Columbia from the summit of Yale
The day before, we drove towards the trailhead to see if the Ford Fusion could get us close enough to make the climb feasible. Driving slowly, we got to within a quarter mile so all systems were go for the Fourth of July ascent of Columbia from the Three Elk Creek Trailhead.
On the Fourth, I drove the Fusion all the way to the trailhead at 9479 feet (N38 54.045 W106 13.411) at 6:00 a.m. The road was not overly steep and the five inch clearance was enough on the dry road. We headed south to an early crossing of Three Elk Creek. After an hour or so of hiking on a good trail through a scenic forest along the creek
Three Elk Creek Trail, we crossed the Colorado Trail at 38 54.019 106 15.709
Race across between traffic on the freewayand continued up the Three Elk Trail along the creek. It was a cool pleasant jaunt with three crossings on log bridges.
Hiking trail along Three Elk Creek
Near 11000' we get our first glimpses of Columbia ahead.
Early view of Columbia
Open meadows near timberline Near timberline at 11300, we are faced with a crossing of Three Elk without a bridge.
Attempted crossing Swollen with snowmelt from the heavy spring snows, we look downstream for a crossing. We try to build a stepping stone bridge, but the heaviest rocks we can find are not big enough to stay put in the swift knee deep current. After wasting about an hour in this otherwise beautiful area, we give in and wade the cold water. So much for writing a route guide for this route.
Once, we are across Three Elk for the last time, we have thick willows to bushwhack but we reach open meadows and a beautiful view of Columbia at the head of the basin
Columbia at head of basin. Our data shows we should gain the top of the east ridge around 12500 to 12800 and we look for any sign of a trail up to the ridge top. We waste more time and finally conclude to wing it up the steep slopes.
The trick is to get onto the ridge crest as low as reasonable so we cut a path between the willows and downed timber from old avalanche paths. Four hours in, we take a break at 38 54.191 106 16.106 at 11820. This is at a gap between the willows and the downed timber and is a key point on the ascent.
Passage between willows and downed timber
Ascent route From here, we switchback up the slopes, making an occasional 2+ move but no real scrambling. Although it is steep, there is no loose scree on this route.
Steep slopes but no scree
Once on the ridge, there are great views down into the Frenchman Creek drainage as well as views across to the Southeast Ridge.
View down route from East Ridge
Point 13373 on ridge east of HarvardThere are three false summits along the way with as much as 120 foot descents to the low points between the humps.
One of three false summits
Enjoyable stroll above 13000
Ridge continuing toward real summit
Nearing summit with a small snow field
Looking back on false summit...Over or around?
Southeast Ridge and Princeton from near 13800
Altogether it took us slow hikers from the plains of Kansas until 3:00 p.m. to summit.
Summit photo with Harvard in background The weather co-operated or we would have never made it
Companion nearing summit
Looking down on route
Bear Lake and more snow on Traditional Route
Looking over Divide to Taylor Park Reservoir
Buffalo Peaks to the East
Frenchman Creek--pumped water from snowfield melt trickle We had to hurry to reach the trail before dark
heading down. We attempted to cross Three Elk Crerk at a higher point but had nasty willow bashing after we crossed so it is probably better to cross around 11300 instead of above 11400. We also learned how much slower it goes after dark with inadequate lighting.
Worst of all, we could not find the trailhead parking. We were navigating to a GPS waypoint called Columbia Car. We spent almost two hours bungling in the jungle and could get no closer to it than .28 miles. At about 2:00 a.m., we are all but resigned to spending the night in the woods (at least it wasn't cold or rainy) when we see a van and then a car from Kansas. It turns out it is my Fusion. We were trying to navigate to where I had parked the previous day. At midnight, we were within 300 feet of the car. Two hours and a lot of frustration later, we found the car.
Lessons learned: Don't waste time building crossings and make sure you are navigating to the correct point. Environmentally, this is a great route. Perhaps it needs a cairn or two, but it was more adventuresome like this.