Peak(s):  Humboldt Peak  -  14,064 feet
Date Posted:  07/28/2020
Date Climbed:   07/18/2020
Author:  ellenmseb
 Humboldt East/West loop in summer: it's no Lulu, but a justifiable way to save mileage with 2wd   

tl;dr Humboldt East Ridge in summer is not terrible, it is scenic (but not as scenic as standard) and saves 2.4 miles with 2wd. You would be justified in looping it or taking standard both ways. I did West->East, but recommend East->West for easier bushwhacking.

Some nonstandard routes are just better than standard. Others are a more challenging scramble. Some, like Humboldt East Ridge, are nothing special, but save some mileage for us plebian 2WDers.

My recommendation:

  • If you have 4wd, just do standard.
  • If you have 2wd:
    • Standard route would be OK if you have the time and energy to spare. Enjoy your 10-mile road hike.
    • Otherwise:
      • Park at 2wd TH.
      • Attempt to hitch to Rainbow Trailhead.
      • Take East Ridge up. Follow the trail until it fades. Then bushwhack for a short distance until trees get thin. Take in views that are good, different but not as great as West Ridge.
      • Take West Ridge down. Enjoy the beautiful lakes. Fill water.
Route Mileage 2wd Mileage 4wd Pro Con
West->West (standard) 16.5/5350' 11/4200' -Best scenery throughout.
-No Bushwhacking.
-Less varied scenery.
with hitch on ascent: 12.1/4300'
8.5/4300' -Easier bushwhacking on ascent (stay on trail as long as possible)
-Both East & West's scenery is better viewed in this direction.
-Earlier summit vs West->East.
-more varied scenery vs. West->West
-Water available on descent
-Still some bushwhacking.
(my route)
With hitch on ascent:
8.5/4300' -Best scenery on ascent. (I tend to appreciate scenery more on ascent)
- Slightly shorter than East->West if you can hitch up but not down.
-Harder bushwhacking on descent. May not find the trail asap.
-Later summit vs West->East.
East->East 12.4/5350' 8/4300' -Shortest. -Miss the best scenery.
-Don't do this.

Caption Here


More irrelevant blogging:

I can hike 16.5mi/5350' when necessary, but was in no mood to maximize miles, rather save energy for Longs 2 days later. Plus, I have a strong bias toward loops whenever possible, for more varied scenery & experience. South Colony Lakes is not Outback-able, so chose a shortcut route after some deliberation. (Side note: 2wd TH is Civic-able, there was no need to take the comparatively gas-guzzling Outback)

I took my sweet ass-time ambling up the 4wd road, taking twilight photos & exercising my thumb. The road hike is no fun, and not trivially easy. It would use up some energy if I hiked the whole way. Big thanks to the 3rd truck who picked me up half a mile up!

what mysteries does the dark desert hide!! Turns out nothing, just a boring road hike!

Sign claims that Crestone Needle is the hardest 14er... hmm... but not gonna lie, this claim actually contributed to my safe decision to stick with humboldt.

Congrats to this summitter & good luck on the hardest descent according to the sign.

Craggy Crestone Needle sorely tempted me to attempt it vs gentle Humboldt. It's only class 3 right?? I toyed with the idea of following another group up. But I didn't see any such groups. It would have been incredibly unsafe to attempt Crestone Needle, which is outside my ability currently, alone, with an imperfect weather forecast. Pretty proud of myself for resisting this temptation whereas I normally have incurable summit fever.

Come on, you can do it! only class 3!

First experience in the arid Sangres. Fauna included bighorn sheep, their(?) remains, marmot pancakes, and 2 groups of Amish/Mormons(??) in traditional dress. interesting to see this community also hikes 14ers as a family outing, and actually were the only group to take the same loop route as me.


Question: Kit Carson & Challenger seemed often cloaked in clouds when other summits were cloud-free. Is this a frequent trend, or just the cloud patterns on 7/18/2020?

Kit carson & challenger. not cloudy in this photo, but were often cloudy while nearby peaks were clear. Is this common? If so I should choose an especially clear day for Kit Carson.

Now, the descent. I took standard West Ridge up, East Ridge down, mainly because I normally take more time to enjoy the views on the ascent than descent. But, I recommend others to do the opposite.

I had been lead to believe that East Ridge is completely useless from a scenery/enjoyment perspective. This is not true. These views are not as stunning as Colony Lakes on the ascent, but it's nice to see both. I found myself looking backwards for good views of Humboldt (looking more impressive than it did from South Colony Lakes) and the valleys on both sides. In fact, I did a lot of looking backwards on both ascent and descent, which is one reason why I recommend to do the opposite loop.

View down Humboldt's East Ridge. (not backwards toward Crestone Needle)

Above treeline, it doesn't matter how you descend. There is no trail, so you'll be trampling tundra no matter what. Just get to treeline however your heart desires. My heart desired to lie down on the sun-warmed tundra and nap. This was a bad idea as I got caught in rain later.

Demonstrating how to nap on the tundra.

Once reaching treeline, I opened the saved GPX file and followed it exactly. But GPX did not align with a trail. There were many clearings that looked like trails, and were fine to walk in, but in fact did not lead to a longer trail all the way down.

Many clearings that look like trails around 11500-12000, but these trails lead nowhere.

There are 4 sections of this descent:

  1. Above treeline, doesn't matter where you go.
  2. Thin trees, again doesn't matter where you go.
  3. Thick trees with no defined trail. This sucks.
  4. Thick trees with a defined trail. I'm not sure if I found the trail as soon as it became defined. If you do the loop in reverse, you'll be sure to benefit from as much trail as exists.

Well below treeline, the pleasant warmth finally gave way to rain, taunting me as I had run out of water.


The last mile of the descent was miserable due to bushwhacking and rain. Same for the road hike descent. So the day was a tale of 3/4 great and 1/4 terrible.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Comments or Questions

07/28/2020 15:12
Interesting route down, looks very much like an improv trail so thanks for sharing. I'm doing Humboldt Thursday and will probably take the standard route both ways now. Good discipline not attempting Crestone. I feel your pain and hope not to get sucked in myself.


07/28/2020 16:06
I did the east ridge up and down in May and agree with your recommendation to do the loop counter-clockwise instead of the way you did it. At the time, I was able to find a pretty well-defined trail up to about 11,000' with some trail sections all the way to about 11,600'. On the way down it was much harder to find the trail sections I took on the way up (but luckily I had my GAIA tracking on to help). Plus if you do east ridge up and west ridge down the views will get better and better as you go (until you turn your back to the needle), just like you described!

Excellent report
08/13/2020 17:13
Very nice report, and wonderful photographs.

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