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Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Post Date:  06/19/2009
Date Climbed:   06/17/2009
Posted By:  Rich Diesel


 Solitude and little snow on Mt. Columbia   

Hello 14er fans. My name is Rich, and while I've climbed 30 14ers by now, this is my first post. So, allow me to endulge a bit and explain that I'm pushing 60 years old, so, like a diesel tractor, I'm slow but I get there.
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I'M HAVING COMPUTER PROBLEMS AND WIRELESS PROBLEMS SO, I APOLOGIZE FOR THE POOR QUALITY PICS HERE.
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I chose Columbia because I have a fixed travel schedule that placed me in Breckenridge this week. Most of the peaks have quite a bit of snow, but I figured the west-facing trail of Columbia would have less snow and that proved true. The only snow is in the woods from about 11,000 feet up to tree line and along the summit ridge. During the afternoon the snow was soft and 'post-hole producing' but generally fine.
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Aside from my age, I was quite tired before I started the hike and I suffered stomach cramps most of the way up. So it took me a long time to reach the summit: 6 hours! So, I suspect most reading this could do it much faster.
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Enough for the overview... now for a trip and road report.
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The first item that might interest people is the road. The last 3 miles are well known as the worst. I drove a 'mom-bomb' Dodge minivan 2WD vehicle to the end. In the 4:50am light, I did have to get out and inspect the infamous culvert washout, as it looked pretty bad in the headlights

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However, getting out I realized there was an easy crossing on the right side (as viewed going up the road).
While passable to a 2wd vehicle, the key things are: 1) you need good ground clearance, and 2) go slow. I went 2-5 mph and it took 45 minutes to crawl that last 3 miles of road.
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Here's another view of the culvert from my way back down, the clear passage is near the left side of the road.

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The trail:
The trail is snow free until about 11,000 feet. Then you get the humps. Like this:
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I had no problem finding the fork for the trail to Mt. Columbia. The 14er.com site said it was a quarter mile past this clearing

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On the center right of this picture you can see the slope of Columbia that you scramble up, and you can see there is no snow for that 2,000 feet of climbing.
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Another poster had trouble finding the fork, but if you have an altimeter and a sense of distance, and can spot 3 big cairns, it is easily found. Nonetheless, maybe this pic helps:
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Taking the right fork, there is some route finding involved due to the snow covering the trail. The main thing is to read the 14er.com description carefully. There is a prominent cliff to the east, you just need to stay under that and to the right of it to get the correct drainage.
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While there is no snow the route is not a properly maintained trail. There is quite a bit of erosion because many people pretty much go straight up/down. I brought poles and highly recommend bringing them along. On the way up they eliminated the '2 steps up, slide 1 step down' thing. (which accelerates the erosion). On the way down, the poles kept me from slipping and smashing my tailbone at least 4 times, probably more. Ok, I know such admissions are not cool to the younger readers, but I no longer care so much about being cool instead of safe.
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Here is view looking down on the lower section showing multiple paths and lots of erosion.
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Notice also the prominent cairns (one in the foreground one in the background) The foreground one appears on the skyline when viewed from below. (Nice work to the cairn builders, btw)
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It took me way too long to climb this slope to the ridge line. I enjoyed the colorful rocks (OK, really, I was gasping for breath and fighting intestinal cramps! I live at sea level 51 weeks out of the year). I reached the ridge line at 11 am (after a 5:40am sign-in).
Some typical views of the top:
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There are gentle snow cornices that can be crossed, nothing difficult, nothing needs an ice axe. Again, poles are useful (to reduce the post-hole-ing.)
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Finally I reached the top at 11:45
Here is a view looking towards Harvard with my altimeter in my hand
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I hunted around a bit but could not find a tube to sign in. Snow still accumulated in the little summit rock wind-break. Even so, plenty of places to sit on dry, flat rocks.
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Ah yes, the wind.
There was a steady 40 knot wind along the ridge line, but it was easily avoided by being just east of the ridge line (like 10 feet east of the west edge). That helped slow down the convection and some high clouds (verifying the NWS forecasts, btw) also suppressed the convection.
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Did I mention that I saw nobody on this trip? Pretty rare for a 14er! I spent 75 minutes on top in solitude. Maybe people thought this hike would be as snowy as the Mt Harvard bowl.
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The lack of fellow climbers was in stark contrast to my last 14er exactly a year ago (Belfort + Oxford). There I encountered several dozen friendly people. I did have two negative experiences a year ago: 1) 2 groups of people bringing dogs that were not on leashes, and 2) summit cell-phoning. These are my pet peeves (pun intended). I really don't enjoy someone's dog sniffing my sandwich and my pack as I try to eat my lunch. (My family has a dog, so I'm not anti-pet). As for cell phones, I really don't need to hear someone shout into their phone about items that could wait. While on Oxford, 6 guys came up together and each immediately began making phone calls. Aside from the usual 'Hey, guess where I am!' banality, I learned that one guy was to tell Dad something from Mom (I guess mom and dad don't speak directly.) Not to mention other personal stuff...
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But I digress....
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The main trick about coming back down is to locate where on that summit ridge is the trail you came up. Here is a picture looking down, where the trail leaves the ridge to go down.
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So, maybe take a look back once you gain the summit ridge so you'll recognize it when you go back down.
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Not much else to say. I hope this post is useful. Happy hiking!

All pics are copyrighted (not that I would expect anyone to want to use them for commercial purposes -- not allowed) but you are free to print any for your personal use (if they are helpful). Thanks!



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
 


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