Mt. Columbia Summit Ski (Southwest Gully)- N. Cottonwood Creek TH
Mt. Columbia Southwest Gully Winter Ski at the 2011 14ers.com Winter Gathering
Date: Friday-Saturday, March 18-19, 2011 Skiers: Bill, Tyler, and I Route: Southwest Gully to West Slopes ascent and ski descent from N. Cottonwood Creek TH Stats: 16 miles; 4,900’ climbed; 4,700’ skied; 11 hrs 20 min RT on summit day
(**Click images for larger versions**)
Our routes, Southwest Gully portion (red=climb; blue=ski): Topo of the route (red=climb; blue=ski):
I met Bill in Breckenridge and we drove to 9,300’ on CR 365, about 2 miles shy of the summer trailhead. We started up the road at 2:00pm and skinned up almost all of it (a few dry patches early on). Tyler caught up and after more skinning up the beautifully broken trail by Kiefer et al., we stopped at 10,975’ where the 14ers.com winter gathering crew was setting up camp. After meeting and talking to some forum members, it was time for some shuteye.
Crossing the summer trailhead:
About half of the 14ers.com winter gathering establishment:
Tyler, Bill, and I left camp at 6:40am and soon after we were in the apron of the Southwest Gully, just east of the standard ascent route. One by one, we aimed for a large rock/safety zone in the center of the choke at 11,600’, headed around the corner and hugged (climbers’) right side of the gully. Skin conditions were poor – a lot of powder that didn’t allow for much skin bite interspersed with breakable crust. Bill exited the gully around 12,300’ climbers’ left (west) to gain the slope. I was uncomfortable with that traverse point so Tyler and I skinned a little higher until we found an inch of breakable crust on top of ice; here we decided to cut the slope and gain the flank.
Entering the Southwest Gully:
Bill and Tyler skin up the gully:
First light on Mt. Yale never gets old:
Bill cuts the slope near 12,200’ to reach the flank:
Looking back down our climb route after traversing the gully:
Skinning conditions were still much less than ideal so we threw skis on our backs at 12,800’ and would boot the rest of the way to the summit. The winds were consistent, keeping things cool. The gusts got fairly high and we wasted a lot of unnecessary energy fighting them. We gained the summit ridge and still wrestled high winds the last ˝ mile to the summit. Terry (tmathews) caught up (from starting at the bottom that morning!) and finished out the summit push with us. I was moving quite slow the entire day and finally topped out about 5.5 hours later at 12:30pm, the guys a little earlier. My legs were shot and I truly wondered if I had any juice left to ski.
Making my way up the flank near 13,000’ below the summit ridge:
Bill and Tyler on the summit ridge (13,600’) with a half mile to go. A line is in from the summit!
Ski lines on Mt. Harvard:
After a short summit break, we were skiing at 1:00pm – no photos off the summit due to high winds. To get a summit descent, we dropped slightly southeast down the back side and immediately made a descending traverse heading back towards the summit ridge. We were stopped dead in our tracks from wind gusts exceeding 40mph! We skied to the flat grassy area near 13,800’ on the ridge, briefly removed the skis, and walked a short way back up.
Tyler and I gearing up for a windy descent off the summit:
Being arrested by the 40mph + winds:
The line off the summit and along the ridge:
We were able to ski almost the entire ridge, returned to the southwest flank entry point at 13,600’, and crossed over to the south side of the ridge. Skis temporarily came off again for about 100 yards before reaching the top of the gully just below 13,600’. Time to ski. We opted to ski the shoulder for awhile before dropping into the gully. The markedly high winds did more than their job to preserve the snowpack; we found all sorts of variable and less than ideal ski conditions; a breakable layer on top if softer snow, wind-deposited powder pockets, and sastrugi; but stable. Not to mention the visibility was also poor.
Skiing the upper shoulder before dropping in the gully: Me:
We dropped back into the gully proper near 12,400’, skiing safety-zone to safety-zone, only to find more inconsistent snow conditions as the poor visibility remained. We skied both the south (more hardpack) and southwest (thin layer of breakable crust) aspects of the gully. Then it was one by one through the choke of the gully at 11,600’.
Skiing the Southwest Gully and its’ short choke: Tyler:
A quick ski down through the large avy run-out and we were back to the campsites at 2:40pm, exhausted. I could not believe how tired I and my legs were and, again, pondered how I would be able to ski back to the car with a heavy pack. More of the winter gathering crew showed up (about 15 tents in the area!) – it was so nice to meet even more of forum members and catch up with those I know.
After a snack, socializing, and packing the tents we left camp at 4:00pm. The ski out wasn’t bad – some areas with collapsible snow but at least it was all continuous. We crossed the summer TH an hour later and arrived back at the truck at 6:00pm stoked to take the ski boots off. I definitely think a winter overnight 16-mile RT, almost 5,000’ vertical climb and ski was overdoing it for my first ski of the season but I suppose its go big or go home.
Google Earth image of our lines (red=climb; blue=ski):
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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