CRESTONE PEAK – 14,294' / HUMBOLDT PEAK – 14,064'

Ok, so my most recent summit was an improv. More on that later. I was hoping to tackle Pyramid Peak with Guinn today, but he bailed to prep for his next project. He’s promised to join me on the 10th, so that’s the goal, weather permitting. I hastily packed my car and headed for the Crestone Peak trailhead, arriving just before 11p. It was gonna be another short night followed immediately by another long day, but I was totally in.

On the way out, I had two near misses. Signs? Nah. I nearly hit an adolescent bear that was chilling (quite literally) in the middle of my lane around a tight bend. I slammed on the brakes, coming to a stop almost before he made a move. I reacted immediately upon seeing his dark silhouette. I thought it was a shaggy dog until I was nearly on top of him…nope, definitely a bear. It’s gotta be my spirit animal, lucky little bugger. Less than a half hour later, a young deer (who hadn’t even lost his spots yet) trotted out into the road as I approached. Again, I slammed on the brakes and rapped the horn. He turned – almost on a dime – and jetted back into the night.

After a restless night, my alarm buzzed, rattled, and sang far too early…3a, to be exact. I was instantly filled with adrenaline; I’ve been looking forward to the Red Gully for weeks. The weather was crappy, but not threatening, so I figured I’d hike the 6.5 miles to Lower South Colony Lake and re-evaluate. I reached treeline after a 5-mile approach and about an hour before the sun crested the ridge. I found a big tree and took shelter to see what the weather was gonna do before proceeding. I was keenly aware that turning around would mean a wasted trip, but that wasn’t gonna stop me from doing so. The mountain isn’t nearly as fragile as I am; I can always come back.

Red sky at morning, hikers take warning. And the sky was bright red after my 30-minute power nap.

It wasn’t encouraging, but the sky was behind me. Besides the clouds were moving fast and conditions seemed to be improving in the short term. I pressed on, watching the sky vigilantly as I made my way to the saddle. I planned to stop and re-evaluate at that point. The clouds persisted throughout the morning, but my view from the saddle revealed patchy rain at worst. I pressed on and re-evaluated conditions yet again at the base of the Red Gully. This was the point at which my climb became more technical, and consequently where retreat would be more tedious.

At the Red Gully, I could see the summit. Well actually, I couldn’t. The summit proper was shrouded in fog and low clouds. Much of the sky was blanketed in them, but they weren’t threatening. After a water break – and a few patches of blue breaking through the cloud cover – I decided once more to press on. The climb from here was long (about 1,300 feet to the saddle just below the summit), but it was straightforward.

My greatest regrets were two-fold: (1) the light was terrible during both my ascent and my descent, so my photos of the impressive Red Gully don’t even begin to do the climb justice; and (2) it was a total whiteout at the summit, meaning I could hardly see ten feet in front of me. Yes the weather held sufficiently for me to bag my peak, but the experience was bitter-sweet. I still loved the climb, but I think the view beyond the clouds was breathtaking, and I would’ve liked to have seen it. To be fair, the climb into the clouds was one-of-a-kind.

After descending the gully, I still had to climb up and over Broken Hand Pass to get back to South Colony Lakes. It doesn’t sound like much, but I loathe unnecessary elevation gain/loss. It takes a lot out of me, and it’s mentally taxing to boot. If that’s my greatest challenge out here, I’m doing ok.

I arrived at the lakes just before noon and contemplated a quick jaunt up Humboldt Peak. It was an unchartered stop, but Humboldt is a total walk-up. Besides it’s a pretty peak. At this point, the clouds were still hovering menacingly above me. I knew there was a small chance of storms after 4p, but treeline wasn’t far from where I stood at that moment, and a hasty descent from Humboldt would be perfectly manageable. Sure I would’ve preferred clear skies, but the clouds were thin and fragmented, which was good enough for me. I figured I could knock it out in three hours, tops. I was actually hoping to be ahead of that time, but the season has taken a toll. I’m still cruising, but not the way I was. It took me three hours flat, and the weather held. It was totally worth every (painful) step.

I hiked out ahead of the weather and turned back from my car to see storm clouds gathered decisively over the Sangre de Cristo Range. Win.