Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  01/17/2010
Modified:  05/15/2010
Date Climbed:   01/09/2010
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise
 Solo Winter Dayclimb: Mt Columbia - Part Two  

Chasing Down the Voodoo:
Solo Winter Dayclimb on Mount Columbia

Part Two...


Peak: Mount Columbia
Route: West approach.
Date: January 9, 2010
Length: 18 miles RT
Vertical: 5300 feet
Travel time: 9:00 hours, RT
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise


The Story, Continued…

Please see "Solo Winter Dayclimb: Mount Columbia Revisited - Part One":

At the end of the story in Part One, the summit ridge has just been crested....


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On with the story....


Walking the Summit Ridge

At the top of the west slopes, the summit ridge presents vast sweeping arms embracing the Three Elk Creek drainage below to the east;
its origins coming out of the southeast toward the morning's start, its northerly termination reaching up to Mount Columbia's summit.
(Note Pikes Peak, in the distant background.)


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Glen warned me the ridge would be longer than it looked.
Playing in this glorious solar warmth, I knew I might be paying for the afternoon's high altitude pleasure later that night.
I was ready. This was worth it.



After thirty minutes of traversing the ridge in the pleasant afternoon sun, the summit finally decided to say hello,
under an expansive, high-pressure vapor-trail sky.

I looked at my watch. It was 2:10 pm.



The sky was incredible.

The solitude at the summit reflected the quiet, snow-blanketed beauty in the basin below.

Basking in the warm sun at this place where the earth meets the sky, where human powered ascent ends,
where the lack of atmosphere renders the sun's warmth a direct transfusion of solar energy,
I began once again to experience that alpine phenomenon known as "Rapture of the Steep"…


…All the while knowing that every minute of summit ecstasy would be paid later in nocturnal slogging agony.

That is, if all went well on the descent.

Summit celestial solar fireworks:




On the way back down the summit ridge, I thought about improvising a round-trip loop, coming back down the SE ridge,
till I realized that something was missing: the weight of my snowshoes. Which were parked in the snowpack
at the base of the west gulley, one-half vertical mile below. I couldn't descend a different route.

Making mental note of this potential round-trip route for future reference,
I dropped into the notch that leads back down the west/southwest rib.


Don't miss this drop-in point. Otherwise, you may end up descending the south ridge.
I'd considered this prominent south ridge in researching the maps, though the bottom near treeline looked too steep.
The correct point to leave the summit ridge is marked with a large cairn.

A little further down, Pt 11853 comes into view to guide you. At this point, you want to strike a bearing
about 20-25 degrees north, directly toward 11853, to stay out of the south gulley. This can be confusing if you are
unable to see the trail for any reason.

Arriving at the base of Pt 11853, it was around 3:15 pm. The hot afternoon sun baked the west slopes in the calm air.
I sat down to assess the current situation. Three liters of water were gone an hour ago. No stove. It was getting late.

The Horn Fork winter wonderland in receding shadows of late afternoon


Payback Time: At the Mercy of the Mountain Gods

Rearranging the pack, donning snowshoes, and taking some photos got the descent started by 3:45 or 4:00 pm.
The lack of wind preserved tracks nicely; the descent would be no great route-finding task. This was good.

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The snowshoes came off and the headlamp went on, somewhere near the bottom of the Horn Fork drainage.
By the time I made the Cottonwood bridge, it was after sundown. It got completely dark just before the summer TH.

The most sorely missed tool on the descent was the skis, of course, especially on those last three miles of road.
I thought about Glen and our trip last Tuesday, and how much fun it was to glide all the way out. Today was a slog.


And every once in a while…walking down that road in complete quiet and darkness…
you'd hear these sounds coming from the woods on either side of the road… : )


Finally, the car's reflectors winked back in the headlamp beam. It was 6:40 pm.

The Voodoo had been purged.

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Don't pinch me, I may be still be dreaming.
I knew a good solo winter journey was just what the witchdoctor ordered to clear out some karmic congestion...

