Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  01/28/2014
Modified:  01/29/2014
Date Climbed:   01/25/2014
Author:  Somewhat of a Prick
 Mt. Columbia - EFFFFF   

RT Distance - 18.5 miles
Elevation gain - ~5300

So after a couple failed trips this winter for a variety of reasons, I was starting to get pretty frustrated. I had planned out Harvard/Columbia for this weekend but my normal buddy couldn't make it this time, I was debating going solo or just cancelling altogether. Then the last week at work one of the new guys asked me what I was up to this weekend and I told him I was debating going for these 14ers, he seemed interested and asked if he could tag along. What better way to introduce someone to 14ers than a Sawatch winter death-march/sufferfest? He bought some gear and borrowed the rest from me, we drew up our plans and it was a done deal.

We parked about 3.5 miles from the trailhead, probably could have gotten about a half mile closer with more determination (Xterra). We had boots on the ground at 8AM with the plan of hitting Columbia if we got to our campsite before 2. If we didn't make it by then, we planned on doing the Harvard/Columbia traverse the following day. And so it begins.

John starting his first 14er:

Some of the approach scenery:

As we were slamming out the road to the TH we stopped for lunch:

We grinded out the 3.5 miles of road pretty quick and when we got to the N. Cottonwood Creek trailhead we were rewarded with a pair of ski tracks in the snow that had it nice and packed for us. We knocked out this first 1.5 miles enjoying the ski tracks the whole way. When we reached the Kroenke Lake trail junction our elation vanished as the skiers had gone towards the lake. Time to break trail! The next 1.5 miles to the Columbia trail split was Hell, pretty deep now and the sun was beating on us. Every yard seemed like a battle but we made it to the Columbia junction at 1:45, just ahead of our cutoff. We threw the tent together as fast as possible and tossed in any gear that was not essential. We were pretty beat at this point but decided to go for it like we had said.

Some views going up Columbia:

The West Slopes of Columbia were relatively snow free, surprisingly. There were patches here and there, but from treeline to the summit ridge we were able to follow the trail pretty well. The summit ridge had a decent amount of snow on it, but it was very hard packed. About halfway up I realized time was not on our side, for better or worse we decided to keep grinding for it. As we were going up I kept looking over to Harvard and kept thinking that the South Slopes route had a decent amount of snow coverage on it and I was not sure I wanted to be on it the next day. Anyway, we finally hit the summit right as the sun was setting.

John's first 14er summit:

Really lame summit video

At this point is when things got interesting. Here is a half-assed picture to give you some idea:

A is where we had stashed our snowshoes on the ascent, the orange line was a beautiful snowfield running from the summit right to our snowshoes. Green will come up later. So we get to the top of the snowfield right as the sun was completely gone. Headlamps on. I gave John a quick overview on glissading and self-arresting. We did like a 10 foot little practice run and he seemed to get it. I went first, about 20 yards then yelled at him to come to me. Once he really started to catch on I increased my slides to about 30-40 yards and yelled back up to him. If I ran into rocks/ice I'd stop there and just let him come to me. We seemed to be on this section forever, thankfully for a winter night in the Rockies it wasn't THAT cold out, but cold enough where I really wanted to just be done and back in the tent. We were low on water, exhausted, and now had some pretty sore asses from the endless glissade. We finally hit the end of the snow and I popped on my GPS expecting to see my snowshoe waypoint right in front of me. Nope! We had accidentally slid down the green line and were a decent way from where I expected. It actually took the better part of an hour to go from the end of green, through thigh-deep snow, up and down the cliff band and to our showshoes. We popped them on real quick and slogged back to camp completely exhausted and now out of water. When we hit camp we went fricken nuts, screaming and high-fiving. It turned out to be a 12-13 hour day.

Our zero degree sleeping bags did the trick and we were fairly warm during the night. I had bought a stuff sack and packed 2 blankets into it, which turned out to be a pro move. Definitely worth the $15 for the stuff sack. The next morning John went to put on his boots but he had left them outside and they were blocks of ice and he couldn't get his feet in them. I busted out the stove and the butane and he slow-roasted some boots for his breakfast. At one point one of the boots started to smoke, it actually smelled pretty good for some reason... We had decided to abort Harvard by this point. We were exhausted and the snow looked like it might be a tad much, especially since John has very limited experience with it. Maybe it would have been fine, who knows, but we were more than happy with our one summit. Plus we wanted beer ASAP.

We ate some frozen pizza, and packed up and left to start the 6.5 mile trek back to the car. It sure was nice having a trench all the way, we made it back to the car in about 3 hours. The car was a very rewarding site, and so were the beers in BV.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

Comments or Questions
Sunset summits
01/29/2014 15:58
Can't beat 'em. Sounds like a decent trip, complete with the usual winter annoyances.

Hell of a Day
01/29/2014 16:28
I was exhausted reading that! Nice report - I can't imagine the Harvard-Columbia traverse in winter. It was enough of a slog in the summer. Way to stay safe and get your summit!

The real question is, will your friend from work ever talk to you again, or is he as crazy as us?

glissading Columbia
01/29/2014 16:35
Would it have been poss./better to have lugged the snowshoes to the summit?

Nicely done.
01/29/2014 16:48
Well done! Greet report!

I've done that traverse in spring and it was misery. I wouldn't recommend it without axe and crampons.

Somewhat of a Prick
01/29/2014 16:48
@ Monster - The sunset summit was pretty sweet, my first one of those.

@ ameristrat - Haha yeah I talked to him yesterday to get his thoughts. He was glad he did it. I asked if he would go again sometime and he said he would so I guess that's a good sign. He did sprain his wrist pretty bad on the glissade and the doctor said out 3-5 weeks. No fractures though so that's a plus

@ nesterpete - I'm not sure lugging the snowshoes to the summit would have done us much good, that face of Columbia is pretty steep and probably pretty darn hard to snowshoe down. At several points I had to flip over and lay on my ax, self-arrest style, and was still not stopping fast.

giissading Columbia
01/29/2014 18:54
I meant so you would've had them at the bottom
when you were off point.

Somewhat of a Prick
Ah gotcha
01/29/2014 19:04
Yeah had I known we were going to glissade down the wrong side of the mountain I sure would have just put them on my pack

Going for it
02/01/2014 00:18
Nice job getting out there and summiting Columbia despite the setbacks. Adding winter camping to the mix is a whole other animal. Horn Fork was my first winter backcountry overnight as well -- you learn something new every time you go and eventually you'll have it dialed in. Congrats.

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