Columbia Point - 13,980 feet
Columbia Point - 13,980 feet
~13.5 miles, 4200 feet from 4wd parking
Columbia Summit: 8:50am
I didn't think it would be that hard. I really didn't. I think I underestimated this one. Maybe it was the smoke. Maybe I was just tired. Maybe it was Obstruction Peak. Probably all of the above. I drove down Thursday night to meet my friends at the trailhead. The road isn't great but the work seems to have improved it and I never had to put it in 4wd. After getting camp set up we decided on a start time of 3:30am. They were all headed for Crestone Needle. Two via the Ellingwood Arete and one via the standard route. I was headed off for Columbia but figured I might as well start early too.
The hike up the road in the dark went fine and about 5:30am we all reached the sign for the turnoff to the Needle. I wished my friends good luck and started off towards the Humboldt saddle. Driving in the previous night the smoke and haze had been worrying me. I generally don't hike well in smoke due to my asthma but figured I might as well try. The morning didn't look that smoky and at first hiking up the switchbacks to Humboldt I felt pretty good. As I got closer to the saddle I started felling slower and my legs felt heavy. That wasn't a good sign this early in a long day. With the stellar weather forecast though I figured I had plenty of time.
Heading up to the Humboldt saddle
Early light on Broken Hand Pass
We took a brief break before starting across the ridge to Bear's Playground. Up to the first tower the ridge didn't seem like a big deal. I figured we'd probably get across it in fairly good time. I mean, sure, I'd read trip reports saying it would take an hour but for some reason I thought it couldn't be that hard. Soon the word 'idiot' came to mind. It became quickly apparent you can't stay on the ridge top. Almost every single tower has to be bypassed left or right. None of it is straightforward. Some of it is cairned. Sometimes you can't find one. We had to negotiate a few Class 3 moves here and there. There was a ton of minor up and down. Thankfully it's mostly solid when it needs to be but it's tedious. My ankle has been feeling better since I hurt it on Holy Cross and I had my brace on but it really wasn't enjoying any of this. Finally after nearly an hour we reached easier ground at Bear's Playground. All told the ridge was about .7 miles.
First tower on the ridge
Maya checks out Humboldt
We set off across the tundra. The views were incredible as we hiked past the Crestones. This has to be one of the most amazing places in Colorado hands down. You really feel like an ant among all these giant peaks.
At this point I still couldn't see Columbia Point and I started following a cairned route on the lower slopes of Obstruction. I was still feeling sluggish and I didn't feel like I was moving very quickly. At this point though I'd already done at least 5 miles and a few thousand feet of vertical. I think it's safe to say the route past Obstruction is not simple. At first it starts off fine but then it starts getting more difficult to follow. It was cairned reasonably well but there were times I lost the cairns and had to make some educated guesses. There were some ups and downs as I tried to figure out the best route. Finally Columbia Point came into view.
First part of the route around Obstruction
Columbia Point finally
Looking back at the Crestones
I'd been aiming to summit by 8:30am but as I reached the saddle with Obstruction it was 8:15am and it was clear that wasn't going to happen. I really had started to feel like crap coming around Obstruction. I assume it was mostly the smoke but I certainly felt like I was fighting for every foot of altitude. It was slow going as we headed up the last pitch to the summit. I was able to keep it mostly Class 2 but occasionally the Class 3 moves straight up were easier. Maya wasn't having any trouble and probably wondered why I was even slower than usual. I kept slowly plodding upwards 20-30 feet a time and after what felt like a rather long time we topped out on Kitty Kat Carson with a nice view of Kit Carson across the way.
Last pitch up Columbia
Kit Carson and Columbia Point from Kitty Kat
We didn't really hang out on Kitty Kat and headed over to Columbia Point right away. The traverse was short and we found ourselves on top of Columbia Point at 8:50am.
Maya checks out people over on Kit Carson
The plaque on Columbia
People over on Kit Carson
Kitty Kat from Columbia Point
Rather hazy view of the Crestones
Since I didn't feel good we really didn't take a long break on Columbia. I signed the register. I was the first signature in about a month although I assume someone had been up since then. We started back to Kitty Kat and I took a sobering view of the route back. I had wanted to do Obstruction as well but I finally decided that considering the way I felt that wasn't a great idea. In reality the amount of effort is probably about the same. Going around Obstruction is no walk in the park.
It's gonna be a long way back
Or I could go up there
We slowly made our way around Obstruction again. I'm not sure if I took the same route or not. I was able to keep my eyes on the cairns for the most part. I knew where I was aiming but it seemed to take forever to get there. Finally we rounded the corner and I saw the main part of Bear's Playground again. After a fair amount of talus hopping I got back on the grass. Did I mention Bear's Playground is amazing?
Maya enjoys the view
As I got back to the beginning of the ridge I really wasn't excited to do it a second time. One step at a time I suppose. We started across. This time at least I knew the route better. One tower at a time. My friends and I all had radios so I checked in on their progress. The ones on the Arete were just starting the majority of the technical climbing. The other had just summited the Needle by the standard route and was hanging out on top. Maya and I took a long break in the middle of the ridge so I could eat. I considered puking but managed to keep food down. Isn't hiking fun sometimes?
Friends are up there somewhere
Impressive view of the Needle
Almost back to the Humboldt trail
About 11am I made it back to the Humboldt trail. Maya and I took a long break and I talked to some people going up and down the trail before heading down. I radioed over to my friends and let them know I was heading down to the lower lake. As I descended I started to feel better. I still don't know if it was just the smoke or if I was having minor altitude sickness. Possibly one caused the other. Hard to say. We found a nice rock to sit on right above Lower South Colony Lake and I tried to figure out where my friends were on the Arete.
Somewhere up there are two climbers
I waited quite a while but it was obvious they were taking a long time. Thankfully the weather was perfect and they didn't have to hurry. I heard on the radio that they had one technical pitch left. After about 30 minutes of chilling out I finally decided to start hiking out since I was stiffening up. I took the bypass trail down to the road instead of the way we had come up. I don't know if it really saved me much time. As I reached the road I heard that they had just topped out on the last pitch and were headed up the Class 3 section to the summit. The road seemed endless and we finally reached the car at 1:30pm. I got one last radio message that my friends were headed down from the summit. I decided to go ahead and drive into Westcliffe and get food since I figured they were hours behind me. Eventually I heard that they made it down sometime after 6pm. That sounds like one epic day. It turns out I had the easier day even though it didn't feel like it.
I don't often post about numbers but 90/100 feels pretty good today. I think when I first thought about doing the highest hundred back in 2005 or so even getting this far seemed ridiculous. Even with all the challenges this was a spectacular day and I really enjoyed this one. Going back to South Colony is always amazing no matter how many times I've been.
Some more photos here:
Columbia Point Flickr Album
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