Over Labor Day weekend 2017 Dan and I hiked 14ers in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Range. We summited Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak on Saturday and Humbolt Peak on Sunday. We took a group vote and the Crestones rank in our top five 14ers. Both involve fun scrambles on beautiful + mostly solid conglomerate rock.

Humbolt was a mountain that involved hiking up and then down. It’s highlight was the fact that you could see the Crestones’ beauty at a great angle. Just kidding I was happy to have a hike like this after the 10 hours of struggle that was Saturday.

On Friday we drove down I-25 with the rest of Denver. Four hours later we rolled into an already filled trailhead. Little did we know that upon Sunday’s exit the lot would be tripled in size, bleeding for miles back along the rough 4WD road. As we found out the year before, 14ers are popular on holiday weekends! That, and we’re part of the problem.

We started backpacking up to the South Colony Lakes around 5:15 PM and arrived around 7:15. The majority was along a dirt road, and the final half mile was on a trail winding up to the pretty alpine lakes. I sucked wind the entire way, an omen [or physical indicator of my acclimatization/fitness] for the proceeding day. We had about 45 minutes of light left to set up our tent, boil some water for a stomach-destroying freeze-dried meal, and hang the bear bag.

South Colony Lakes Crestones 14ers Colorado
The tent stood like a fortress in the face of stampeding mountain goats.

I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until late, given that my normal bedtime is 1-2 AM, but at 9 PM we were both asleep. I woke up every hour because that’s the most effective way to check for bear or axe murderer noises. And then at 4 AM my mind decided it was time to think about how cold I was. It was in the 30s and my summer sleeping bag didn’t quite cut it. So to pass the time I pressed the Indiglo on my watch every five minutes and felt my heart beating at 90 bpm, approximately 35 bpm faster than normal. The more I thought about it the harder it beat. Anxiety is the fountain of youth.

Crestone Needle + Crestone Peak

The alarm went off at 5 AM and we started hiking at 5:30. I won’t give a play by play of the Crestones since a million people have probably hiked them and I can’t really add anything new except that:

1) we hiked both in the same day, not via the ultra cool 5th class traverse because I was moderately scared of that. No, via the way-too-long, lets-add-2,700-ft-of-extra-elevation-to-the-day route. This took about ten hours with the dozens of stops I needed to catch my breath. Which brings me to point #2

2) this was the worst I’ve felt with 14ers’ altitude. From the moment we started going up I felt like I was sucking air through a straw, my heart was beating way faster than normal for a given slope, I was dizzy and lightheaded, and got an aura at the top of Crestone Needle.

Crestone Needle 14ers Colorado
Last flat spot before the 3rd class scramble.
Crestone Needle 14ers Colorado
Top o’ Crestone Needle (14,197 ft). And the sun was blinding.

For me an aura looks like a giant shimmering shape. You know when you look at the sun and all you can see afterwards is a bright spot in your vision? It’s like that but larger and glittery. It used to be a precursor to my long-forgotten migraines, but for this one I luckily avoided a migraine. It scared the crap out of me because a few of the auras I’ve had in the past took up my entire field of vision. I can think of better things than being rendered blind on a 14er.

I took two ibuprofen and laid on some sharp rocks with my hands over my eyes trying to simulate a dark room despite the fact that it was a sunny, cloudless day at 14,000 ft. After about five minutes I told Dan I had to go down. I probably sounded agitated and I think he was concerned. Haste is the best way to descend a third class mountain.

The aura eventually went away and we made it to the saddle. We decided to continue onto Crestone Peak because I really didn’t want to re-do that damn saddle approach. This added many more hours to our day, and plenty of time for me to ponder what other brain phenomena I could experience for the day. The only one I really succeeded with was anxiety, but that should come as no surprise.

Crestone Peak 14er Colorado
Up and up the red gully.

3) there were at least 50 people that summited Crestone Peak that day, but because we were the first up Needle and took longer than expected to do Peak, we still had both to ourselves. Lucky us.

Crestone Peak 14er Colorado
Top of Crestone Peak (14,294 ft)

Crestone Peak 14er Colorado

Crestone Peak 14ers Colorado

The several hours back to camp was a slog! But more prettiness.

Crestone Peak 14ers Colorado

4) on our way back down we saw one of Dan’s old work colleagues and his group of friends. We hung out at their campfire that night. I fell asleep at 9 PM again, but this night was less fitful and I made it all the way until 6 AM when the alarm went off. Hooray.

Humbolt Peak

Sunday we started hiking around 7:15 AM and summited around 9:15 AM. It was mostly single track with the top fourth involving a little more scrambling in some spots. Dan had an unfortunate turn with the altitude, in the form of unrelenting nausea for the first half of the approach. The campfire group from the previous night were all trail runners and despite starting about an hour after us, met us just as we were hitting the top. We spent about an hour talking and hanging out on the summit. The view of the Crestones was so freaking awesome, it is definitely one of my more favorite summit views.

Humbolt Peak 14er Colorado
View of Humbolt later in the day, with better lighting.
Humbolt Peak 14er Colorado
Near the ridge, with the summit in better view.
Humbolt Peak 14er Colorado
Top of Humbolt Peak (14,064 ft).

Humbolt Peak 14er Colorado

The trail running group ran down in ~5 minutes and we hobbled back, feeling destroyed in body and spirit.

Humbolt Peak 14er Colorado
View of the Crestones all the way down.

We packed up our stuff and backpacked to the car in 1.75 hours. It was everything you’d expect of backpacking on a rocky 4WD road at 1PM, at the very end of a strenuous hiking trip: terrible. We originally thought we’d drive 2 hours further south to Mt. Lindsay for a Tuesday hike. But the weather predictions looked mediocre and we didn’t need convincing to go home to showers and food and a bed larger than a 2 ft wide sleeping pad. So we drove three hours home (no traffic!), showered off three days of salt and dirt and tears, made homemade pizza and watched our fav Hulu show You’re the Worst.

Another 14er weekend in the books. We’re at 12 for 2017. And 37 for 58 14ers total. Go us.

The end.

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2 Comments

  1. Breathtaking scenery Ashley, but no surprise that you were out of breath and feeling crummy (you look good though). I had to laugh at your description of waking up every hour. I can relate, and if anxiety is the fountain of youth, I must be doing pretty well. Wonderful photos and I just love reading about your adventures.

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