with food, water and cameras and hiked to the upper lake, then took the muddy path thru waist-high brush, then started up the lower trail.

The lower trail

The lower trail

This trail eventually begins to zigzag up the mountain, and the grass turns to rock steps. You reach a ridgeline, where eventually the rock steps turn to small boulders and fields of boulders near the false summit. Cairns (small manmade rock pyramids) mark the path through the boulder fields.

boulder path

One can summit any of the 14,000 foot high (14er) mountains in Colorado – the hikes/climbs are all rated on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is a walk on a good trail, 2 means a walking trail where sometimes you climb over rocks and the trail may be hard to follow in some places, 3 means mostly climb up steep rock and an iffy trail, 4 means use a rope and a helmet, while 5 means you better be an expert or have one with you. The hike to Mount Humboldt is rated 1 and 2, with good trails in the beginning changing to hard boulder paths and scrambling.

The going was challenging, and we stopped every 30 minutes or so to rest a couple of minutes and drink, but unlike the previous year my legs never got wobbly and my lungs never gasped for air. I felt good and the view was extraordinary on the way up. Once we passed the false summit, a fellow coming down told us, “The hard part is over. Congrats.” That felt good, to know I was going to make it. That the hard part was over.

View from false summit

View from false summit

When I reached the summit, I noticed the several thousand foot cliff on the other side, and caught a fear of heights that lasted a couple minutes, the kind where you want to get close to the ground and nowhere near the edge. Too I felt a little light headed. But that passed. We spent about 30 minutes on the summit, snacking, taking pictures, resting.

co on summit with Jing

Walking the summit ridgeline

Walking the summit ridgeline

Walking down a mountain can be more dangerous than hiking up one, because of the way your whole weight lands on your down foot – this can lead to slips and falls, which are very dangerous when surrounded by broken rock and often near dropoffs. My collegue’s wife did slip and fall face first on the path, luckily not breaking anything.

Heading down

Heading down

On the way down I spotted marmots sunning, and snapped wildflowers. Then we broke camp, and hiked back to the jeep to take the long ride home.

Marmots sunning

Marmots sunning

Wild flowers

Wild flowers

Categories: travel

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4 replies »

  1. Ray, this was great. I’m so glad you were able to make it up this year. I think the suba diving helped get you prepared. Also, your hike in India. I’m so glad your legs didn’t get wobbly and you were breathing better. I would have had problems getting down, if I could have made it up over the boulders. I have such a fear of heights, I would have had to have a helicopter come to get me. 🙂 I loved seeing the Marmots and wildflowers. It certainly is pretty country. I’m so happy you could go and had a good trip. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. What a superb accomplishment. Appreciate all the details–know what it’s like to have the legs demanding all the oxygen, long before you are anywhere near 14K. Among all your many experiences and accomplishments, this is special.

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