| Solo Winter Dayclimb: Mt Columbia - Part One
Chasing Down the Voodoo:
Solo Winter Dayclimb on Mount Columbia
Peak: Mount Columbia
Route: West approach.
Date: January 9, 2010
Length: 18 miles RT
Vertical: 5300 feet
Travel time: 9:00 hours, RT
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tuesday, January 5
Last Tuesday, a couple of axe-slingin' peak-baggers went in search of the gold on Colorado's Mount Columbia.
"You really wanna take on those high winds?"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "The gold is just on the other side of that hill…"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . Gold Beyond Reach: Mount Columbia's West Face, last Tuesday, January 5, 2010.
. . . . . .
Retreat at 11,700
Last Tuesday's story:
Following last Tuesday's failed attempt, I couldn't stop dreaming about that beautiful snowless line we had seen
rising upward out of the Horn Fork winter wonderland to the summit ridge, where we turned back…
The dreams became haunting.
A consistent theme began to emerge:
Traveling the winter backcountry during an unending night.
The dreams turned into nightmares.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
The nightmares became progressively more hellish.
And more intense and bizarre.
I knew the Voodoo had me in its grip.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Friday, January 8
High pressure came into the state, and a very nice weather window opened.
Glen had to work. My regular partner wasn't interested. I put out the word. No response.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Saturday, January 10
Do you guys ever forget to set the alarm? I think it was psychological. It was Saturday morning, and I was feeling a little spooky
about the first winter solo in a long time. So on Friday night, I kept waking up, tossing and turning. I finally looked at the clock:
it was time to get up. After an hour of busying myself with details, I gave up and crawled back under the warm covers.
Do you guys ever do that?
"If you're chicken and you duck 'em, your goose is cooked." -- Robin Williams, Mork and Mindy
I must have fallen back to sleep, because I had the strangest dream...
A voice like Eastwood's "Blondie" in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, spoke slowly and matter-of-factly:
"What's the matter…did ya think you were gonna die up there?"
(Glancing down at the bed, then turning away:) "You know…you could spend the rest of your life under those covers…"
I suddenly realized that being chicken and ducking the mountain would definitely cook my goose.
There was no salvation under those covers for this turkey.
The dream took taken a sudden turn...
"This time of year, descending in the dark is a given."
I sought consolation in the words of a Colorado mountaineer whom I respect a great deal.
The west approach to the summit ridge requires going clear around the south end of the massif.
Calculations had put RT travel time at seven hours on skis, and ten hours on the hoof.
But on arrival at the TH, there was zero new snow, and the road was getting icy.
Fourteen miles round trip to treeline…Eighteen miles total…5300 vertical from winter TH
I reconciled myself to the fact that it was going to be a long slog in on boots and snowshoes, and tried to move as quickly as possible.
I left the car at 9:03 am.
Pristine Beauty in Mid-winter's solitude...
By 9:55, I was at the summer TH, three miles up the road. The pace was encouraging.
The beauty of the area bolstered a sense of drive and well-being.
The wilderness boundary was good to see, and the track was still solid.
By 10:37 am I was still on course, arriving at the Cottonwood Creek bridge, 4.5 miles in.
This is where the route heads north into the Horn Fork Basin. It was a gorgeous day, and the first day of the weather window.
If for any reason an unexpected bivy were required, it would not be too unpleasant. After such a late start,
the good conditions and favorable pace were emotionally heartening, though I knew the bulk of the journey lay ahead.
Surprisingly, I did not see another soul at the TH, nor anywhere on the entire route, on this sunny warm Saturday.
It was perfect solitude for a long day of mid-winter dreaming…
Half way up the Horn Fork the track started breaking through, requiring snowshoes.
A little further up the basin, the track disappeared completely. I started the laborious task of busting trail, solo.
The plan called for being at Point 11853 by 11:30am, given an 8:00 am start time.
With the 9:00 am start, I actually arrived here at 12:15 pm.
Not bad time… A summit bid was still in the cards. The west slopes above were still relatively clear, as they had been last Tuesday.
After dropping snowshoes and making pack adjustments, I started up the west slopes at 12:30 pm.
The weather was cooperating nicely. This was most encouraging.
This photo below depicts the view to the west from the base of Point 11853. This is the circled area on the map below,
near the start of the west rib to the summit ridge. Point 11853 is the rock formation in the upper right hand corner of the image.
Staying to the right of the existing snowfield gets one into fairly steep, somewhat loose terrain.
While this line might seem safest, the very edge of the snowfield had shallow snow,
no slab, and avoided the steeper loose section altogether. There was no cracking or settling.
Above this section, moving right and clearing the gulley puts one squarely on the W/SW rib to the summit ridge.
The minor challenges now behind, the straightforward work of banging out verts was finally ready to commence.
Winter has a strange effect on animals, and the human animal is no exception. Perhaps it is the light, or the shorter days.
Here I was, still in that quiet hibernation-like state, dreaming a mid-winter's dream.
The delicate lace of snowpack and trees had delivered me, ready, to this sacred alpine ground.
The metabolic machinery was warmed up and in gear.
I took a deep breath and gazed upward at the line.
Does a tune ever come into your head, as you're climbing?
Musical power enveloped me as my legs cranked out the next 2400 vertical feet.
The bright sun, high altitude, and high aerobic output conspired to transform the monotonous rhythm of footfall into music,
syncopated with the restless power and drive of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" (Miles Davis, Bitches Brew,) and Jimi's
"Voodoo Chile, Slight Return" (Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland.)
I smiled as I opened the metabolic throttle, and upshifted into climbing gear.
. . . . . .
As I ascended, the altimeter became a sort of biological speedometer, which I pushed hard into the 12's, the 13's …
standing on the metabolic gas pedal....
Intaking oxygen and outputting verts, the steep west face to the summit ridge slowly melting away…
…as the basin floor gradually receded, distant peaks coming into view...
The SW gulley looking down at the old runout below
Chasing down the Voodoo…
…to the summit ridge
Continued in Part Two.
Please see Solo Winter Dayclimb: Mount Columbia Revisited - Part Two:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):