Mountain: Mt Columbia Route: Ascend SW Couloir, Ski Descent (currently under review), and Scree Descent of West Slopes (standard route - Class II) RT Elevation: 4,250' RT Distance: 12.5 Miles Travel time: 13 hours (yes, I realize that's < 1 mph)
Ben (BenFromtheEast) - Ski Dreamer
Nick (MonGoose) - Summit or Bust!
Throughout the spring, Ben and I shared the dream of skiing our first 14er. While I was achieving this feat on Quandary Peak back in April, Ben was stuck in graduate school, buried under a mound of thesis work, dreaming of one day skiing his first 14er. I told Ben I would love to ski a peak with him, but by the time we could both get a day off together, it was already the 10th of June. We knew the SW Couloir was in (thanks to beta from Speth and Zdero1) but we weren't sure how much snow was left after a warm week. I was confident there would not be enough snow for a ski descent, so I left the skis at home. But Ben was a man with a dream. I encouraged Ben to bring his skis because I figured that might slow him down just enough for me to keep up.
We left the trailhead around 6:45am, I wish we could have slept in longer. The first 3 miles of the hike were pleasant, with no snow on the trail. Just below 11,000', we caught a glimpse of the SW Couloir where Ben immediately exited the trail and made a straight shot towards the snow proclaiming, "I seek the gnar!". It was easy hiking at first, until we got into a section of downed trees. Before we knew it, we were stuck in the thick of it as poor Ben was bouncing off of trees, trying to go over and under but his skis kept clanking along. Ben looked like a baby giraffe on roller skates trying to play a game of limbo. Like a good friend, I was there to pick him up when he fell down.
"Does that guy really think he is going to ski today?"
Ben brought everything, except a chainsaw.
Finally the trees thinned and we were in the smaller brush of the avalanche run-out, just below the couloir. We figured we were out of the woods, so to speak, but the brush was rather difficult to navigate and at times annoying, as bushes scratched our knees and little thistles burrowed into our feet. A few feet of snow would have made travel through this section much easier. The day was heating up and the couloir was starting to come into view but still loomed in the distance.
A view of the route from the avalanche path.
Continuing onward above treeline, we followed the stream of water flowing down the gully that would lead us straight to the couloir. The ascent of the dry gully was okay but I wouldn't want to descend this route without snow.
I was hoping there'd be a little bit more snow here.
The Southwest Couloir
Around 12,000', we arrived at the snow (or what was left of it) which was in good condition in the late-morning. We quickly put on our crampons, pulled out the ice axes and began our ascent of the Southwest Couloir. Ben took two measurements of the slope angle: 37 and 42 degrees. A few sections on the south slope looked even steeper. If the couloir was completely filled in, lower angles would be available to ski down the gully. As has been previously discussed, much of the couloir lies between 35 - 45 degrees providing many areas capable of triggering an avalanche. The run-out avalanche path is also a good indicator that this guy is capable of a big slide.
Ben heading up the couloir with Mt Yale in the background.
A steeper section of the couloir. (Photo by Ben)
Snow is a state of mind.
The steepest part of the slope.
When we reached the ridge, Ben became disheartened at the lack of snow on the remaining trail to the summit. The couloir was growing soft and the window to ski was quickly closing. It was already 1:00, the couloir was turning to mush and clouds were starting to form overhead. A ski down would mean the end of the day.
I looked at Ben and asked, "What do you want to do?"
Ben replied "Let's push on for the summit," generously sacrificing his ski down the couloir in exchange for my summit attempt.
"You could leave your skis here, and we'll pick them up on the way down," I suggested.
"No! I'm taking my skis all the way to the summit".
Hmmm, not much snow.
We reached the summit around 2:00pm after a long morning of climbing, and to our surprise, found a nice patch of snow on the summit. Ben's eyes lit up. Clouds were forming across the Sawatch Range and rain could be seen in the distance, but the skies above Mount Columbia were clear. We snapped a few photos, ate lunch and warded off an aggressive marmot who was vying for a free meal. I might have even filmed a dance video on the summit.
#48 for the MonGoose.
The bromance continues!
Ben preparing for his first ski descent!
I watched as Ben unstrapped his skis, helmet and gear from his backpack.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm going to ski Mount Columbia," he replied.
"But there's only 8' of snow?" I interjected.
"I came here to ski Mount Columbia and that's what I'm going to do."
Ski Descent - The Movie
When it was all said and done, Ben had summited and ski descended Mount Columbia 4 times - a feat never before accomplished in a single day. A combination of his four attempts netted him a total of 32 vertical feet of skiing. Unfortunately, we still had 4,242' left to descend to get back to the trailhead.
The Scree Descent
After Ben finished skiing, he strapped his skis back on his pack and we proceeded to hike down the standard route of Mount Columbia. I now understand why so many people feel such disdain for this route.
Skiing without snow is a rather popular pastime down under.
Ben shreds the Scree.
The Controversy - You Decide!
I dislike this entire trip report.
On the descent, Ben and I divulged into a heated disagreement over what constitutes a ski descent and more specifically, whether today's efforts warranted a ski dude check-mark. Granted Ben did ski from the summit as far as he could go and then carried his skis down the mountain, which was much more tiring than actually being able to ski the entire mountain. But, I'm reluctant to give it to him so easily. So, in an effort to settle our grievances, we have decided to throw open the debate in the court of public opinion to a group of unbiased and highly knowledgeable internet users (that's you!). Due to a lack of polling capability within the trip report format, we will use the "Like" and "Dislike" keys at the top of this page as the primary method to cast your vote.
If you feel that Ben deserves a ski dude for his efforts on Mount Columbia - "Like" this report.
If you feel Ben did not ski enough of the mountain to earn a ski dude - "Dislike" this report.
The results of the voting shall be considered as final and binding by both parties. Please state your opinions in deciding the fate of Ben's ski dude in the comments section below. Those with actual ski icons (aka real 14er skiers) next to their name will be given extra priority. Being new to skiing 14ers, it would nice to hear your opinion on what constitutes a ski descent? When the snow runs out before reaching the car, where do you draw the line?
I had another great day on the mountain. I must say, I'm a big fan of the Southwest Couloir and I can't wait to climb it again. I hope we'll get a chance to return next year, perhaps a little bit earlier in the year and do a full ski descent. Until then, I look forward to some great summer hiking.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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