Day 3 Climb - Pico Humboldt

Route map Day 3

Monday, January 26

Laguna Verde Laguna Verde
Early morning shadows on Laguna Verde.
Laguna Verde from 15,000 feet
on Pico Humboldt.


his is extremely dangerous", I exclaimed. Roped together on the glacial white, Enrique pulled me from above while Bob tugged from below. It was all-too-easy for me to lose footing with these uncontrollable forces acting at my waist's sit harness. The slope, a modest thirty-five degrees, expressed itself in hard snow and ice that barely admitted purchase with our ice tools and crampons. An unprotected fall would be disastrous at this point.

Enrique understood the hazard, spurring us onwards to gentler terrain - and yet Bob could not maintain our pace, being forced to rest completely every few uphill steps. His fatigue was appreciated - after all, at sixteen thousand feet our route would tax any person in the throes of acclimatization. And Bob is sixty-eight!

Having climbed with Bob under even more trying circumstances, I knew that he would come through. Bob's tenacity is remarkable, allowing him to climb some three thousand peaks, both large and small. In 2001 we climbed Bolivia's Nevado Illimani. A mountain fully five thousand feet higher still, our success reminded me that Pico Humboldt offered nothing truly new to our experience. As such, given adequate weather I was confident of our success that day.

The morning had been cold. We climbed up a use trail, Laguna Verde dropping off beneath us. Direct sunlight at our first rest break. Whitecaps atop the lake, already a thousand feet below.

A steep path with much scree brought us an hour later to fifteen thousand feet. We were high enough to enjoy that unmistakable feeling of being above most of the world about. A most wonderful sense of loftiness, timeless ridgelines punctuated by distant summits for endless miles.

We climbed on jumbo slabs and rock-hopped for several hundred vertical feet to the glacier's base. Class 2 material that seemed enjoyable compared to yesterday's full-pack haul upslope. Weighing only 110 pounds, a typical fifty pound overnight backpack is roughly one-half my weight. No allowance is made for this fact in either equipment design or in apportioning group gear on a multiperson climb. I am able to perform well only, as today, upon being unencumbered by an overnight pack. With just a daypack, my relative lightness then becomes a major advantage at high altitude.

glacier on Pico Humboldt summit of Humboldt
Adam (in front) and Enrique are tied-in while atop the
La Corona glacier on Pico Humboldt. The summit is 200 feet
higher at upper left.
Edward atop Pico Humboldt -
his first "sixteener" at 16,214 feet.

The glacier demanded respect - hard snow and ice that sought your attention every moment. No time for sightseeing, every footstep had to make purchase lest the all-too-seldom-practiced technique of ice axe self-arrest become a nightmarish reality. We paused for pictures when the slope eased-up, and, at the boundary of glacier and rock that presaged the final effort, we unroped and headed willy-nilly for the very summit on class 2 and class 3 rock.

A series of snowy summits far on the horizon made Colombia more than just another color on some map. Pico Bolivar was plain, the only object higher still in our gaze. Edward got his first "sixteener", a mountain in said elevation range (Bob and I already had this). Enrique's cellular telephone, although in-range owing to our unrestricted view, was low on battery power. I ate an uncooked package of lime and chili - flavored Ramen noodles. Yes, they are edible raw in a pinch.

Looking about, I thought to myself, "This is why I climb!".

The descent was uneventful, Edward in the lead with Enrique pulling up the rear. We zigzagged on the glacier, the downhill trek being far easier. Below the nival zone I paralleled the scree-choked use trail to minimize losing control and slipping. Descent is always more precarious, be it on a steep trail or cross-country.

Back in camp the relentless wind made outdoors life unenjoyable as soon as the local ridgeline swallowed our sun. Although successful today, the main event was yet to come.

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