Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  09/17/2007
Date Climbed:   09/15/2007
Author:  new england kid

 SE Ridge - Off the Ivy League Waitlist  

In my years of 14er hiking, I have only twice had to turn around on peaks. Once on Yale because of a wicked thunderstorm above treeline and the other on Columbia because, well, because I got lost. I summitted Yale earlier this summer and on Saturday, armed with a fistful of trip reports for the Southeast Ridge, vowed to stay on target and finish off the Collegiate Peaks. These are not colleges I was accepted to as an undergraduate but I decided they would be peaks I could summit.

What in the world has happened to the road to this trailhead? I am certain that I was able to drive my low clearance, 2WD vehicle all the way to the North Cottonwood Trailhead last summer. However, this time around, I could only make it two miles up the road before the road was completely torn apart with huge divots.

As the driver of a 2WD vehicle, hitchhiking has been an integral part of my 14er hiking experience, and I have been the beneficiary of many rides to trailheads over the years. I am sure many of those rides were from folks, so this is my shout out to those who pick up hikers hoofing it to trailheads.

Saturday morning I was not so lucky as four cars passed me without even slowing down. One car did slow down, but only to ask me for directions. Then he asked me if the road got any worse up ahead. Um, buddy, I'm walking up the road, I'm not sure what's ahead. Then he took off. Here's a tip to all of you guys out there. When you see a single girl walking up the road to a trailhead that is 4,800 feet below the summit, there's a good chance she wants a ride. Pick her up.

Anyway, onto the trip report.

I love signing trail registers that are along the Colorado Trail because there are always interesting notes left in them for different thru hikers. Also, the destination lines say fun things like "Durango Baby!"

When I attempted the Southeast Ridge before, I wasn't expecting the turn off for the ridge to come so quickly, which was just the beginning of my demise. That time around I missed it, ended up backtracking, drifted too far south on the ridge, lost the trail, failed to realize my mistake, tried to regain the ridge by climbing up a sketchy cliff, cut my losses, bushwacked back to the road and drove home in a huff. However, this time, I had a good map and Scanner and USA Keller's trip reports. The turn off is only about 15 minutes into the hike, just after the trail levels out. The photos on each of their reports are spot on, though the cairn is gone. (Photo #1)

The key to staying on target on this hike up through the open trees is not to drift too far south (or left). From experience, I knew that was a distinct possibility, so I erred on the side of staying right which I think is actually a good call. There is *maybe* a trail to follow, but it is better not to spend any time looking for cairns and instead just focus on staying on what feels like the top of the ridge. If you're walking on the edges of your boot, you're headed off route. This rock formation was a good landmark. (Photo #2)

It took me about 1 hr. and 20 minutes to hit treeline, before popping out into a grove of dead trees. (Photo #3) From there it was another 20-30 minutes before you hit the true ridge. Unfortunately, you can't exactly see your route or intended destination, but being on a ridge, there aren't really so many places to go. I stayed mostly south on the ridge to avoid unnecessary up and downclimbing.

The lack of pictures from this part of the trip was because as the wind was ridiculous! If I had to guess, it was blowing at least 40-50 mph with gusts even stronger. Fortunately, it wasn't totally constant, but with it pushing me north, I ended up walking a little more randomly than I would have liked.

Finally, just past Point 12,740 you can see Columbia's summit (Photo #4) from across Three Elk Basin. At Point 13,298, I could also see some storm clouds off to the west, but I figured I didn't have far to go. Just as I rounded the corner near where the standard route meets the ridge, the storm hit. The ridge was pelted with hail and the wind was relentless. I quickly put on my rain jacket and rain pants and hustled to the top.

It was so unbelievably windy that the storm passed in less than 10 minutes. In fact, I enjoyed a few peaceful minutes on the summit before noon for an ascent time of just over 4 ˝ hours. View of Harvard from the summit (Photo #5).

However, on my descent the wind picked up again with no let-up. For a good 90 seconds, I was forced to stop and turn my back to the wind, just to keep from being blown over. Because I was wearing every speck of clothing I had brought along, my backpack was nearly empty and I seriously considering throwing a few rocks in there to weigh me down. I realized that three miles of ridge hiking was not an option and I was going to have to descend the dreaded standard route.

And I now know why this route is dreaded. Is there even a trail down this mountain into the Horn Fork Basin? I surfed the scree for 90 minutes for my escape off the ridge. Thank goodness for trekking poles. Here is a look back up at the nontrail (Photo #6). Truly, no one should ever hike up this with the SE Ridge as such an excellent alternative.

Naturally, it was sunny and beautiful and this point. The hike out to the North Cottonwood Trailhead took 90 minutes and was uneventful. And much to my delight, a very nice guy in the parking lot drove me all the way back to my car.

So after being rejected twice by the Ivy League, it was nice to finally summit my final Collegiate and finish off the Sawatch Range 14ers.

Detailed Times and Stats:

Harvard Lakes Trailhead to Mt. Columbia Summit: 6.0 miles, 4,800 feet, 4 hrs, 35 minutes
Mt. Columbia Summit to North Cottonwood Trailhead: 5.0 miles, 4,200 feet, 3 hrs.

Leave 2WD pulloff: 6:35 am
Harvard Lakes Trailhead (via foot): 7:15 am
Treeline: 8:50 am
Arrive Columbia Summit: 11:50 am
Leave Columbia Summit: noon
Horn Fork Basin: 1:30 pm
North Cottonwood Trailhead: 3:00 pm
2WD pulloff (via car): 3:30 pm

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Way to go!!!
02/05/2011 00:22
Having also been lost, then turned back (weather) on this mountain, let me extend my congratulations. I can't wait for Columbia to be over.
Props to the solo hikers out there.


11/30/2010 17:28
Congratulations on finishing the Sawatch! That's a HUGE range.

I'm not a fan of wind, myself. Way to keep at it ... especially being solo and all.

Personally, Columbia is one of my least favorite 14ers, but I saw 2 of its ugly sides.

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