Hiking Humboldt - by Lisa Ballard, LOWA Ambassador

September 03, 2020
There is nothing easy about hiking up Humboldt Peak (14,070 feet) in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Range.

First, there’s the mileage, about 14 miles round-trip from the trailhead to the summit.

Then there’s the 4,500 feet of vertical gain. The last mile and 1,000 vertical feet is a scramble up a steep talus field, culminating with a dizzying traverse of a knife-edge ridge. What’s more, there’s always a chance of high winds, lightning and snow, even in July, when I headed up this impressive rock pile.

Funny what your mind wanders to when it lacks oxygen. I wondered what the yellow-bellied Marmots sunning themselves on the boulders thought of humans like me, laboring my way upward.

I watched the picas busily stashing alpine grasses and wildflowers for the long winter ahead, and then contemplated what this mountain would be like in a blizzard. I was glad for the rock cairns that marked the way until the final push, up the vertical talus field.

Many hikers before me had made mini-cairns, which might or might show the way to ascend the boulder field. I figured as long as I headed upward, I would find the summit.

I was grateful to be wearing my Lowa Badia GTX’s, which protected my feet from the rock and gave me exceptional traction.

They’ve become my go-to boot for big-mileage hikes on rough terrain, like Humboldt Peak. They even gripped well when it started raining and the rocks looked slipperier. At that point, the climb demand my undivided attention.

Hand over foot, higher and higher, I finally crested the false summit and relaxed briefly, able to walk normally for a few yards, until I saw the bottomless cliff to my left and the impossibly steep, boulder-strewn slope to my right.

Holding what little breath I could inhale and staying low, I moved carefully across the summit ridge to the top of the peak, paused long enough for a snack and couple of photos in the small rock “nest” that provided shelter from the wind, then I carefully made my way back the way I had come.

Was it worth the effort and the risk? Of course.

Nothing clears the head, expands the heart and makes one feel alive like a view from 14,000 feet, especially after it’s over!