| 3rd time‘s a charm!
Holy Schist and I have been a little out of the 14er loop this summer since we were training for Ironman Wisconsin. We managed to get up above treeline a couple of times, but mostly we were either swimming, biking, or running! It can get boring after a while, let me tell ya!! So with September 13th out of the way and the accomplishment of our first Ironman we decided to celebrate with my final Sawatch 14er! I actually went up with gatorchick in July and attempted the Southwest Ridge route. That was entirely too steep, trail was hard to find, and by the time we did get to treeline, the storm clouds were rolling in. The second attempt in August with Christian (Holy schist) was quickly rained out. We actually slept in our car in the parking lot that time and woke to thunder and lightning and pouring rain the next morning.
So third time's a charm, right? Well that's what we were hoping for! We had yet to summit a 14er this season and I was getting really jealous watching this website. With the most perfect forecast for Sunday we left Golden on Sunday morning around 5:45am. We were at the TH at 8:05am. We got dressed, got the dogs ready and were on the trail by 8:30. We signed the register and found no one else had signed in for Columbia that day. The first section of the trail was fairly flat with little elevation gain. At 1.5miles we came to the junction of Horn Fork Basin, we took a right and started the ascent. We felt the heavy legs left over from the Ironman, but nothing bad.. it had been two weeks since our race. We realized though, that we were in for a long day.
After another 1.25 miles we came to a clearing in the trail and could finally see the southwest shoulder of our peak.
WOW! We had a long way to go! Another .25 miles was a trail to the right. You can definitely see that it is a trail, but if you weren't paying attention you might walk right past it. The trail to Harvard is much more pronounced. We took a right and through a set of trees. Then the trees clear again and the trail splits again, we took the trail to the right again and went up and through more trees. The pictures shows this junction.
After heading through the trees we found the Cairns leading to the right and in front of some large cliffs.
As we exited the trees for the last time we were confronted with the main part of the hike.. the face and the shoulder of Mt. Columbia.
The hike from here is steep, tedious, and exhausting! We headed up through a well defined trail into the scree and talus. It quickly got steep and more difficult. Not technical, but still difficult. We tried to get the dogs to pull us up the mountain, but they were having a hard time getting up themselves in sections, let alone pull us. Between 12,000ft and 12,700ft there is a section so steep I had to use my hands to avoid sliding down the dirt and loose rock.. not my idea of fun. My calves and achilles tendons were so stretched out I thought they were going to pop. I guess they were still a little tight. Pics from this section
Showing the steepness
looking back at the steepest section
At 12,700 ft it gets much easier, as Christian said, "ahhh, salvation" But it isn't completely over. We stopped on a rock for a sandwich and a breather. For the next 900 or so feet of elevation it is about the steepness of most strenuous 14ers. My calves were shaking though from what we had just done. We reached point 12,700ft around 11:45ish and reached the ridgeline at 13,600ft at 1:50pm. We played the 50 step game for the most part. Stopping with enough time to allow our heartrates to go back to 120ish and my calves to calm down.
The following pictures are from this section of the hike.
As we approached the ridge, we expected a short walk to the summit. We should have known better. This is what we saw when we reached the ridge...
We were sure it would be another hour from here and with this we thought we might not make it back to the car before dark. This concerned us a little. Christian sat down and put his head down, I don't think he had caught up on his sleep and fully recovered from the Ironman. Plus, he went downhill Mtn Biking the last weekend and fell hitting his ribs so hard that it is possible he has a cracked rib. He is still having to splint his chest to take a deep breath. So at the moment we reached the ridge, he looked done. I felt bad for him, but I also wanted to finish this mountain and knowing we were that close with bright sunshine overhead I was insistant that we get this. I didn't have to say much, he wanted to finish it as well. So it was 1:51 on my watch and we took off for the summit. There were several false summits along the way. As we neared a point that I had seen on 14ers.com I thought we had met the summit and so I headed up the rocks thinking we were there...it was only 2:15. We were a lot faster and the summit was a lot closer than I originally thought. As I got to the top of this summit, I looked to the North to find yet another pile of rocks a little bit higher and just a little bit farther away... damn false summits!!!
looking at the false summit from the real one
We had to descend several large boulders to get back on track and then ascend the main summit. The dogs were starting to have a hard time and I was starting to feel really guilty for making them do this. I know they were having fun at the beginning of the day, but now they were tired. When we reached the actual summit, Tucker found some snow and laid down and fell asleep. We had the top of Columbia to ourselves and the only bad part about this was the lack of someone to take our group summit photo. So I attempted the timer on a flat rock, but it didn't go so well. I couldn't get the picture I wanted, but we didn't have much time so we did the best we could. Pics:
Ahhhh, I was so happy to be back at 14,000ft. I can't tell you how good it makes me feel. There is something about the view, lack of air, the adrenaline and serotonin you get all at the same time. It is truly a feeling like you are on top of the world. The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky!!! We hung out for about 20 minutes which wasn't long enough, but we wanted to get back to the car before dark.
heading down from the peak
The dogs found snow on the way back down and decided to take advantage
We were back at the ridge at 13,600ft at 3:30. I had forgotten my trekking poles at home so Christian loaned me his for the day. I don't know how at that point I would have gotten down without them. Christian took Walter and we let our amazing lab stay off leash since he pretty much stays glued to a person anyway. The lab, Tucker actually glued his nose to Walter's butt and followed the commands "wait" and "stop" the whole way down. By the time we reached 12,700ft again and the steepest section of the whole hike, my quads had had it and I decided to just sit and scoot down. Christian and the dogs lead the way and did great with sidestepping and using one pole. I just couldn't rely on my quads, they were shot!
After that section I used my trekking pole and a sidestep to save the fronts of my legs and continued making progress. I tried going forward instead of sideways, but found that I had nothing left and fell. I hit my elbow on a rock and screamed. No one heard me though, I am pretty sure we were the last people on either mountain at that point. I had to suck it up or HTFU if you will and get up and keep going. We arrived back in the trees at 4:45pm and were happy that we might actually make it before dark. We stopped at the clearing in the trees and even looked back at our accomplishment.
The dogs were so tired by this point, everytime we stopped they laid down. We sat for a few minutes and then decided to get a move on. The next 1.25 miles felt like forever!!! We reached the junction and then started a slow jog trying to beat the sunset. We had 1.5miles to go and no one left out there, but us. The last 1.5 miles went by fast, even though our feet, legs, knees were dying and our bodies exhausted. We made it to the car at 6:30pm with a little daylight left. aAs we expected we were the last car left in the parking lot. I was so happy and I was ready for a beer! The dogs suprisingly jumped into their kennels and fell asleep right away. I think they were having mixed emotions about tagging along.
The Aspens lining the road were awesome!
We were back in BV by 7:15, we found LaVelle's gas and liquor store the only one open and grabbed a 6 pack of pale ale for me(I didn't drink it all) and a big coke for Christian. Then our last stop was at High Mountain Pies Pizza in Leadville before heading back to Golden to pick up our little one from my mom. The pizza at High Mountain Pies is the BEST after a long day... let me tell you!!!!!!
All in all a wonderful day and a strenuous end to the Sawatch Range. I hope I can get one more mtn in before Winter really sets in. We are considering San Luis.
And as I write this I am still really sore from Sunday... it is a quad killer!!!!
Hope you enjoyed!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):