Date: Saturday Feb 11, 2012
Elevation Gain: ~4700
Length: ~11.5 miles (+ .25 miles from car to TH)
Time: 4:15am – 6:30pm
Crew: Jeff, Don and Jim
I saw the post looking for partners for an attempt on Columbia. I had wanted a second chance at the mountain after bailing on a prior attempt. Solo winter camping in the Horn Fork Basin was a little too much for me and I headed home after only a few hours in the tent.
This time, 4am start. Woke up at 2:50 and left Salida at 3:15 for the 45min drive. I had assumed we would be meeting at the normal winter closure so was pleasantly surprised the road was drivable to the Harvard Lakes TH. Unfortunately that meant I was late and had to hurry to catch up.
The initial mile on the CT was packed down and I quickly made my way to the 10,000 ft turnoff, at which point I sighted the team breaking trail. After quick introductions, we took turns and broke trail up the steep ridge to tree line. We attempted to follow a trench made by a prior party, but recent snows made the old trench nearly invisible. The snow varied from none to 30 inches, mostly around the 18 inch depth.
We settled into a slow and steady pace, knowing this route is more of a marathon than a sprint. I wasn’t sure if I had the energy to complete such a lengthy hike, especially after completing Democrat in winter conditions only two days earlier. I told myself that I would be happy to help trench for a few thousand feet and reevaluate my condition further up the mountain.
Up through the snowy forest
The weather was perfect in the morning. A cloud bank covered the entire valley and made for some scenic views.
Cool cloud bank
Starting to open up
Bust on through
Moon over Yale
Yale from Columbia SE ridge
Getting some daylight
We stashed the snowshoes and my avy shovel shortly above tree line, it was nice to lose a little weight. We didn’t regret leaving the snowshoes since there was minimal snow above 12000. Even with the recent 8” snowstorm, it must have all blown further down the mountain.
High above the cloudbank
The ridge is about 6 miles RT, which is a long time above tree line. We were fortunate to have great weather. I would not want to be up on that ridge in bad conditions. The ridge isn’t very difficult but I had to tune out the length and just complete short sections one at a time.
Marching along the ridge
Still a ways to go
We spent a few minutes on the summit downing some food, trying to get some calories for the long descent.
Heading down, there are several hills that need to be climbed. You are tempted to skirt the bumps to avoid any gain, but the traverses lead to difficult talus. It is better to stay at the top of the ridge for the majority of the descent.
Back near tree line, we put the snowshoes back on and began the steep descent through the woods.
Don’s SUV was high centered in deep snow, so we spent about 30min digging out. Our vehicles struggled in the deep snow and we quickly made our way down to Buena Vista, where Jan’s restaurant provided a heaping pile of calories and salt.