...and working on dreaming up the next bewitching ascent…



I want to thank Glen for our trip last Tuesday, and for the Great Spirit giving us the sense to turn back when high winds, incoming weather,
and the late hour threatened a safe and successful summit bid.
Glen, I missed you on this gorgeous day. Let's travel again soon.

Thanks also to Sarah T for giving us the idea for this route after her party's recent successful overnight attempts on Harvard and Columbia.

I would also like to thank Kiefer for his encouragement, his inspirational trip reports, and his steadfast commitment to mountaineering.
Kiefer, you are an inspiration to the rest of us mortals.

And a big thanks to Sgladbach…Many of us here, myself included, owe a great debt to Steve, for his inspirational work
and his wealth of experience in the winter backcountry, which he selflessly shares with those of us interested and willing to learn.
I'm not sure he hears it all that often, so where better to say thanks, than at the end of a successful solo winter journey.
A sincere thanks, Steve, for all you do, which I'm sure I express on behalf of all of us.

I sincerely hope reading this trip report has been a totally bewitching experience for all you fellow dreamers.

Take care,

. . . . . --Jim


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Yog -
02/05/2011 00:22

Wow!... How cool is that!!

Isn‘t this an incredible mountain!


very nice
01/18/2010 03:23
good write up, I made it back just a couple days ago for a sunrise summit. and like you I did not bring the skis this time, that last 3 miles I was dreaming of skis!


Put on the Ennio Morricone...
05/17/2010 18:30


01/19/2010 04:25
Great pics as usual. I know how good it feels to go back and get it after needing to turn around. Congrats!


Stream of consciousness
11/30/2010 17:28
It's gonzo journalism at its best - "I smiled as I opened the metabolic throttle, and upshifted into climbing gear. As I ascended, the altimeter became a sort of biological speedometer..."

Your lush expressions provide context for a compelling topic. Your surrealistic images reveal the madness that seduces each of us. This is a hallucinatory distillation of the mountain climbing experience.

And like Papillon, I too dig the nonlinear narrative. It's a technique that recalls my favorite books and movies. Jim - your report is creative, artistic, and nicely done.


11/30/2010 17:28
Excellent job, Jim. The pictures are outstanding and I absolutely love the format you've chosen.
"Rapture of the steep" Nice! 8)

Kudos for going back up and getting it finished. I think most of the time, it's not necessairly the unfinished business of a missed summit that plagues us, it's the whole business of being beaten by the elements and lack of proper planning. You know, something that isn't directly linked to the physical aspect of climbing or hiking. A tangent that more or less, stands on its own. Frustrating.
So awesome job in getting back there (and solo!) and finishing what you and Glen had started.

Winter 14ers expose exactly how much perserverence one has so much more efficiently then anything summer-related.
Great report!!

...and good job in getting a sunrise summit, Glen!! Steph showed me some of the pics you took!


Deja Vu
01/19/2010 18:49
Well written report! As others have stated, you eloquently put into words what each of us experience on these climbs. Like you, weekend before last I had a failed attempt on this mountain. I could not wait to get back and retry this gentle giant. I too did the East Ridge, via the Colorado Trail. I delayed my departure from the summit (my Sawatch finisher) to catch the sunset. Coming back down the East Ridge in the darkness (no moon) was surreal and at times spooky. Map, Compass, and the Little Dipper were my guide this past Friday, and thankful was I for all three. Again, great write up!


01/19/2010 20:52
You guys are too kind!

Honestly, I‘m inspired by the experiences (and writing) of those that precede me...And sought to create a story that each of us can identify with - the frustration, the suffering, the unbridled joy at walking a summit ridge, solo, on a mild winter‘s afternoon...

Glen, you amaze me! A ”Sunrise Serenade” on the Summit!! Man, and I thought I was willing to suffer for the rare untouchable moment behind the lens. You‘ve got to do a TR on that one. Show us the images!!!

Thanks guys, for all the warm words.

See you on the mountain soon....


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