Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  11/14/2011
Modified:  10/30/2012
Date Climbed:   11/09/2011
Author:  dehrlich101
Additional Members:   SilverLynx, DaveSwink
 So close, yet so far away - Southeast Ridge  

Where: Mount Columbia - Southeast Ridge
Date: Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Company: dswink and silverlinx
Elevation Gain: 4,088 ft
Distance: 8.66 mi
Time: 8:14:25
Start: 7:34 am
Finish: 3:45 pm

I was perusing one afternoon when I saw that silverlynx "Jennifer" wanted to hike a mountain on Wednesday. I had already put in a few more hours at work that week and was off at 3:00 am Wednesday morning. Why not go for a 12-mile hike? I'd already be up at the 4:00 am departure time... She emailed me back with the plan to hike the Southeast Ridge of Mount Columbia with dswink "Dave", with an arrival time of 4:15 at the Park & Ride in Morrison. Dave had climbed all of the peaks in the Sawatch Range except for Mount Columbia, and was hoping to finish up the range on Wednesday.

We set off down the road around 4:30 am to Buena Vista, more specifically the Gun Smoke Cafe. After filling our stomachs with a breakfast burrito and biscuits and Gravy, we headed out towards the Harvard Lakes/Colorado Trail Northbound Trailhead. County Road 365 had some snow on it but the Subaru Forrester we drove up in had no problem. There is a small parking lot just before the Trailhead. After getting ready, we set off towards Harvard Lakes on the Colorado Trail at 7:34 am.

Trailhead Sign

We hiked up a few switchbacks, while gaining the Southeast Ridge. Around .75 miles from the trailhead, the trail will turn north around 10,000 ft; at this point start hiking into the forest along the ridgeline. During the summer a cairn marks the departure point from the Colorado Trail, but at this time of year it was covered with snow.

Let the post holing begin!



From this point until tree line, we hiked though an average of 6" - 12" of snow with some points being well over a foot. We saw several small cairns along the ridge, which were partly covered with snow. The Route Description on says to stay mostly to the right of the ridge the whole way up but we found the snow was not as deep on the left side. The trees are very dense and many had fallen, so there was a lot of hopping, dodging, ducking, and climbing to be done until tree line. Along the whole route you have great views of Mount Yale to the south.

Mount Yale

Trees! Photo by silverlynx

Just as the route description stated, we emerged from the trees around 11,500 ft into a clearing of dead trees.

Dead trees

Photo by silverlynx


Once past tree line the rocks are only partially covered, except for the drifts along the ridge. Continue up the ridge to 12,800 ft, at this point there are two big cairns at the top. Mount Columbia can be seen in the distance across Three Elk Basin. We decided at this point that we would turn around at 1:30 pm, so that we would not be on the ridge after sundown.

The remaining ridge until 13,298 and Columbia in the background

Drifting snow


Dave on his way up Point 13,298

Looking back down the ridge from 13,298

After gaining Point 13,298 you can see the remaining ridge "approximately 1.75 miles" to Mount Columbia. We checked the time and realized it was almost 1:00 pm. The ridge to Columbia would have taken us much longer than a half hour to complete. Even if we pushed the turn around time, there was no way to get to the summit and off the ridge before nightfall. We decided to turn around, and head back to the vehicle. It was a downer having to turn around when the summit was so close, but we had no other logical alternative. The ridge from Point 13,298 to Columbia is very impressive, and already has some sign of natural avalanches into Three Elk Basin.

Mount Columbia

The hike down was quick, and made it back to the vehicle with plenty of daylight. After warming the vehicle up, and drinking a Blue Paddle Lager we drove down to Quincy's in Buena Vista. I am sure most of you reading this have been here before but if not I cannot recommend this place enough! They only have one item on the menu, which was Filet Mignon that night. Steak, Salad, and a baked potato tasted great after hiking all day. Can't wait to go on a Friday or Saturday night for the prime rib.

Although we did not make our goal of Mount Columbia, it was a beautiful day. Blue skies, minimal wind, cool temperatures, and the best snow conditions we could have expected. The hike though the snow was exhausting, and definitely should have started earlier in the morning to compensate. Thanks to Dave and Jennifer for letting me join their trip, and hope to hike with you two again in the spring and summer.

Snowy Sawatch range - Photo by silverlynx

Beer time?! Photo by silverlynx

"Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt." - Kant

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Loooong Ridge!
11/15/2011 15:33
I climbed Mt Columbia along this route solo in January of 2011. I thought that ridge was never going to end! You were correct to turn around to avoid hiking down in the dark (which is what I had to do). Thanks for bringing back the memories, I recall tree-bashing post-hole fatigue on the way up (probably the hardest part of the climb for me), but was really struck by that large area of dead trees. I have always wondered what caused that large cluster to die. Thanks for sharing!


Great job on the Trip Report!
04/14/2012 00:26
Good choice of pics and very nice descriptions! Speaking of the trees, I noticed a lot more limber pine on this route than I normally see during hikes. I wondered why that kind of tree was so prevalent on this ridge.

Thanks for doing this Trip Report!


11/21/2011 00:45
Nice job, you guys! Takes guts to get out there and find the way for the first time during snow season.

I think Columbia was my tenth 14er, and first ever winter 14er, and I didn't get it the first time either. The second go-round was fabulous, though. Great day, lot of fun. I ended up taking the standard route and really enjoyed it.

Good luck on the next go-round. I'm sure you got it!


Thanks for the comments
11/26/2011 21:55
Yes that ridge did go forever! The real redemption hike would be to climb the Southeast ridge, then traverse to Harvard then return to the vehicle via the standard route.. I'll leave that one for a summer project

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