Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  05/14/2012
Modified:  05/15/2012
Date Climbed:   05/11/2012
Author:  Rcizzle
 Finals on Columbia  

Here's my first attempt at a somewhat coherent TR. Bear with me!
After wrapping up my junior year in college for the semester, it was time to enjoy some outdoor adventures that were lacking thanks to the overwhelming homework load. Dang I hate personal responsibility..... Ok maybe not. I also needed some high altitude exercise so I can get in shape for the wildfire season that threatens to be very active. Ironically, the weather on this trip looked as if it was going mitigate wildfire hazards for the time being. Good news for the forest. Anyway, Mt. Columbia and I have a short history together. Every time I've planned on claiming the summit, the weather has other ideas in mind.
The Route
Beta for the Horn Fork Basin is basically the same as the last condition update. Road to TH is great. First 2.5 miles are basically dry with a little bit of live tree fall (about 5 trees total). There is a creek crossing where you turn of onto the Columbia snow route. After this junction the going gets significantly more difficult. We hiked the initial part of the trail that real kwick. From there on my partner and I experienced a big loss in momentum. We had a postholopolus or postholupoluzza in combination with like a bizzillion fallen trees on the trail that probably added and extra mile of meandering and wondering. Then we lost the trail in the snow and the fallen trees and wandered around for a bit never finding the turnoffs for the standard route.We also began following the Horn Fork through the muddy and icy marshes until we broke the clearing in the trees. We then reorientated and found ourselves missing the standard route turnoff.
The presumable route we took, pink is the stretch of PHing and tree fall hazards

Route viewed from Harvard in 2011

Route taken and not recommended

How about the weather? The Time Line
The story begins when we left GJ at 3am without a cloud in the sky, got to Leadville at 6...not a cloud in the sky. Started our hike at 7:15 not a cloud in the sky. Meandered through the forest until we broke treeline at 9:45 not a cloud in the sky and hot!

bluebird towards Harvard

Mt. Yale

I was really breaking a sweat. 9:50 we have A cloud. 9:55 we got just a little bit of cloud.
We got a cloud

Zach pondering life's greatest questions

10:10 we got 75% overcast and dark cloud cover. I noticed Yale was getting a shellacking. In the interest in saving the trip, my partner and I decided to take a direct scramble to the summit ridge (not recommended scree mud mix).By 10:30 its snowing, 10:40 we got some thunder,
20 minutes later

Zach climbing away

things getting kwazy

no visibility

11:30 we lost all visibility and gained the summit ridge. Originally I thought one of the bumps was the summit, but I couldn't find a summit register, a rock shelter, and the it didn't look familiar from my recollection of the summit panorama. Well I realized the route continued and because I could only see 10 yards in front of me, each "false summit" was very demoralizing.
By 12 we got to the summit with a glorious view of nothing.
Socked in

We spent a total of 7 minutes on summit, complained about our cramping quads and ate some precooked bacon. We quickly moved across the ridge. I kept hearing weird electrical noises but there was sparse thunder. I figured that I am more likely to die from a wildfire than a lightning strike, so I wasn't "too" worried. There was still some concern. Our goal was to get to the snow route because we saw a lengthy patch of snow. One of our problems as we hiked the ridge is we couldn't see anything. I then spotted a small circular patch of snow and remembered seeing it in the morning. We argued for about 5 minutes whether or not this "drainage" was the snow route until we came to a consensus that it was the coliour. We had a mud scree mix for about 50% of the coliour. However, we were able to glissade for around 1000 ft. We quickly strapped on our gaiters, continued to complain about cramping quads, and descended the snow.
Glissade via snow route

Zach as a ghost

Some dude I met. Ok maybe not

The route below treeline from the snow route was a bit of bush whack, but it was much more efficient than the ridiculous amount of tree fall on the standard trail. However, we were very pleased with the ease of the non traditional dry winter route we took. The clouds lifting briefly giving us some surreal views of Mt. Yale.
Yale summit (Edited a little bit)

Yale summit in fog

The fog set in pretty heavy on our way out and made walking around in the trees even more erie.
fog setting in

It was also very dark and I was often confused about the time. At 2:30 it felt like 8pm with the relative lighting. Once we got by to the TH it poured. My partner and I decided to go back to GJ and not attempt Yale the next day since our summit views were absolutely pathetic. I'm currently regretting this decision after seeing the recent Mt. Elbert TR. I'm very jealous.

Hopefully this helps somebody. Happy climbing everyone.
Trail into Harvard. Snow thins out on main trail and becomes more hard packed past treeline

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Very Timely
05/14/2012 23:45
We're going to attempt this duo this weekend, thanks very much for posting. I can't believe how dry the area is; the weather this week won't exactly help either. Glad you guys got down safely, sounds like it was a bit spicy up there!


Nice Work
05/15/2012 01:25
Made for some very cool photos. You still made decent time. Excellent trip report.


05/15/2012 03:36
RJansen77: If you are considering Columbia I would look into taking the snow route. It might actually save you some time rather than dealing with tree fall and post holing which there is a lot of. The trade offs include a lot of scree until you reach snow which is very stable and a minimal bushwhacking. I think it would save a ton of time. Unless you are looking at Harvard too. Good luck!
BostonBD: thanks for the positive comments. Happy climbing!


”........ glorious view of nothing”.
05/16/2012 21:04
I've seen that same view from several mountains. Who are those youngsters in the photo? We ”old white men” don't like having it rubbed in our faces by you kids half our age!!!


05/17/2012 15:29
Great first Trip Report.

Matt Lemke

Well done!
05/17/2012 20:36
I did Columbia by its long SE ridge last winter. We had clear skies the entire slog up with postholing from the TH to the summit (took like 8 hours!) We also got to the summit and got fogged in...although once we descended a few hundred feet the sun was out again! WTF. Anyway, very well written TR!


05/18/2012 05:50
Its not the first, but the most coherent and the best thus far. I love reading other TR's so I got to pay it forward. Even if it is Columbia.
PHing is definitely very frustrating, I had a terrible time with it at La Plata in March. PHoling to my waist in high flotation snowshoes. It sucked!

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