Descent Route: Southeast Flank
Sangre De Cristo Range
December 23, 2006
Ski Descent #49
The big December 18-19 storm that buried much of the Front Range and closed Denver?s airport for almost three days hit the Sangre de Cristo Range really hard as well. After skiing Mt. Princeton on Friday, Nick DeVore and I drove up into the Wet Mountain Valley and the town of Westcliff to spend the night. While Salida, in the Arkansas valley, had virtually no snow, Westcliff, which is only forty miles away as the crow flies, had two feet of snow on the ground. The woman who owns the Westcliff Inn is a big fourteener climber and she was excited to hear that we would try and climb Humboldt Peak in the morning. We slept hard that night, and woke to clear skies and an epic sunrise to start our day.
Humboldt Peak was totally dry all last year, so I was hoping this big storm had done its job and filled in the Southeast Flank of the mountain to the summit, so that we might ski the line clean from the top. I was also keenly aware of the greatly increased snow load in the Sangres, so we approached the day one step at a time, hoping for safe, solid snow. We unloaded the snowmobile at the base of the South Colony Lakes Road and drove up through incredibly deep powder for three miles to a point at 10,800?, where we ditched the sled and began skinning up through the forest in the direction of Humboldt Peak. The powder snow on the forest floor was cold, dry, and deep, and the tree branches hung low with the snow load. The sun hit the flanks of the mountain as we approached tree line. Nick and I were both tired from our day on Mt. Princeton, so our progress up the mountain was slow, but deliberate. The ski route was nicely loaded with new snow, but we found a safe skinning line up the ridge, with snow anchored by piles of talus and shrubs. After three hours of climbing we made the ridge at 13,700?, and took a break. From hear we put the skis on our packs and walked the final few hundred feet up the ridge to the summit. Humboldt Peak is steep and gnarly on it?s north side, but never holds snow there. The south and east sides of Humboldt are more gentle, and provide a great fourteener ski descent for ski mountaineers of most abilities. On the summit we gazed in awe and admiration at the Crestones, the Peak and the Needle jutting sharply into the sky a mile to our southwest. The skies could not have been a deeper shade of blue, and there was not a breath of wind on the summit. The air was so still in fact; you could literally hear your heart beat. To stand on a Colorado fourteener with such still air is a rare treat. We lay on some flat rocks, soaking up the sun and the satisfaction of knowing another fourteener ski descent was close at hand.
Skiing off the summit was straightforward, but we did have to negotiate a small band of boulders a hundred feet below the top. Once through there it was fantastic, wide open skiing for two thousand feet. The hateful crust we found on Mt. Princeton yesterday made this descent on Humboldt even more enjoyable. Areas that looked loaded and susceptible to fracture held firm with hard ski cuts. With legs of rubber we entered the forest and skied more great powder down to the sled on the South Colony Lakes Road.
Back at the truck at 2:15 p.m., I reflected on the last two days of skiing and my project as a whole. Mother Nature was tough on me last season, leaving me with nine peaks left to go this fall and winter. But then she came through in a big way this week with a fat storm that covered all the right zones. So now I have five peaks to go: Crestone Needle, Blanca, Little Bear, Shavano, and Longs. I was hoping to finish by the New Year, but now it looks like I will change to plan C, which would be to finish in a year period from when I started last season, January 21. That gives me three weeks to do five peaks. I?m excited to be getting down to the wire here. I think Mt. Shavano might be the toughest peak, because it has no snow on it right now, but we will have to wait and see. Until the next report, happy holidays everyone!
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