Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Post Date:  05/31/2009
Date Climbed:   05/31/2009
Posted By:  realhillboarding

 A late start for a snow climb - alternate route up Columbia   

5/27/09 – Hike into Horn Fork Basin, set up camp
5/28/09 – Mt Harvard
5/29/09 - Columbia via west-face couloir

Once again, my alarm failed us. This time we both had our heads buried in our sleeping bags and didn't even see that it was getting light outside, so I woke up at 7:00 instead of 4:30…oops. We ate breakfast and got ready for the day as we contemplated whether or not it would be safe to make an attempt. We came to the decision that we would hike up to the snow and check the conditions and, if all was well, start climbing with the knowledge that we would flee the mountain at the first bad sign.

The snow had set up beautifully over night, and the ascent started at 9:00 with a breakneck pack, covering the first 600' in a hair over 20 minutes. Shawn started getting hot spots on his feet, so our pace slowed a bit but we maintained a good clip.

Our route:

As we approached the crux I was a little nervous because, from a distance, it looked like ice. As I got to the base of the crux, I could tell that it was mostly snow and turned out to be a fun section to climb. Skiing this area would be extremely risky, as it would involve a mandatory point downhill and the runout is littered with small to medium sized rocks.

Looking up at the crux

Looking down at Shawn climbing the crux

As we continued up the snow, I kept a close eye on the skies and continued assessing the snowpack; it was looking like the mountain gods were smiling on us. The snow's west exposure gave us a late sunhit, and as the sun swung across the sky, small clouds appeared and gentle breeze kicked up, buying us more time. About 150' above the crux was another choke point. There was water running underneath this section, the snow didn't appear to freeze overnight, and I didn't like the overall look of the snow, so we bypassed this area on the somewhat loose rock

Shawn bypassing the snow choke

The snowfield ended about 100-150' below the ridge, but the new snow had covered the rocks with 6" of snow. We were able to climb up on snow, but it was thin, poorly bonded to the ground, and melting fast, so I don't think this area could be skied. We reached the ridge and found 8-10" of fresh snow that was starting to get a little too sticky for my liking. This snow was hit by the sun much earlier in the day, and the clouds were building up, so I decided we still had time to scramble up to the summit.

Clouds building over Yale, time to book it down the mountain

We topped out at 11:30, 10 minutes after gaining the ridge, took a few pictures, ate a granola bar, and high-tailed it down the mountain

Curious marmot checking us out on the summit

Summit shot with Harvard in the background

Shawn doing a standing glissade down the lower part of the couloir

…and sliding to a stop

When we reached the stream crossing we stopped to fill up water bottles, eat the lunch that we neglected in our haste to get off the mountain, and soak our feet in the cold water. Shawn needed a table to make his sandwich, so why not use feet?


The clouds were looking much more ominous as we returned to camp, so we made short work of packing up and were on our way back to the car in no time.

Unlike our ascent, we were able to stay on-route for the descent and we were back at the car 2 hours after breaking camp – a significant improvement over the 4 hours it took to reach camp. On the way down we found a beer on the ground. We were tempted to drink it, but when we saw the "Born On" date was September 2007, we figured it was best to just dump out the skunked beer and carry out the trash.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

Nice!     06/01/2009 01:38
Great pictures! I like the marmot. I think I‘ve seen that marmot before:


good job     06/02/2009 15:25
Nice pics, way to bang out Harvard and Columbia in one backpack. And now I know I should look elsewhere for more snow climbs!!

About not drinking that beer though....

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