Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,075 feet
Date Posted:  07/12/2010
Date Climbed:   07/10/2010
Author:  peter303
 Mt Columbia from Harvard Lakes   

Mt Columbia from the east ridge crest is a non-standard route after the more popular Harvard-join-ridge, and steep south face approaches. You essentially start near the east end of Columbia's ridge which descends in Buena Vista and follow it all the summit. A more gentle slope trades off with a longer hike, slightly more climbing distance, and more difficult to follow trail.

I followed Roach's 1999 edition instructions. The hike begins on the same North Cottonwood road as the popular Harvard trailhead, but about two miles sooner where it intersects the Colorado Trail. I was heartened by the excellent recent regrading of road. The four earlier times I had driven it is was a real muffler-eater of my sedan. This year I say its probably safe even to take rental car up it. I camped overnight across from the Colorado Trail. I got a some drizzle from the remnants of 2010 Tropical Depression Two in New Mexico which was predicted to disperse by Saturday. Convoy of a dozen vehicles zoomed down the road at 1 AM. i was curious what that was all about because most Colorado people camp by sunset or come from BV at dawn. I never found out their story.

I left camp shortly before sunrise (5:45AM). The route is to take the Colorado Trail in about a mile to intersect the ridge edge in the woods, then more or less follow the ridge straight up to Columbia. Somebody left a cairn at this point which was probably the last clear sign of trail I'd see for a long time. There was a faint suggestion of a trail along the ridge at a few points. But my algorithm was just to always go upwards which keep me near the ridge crest more or less. Unfortunately, the reverse algorithm does not work, as we'll see later. After a couple miles and 2,000 feet of direct up with no switchbacks I emerged from the woods about 7:15AM. I marked this point with a bit a surveyors tape, because I had had difficulty on unmarked ridges before. Then there are about four minor sub-peaks along the way along grassy tundra, then gravely rock. About a half-mile before the summit you intersect the well-trodden south face trail and a stream of hikers. I reached the summit about 10:15AM, six miles and 4,800 feet according to Roach. It was partly cloudy, in the 50s with some breeze. Only tiny patches of snow left this late in the year, with no snowfield traverses.

It was already beginning to cloud up on the summit in the late morning. I debated whether to return the same way along the ridge crest or descend quicker along the steep south face trail, and choose the former. About half way back there was some storm activity the next valley to the north, but surprisingly no lightning or thunder. Being stuck on a ridge crest most of the return suggested this was a dumb way to return, but I had already descended over a thousand feet and wouldnt go back. Fortunately the storm dissipated. About 1PM I was back near the woods edge. But the totally different lighting angle and lack of marked trail played tricks on my memory. And I was a little confused as to which of set of bifurcating ridges at the woodland edge to take. The position of the visible Harvard Lakes and Cottonwood road gave some clues. Then I got lucky and spotted the surveyor ribbon I had tied. The forest looked totally different from the early morning light. Thats was the last bit of luck for a while. As I alluded to earlier, its easy to find the upward ridge crest because its always the upmost trend. But going downhill on an all but non-existent trail its easier to slip to one side or the other. I should have brought one of my "ten essentials"- the compass- and taken forest headings on the way up. I knew I eventually hit either the Colorado Trail or car road. I did vear southward toward the road. After fairly clear dense lodgepole and clear forest floor, I descended into aspen brush and steeper slopes. There was the dangerous possibility of ending up in a too-steep slope, but I lucked out again. I emerged on the road slower than I had planned and half-mile too west, however intact. And got back to the vehicle 3:30PM, later than my planned 2PM. It was 9:45 hours, 12 miles, about a mile of altitude when you include the sub-peak back climbs. My fourth and longest 14er of the season and 101st overall.

I dont recommend taking a non-standard, under-marked trail unless you have a full complement of navigation gear. Roach's information goes out of date over the years. Most of the ridgecrest is in cell-phone range of BV, but not from much of he woodland part.

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