The morale of the story: don’t believe trip reports.
The second morale of the story: You can believe this one.
Last week, Jeff Posey and I made the eleven hour drive up to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Our goal was to summit the Humboldt Peak of 14,084 feet. Unfortunately, due to multiple trip reports of different parts and pieces of information, we found ourselves unable to complete the peak.
The problem is the main road leading to Humboldt is traversable by 4-wheel drive vehicles only. We read that some group had improved the road where 2-wheel drive high clearance vehicles could make it. They were wrong. We could only make it about half way up the 4-wheel drive road before our 2-wheel SUV just wouldn’t go any farther. It was about 3 miles long, which would add 6 miles to our overall hike, which was pretty unsurmountable in one day. Our initial goal was to camp near the trailhead, and have a decent 8-10 mile hike to bag the peak. Ha! It would have been somewhere closer to 17-18 miles to bag it from where we started. A whole different ball of wax and undoable in one long day. We were initially upset and crestfallen. Our big trip ruined by misinformation. After sitting there contemplating what to do, we decided we were going to have to find somewhere to camp that wasn’t car-camping. We ended up at a nice little place called Alvarado campgrounds. It was a little bit away from our Humboldt excursion, but close enough for us to drive.
We camped there the first night, and did a day hike up the Venable pass the next day. Unbeknownst to us, the Venable hike was twelve miles long! It was a constant UP hike, with very little even paths. For our first day, it was a monster. Posey wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it after that and we still weren’t sure we would be able to make the Humboldt attempt.
Next morning, Posey woke up to ripped up knees and uncertainty on what he could do. So we hung around camp all day and ended up making some eggs and bacon for breakfast before deciding to try to make it up a little ways on the Humboldt trail. We got in a good seven miles on our hike that day but didn’t get as far as we liked due to both of us being overly tired and worn out from the day before. But Posey’s knee ceased to be a problem and acted fine all day. We stopped and got some more beer that night and had a few cold ones before calling it a night. The next day, we had decided, we would rise early, get to the starting point on Humboldt and get at least to the upper lakes, right below the saddle of the mountain.
We got a little later start the next morning than we wanted, but still managed to get to the trailhead at 7:40 AM. We walked the same up and down the day before, but something was different. We both felt better and had to stop a lot less. We made it to the place we’d turned back the day before, without taking a break the entire way. And when we got to the turnaround point, I asked Posey if he wanted to rest and he said, “Hell no.” So we kept going.
Boy, what a view. WHAT A VIEW when we got up on the bowl between the Crestones and Humboldt. The wind blew with a vicious ferocity that tore our hats from our heads and tugged the tears from our eyes, but we kept going. The majority of the hike is on the four wheel drive road, but as you get nearer to the peaks, it breaks off onto a real mountain trail. And what a beauty! Flowers and boulders to climb. We had to traverse a waterfall down some stones! It was a gorgeous path.
We stopped for a short break at the upper lake, talking to the marmots. We’d not seen another soul the entire day. While we sat there eating our snacks, Posey pointed at the saddle and said he wanted to do it. I was ambivalent. If Posey had said he wanted to bag the peak, I would have done it with him. So we started up. If you’re afraid of heights, this was a pretty scary climb. Nothing too bad, but when you looked down, if vertigo is a problem, your head would spin. That plus the infernal wind kept pounding us like prisoners. Another problem here is, we were over 12,000 feet high. The air is really thin. Every step is using your largest muscles, but they’re not getting any oxygen to keep moving. So you are constantly sucking wind, taking weak baby steps the entire way. It’s miserable, I won’t lie.
But once you make it to the saddle…oh my. What a sight and it was level, so you get your breath back. It was SO worth it to climb and pain. We hung around for a while and I really wanted to climb higher, but I could tell Posey was done and wanted to go back down. He was right. There was no way we had enough time to bag the peak. It looked close, but we were talking another hour and half up and back down. So three more hours to our current hike, which would have put us near sundown before getting close to finishing and not only that, he was (rightfully so) worried about his knees going back down the peak. I can understand that. It was STEEP.
So we went ahead and walked back. Man it was a long walk too. I was so beat when we got back but made it back to the car before Posey and drove part back way up the road to get him. Overall, it was a great day. We were sun burned and tired, but damn it was fun.