Mount Columbia

snow Southwest Couloir
Difficulty Class 2 
Snow Steepness: Moderate 
Ski/Board: Intermediate, D4 / R3 / II  
Risk FactorsExposure: Moderate
Rockfall Potential: Moderate  
Route-Finding: Considerable  
Commitment: Moderate  
Start9,400 feet
Summit14,075 feet
Total Gain4,250 feet from Upper TH
4,800 feet from Harvard Lakes TH
5,100 feet from winter closure
RT Length10.5 miles from Upper TH
14 miles from Harvard Lakes TH
16.5 miles from winter closure
SheriffChaffee: 719-539-2596
Last UpdatedOct 2022
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This route should only be climbed with consolidated snow, in spring or early summer. Climbing this route in mid-winter could put you in deadly avalanche conditions.


Turn west on County Road (CR) 350 (Crossman Ave.) near the center of Buena Vista. This road is less than 1/2 mile north of the stoplight in the center of town. Continue on CR 350 for 2 miles and turn right onto CR 361. After almost 1 mile, turn left onto CR 365 (dirt). Continue on this road for over 5 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road. Turn right into the wooded parking area which loops around counter-clockwise. The trail starts on the west side of the parking area.


Since this route is recommended only as a snow climb, you may be attempting it when the road isn't open to the summer trailhead. The lowest winter closure is near 9,200' - over 3 miles below the summer trailhead. In spring and early summer, you may be able to drive to the Harvard Lakes trailhead, a bit farther to the Silver Creek TH (1.5 miles below the North Cottonwood Creek TH) or even farther. Park and hike to the upper trailhead at the end of the road.

Taken from Mt. Yale, 1 shows Columbia's southwest couloir. Follow the standard trail for over 3 miles to approx. 10,950' where the summer trail (if you can see it) reaches a small stream crossing. Turn right and follow this drainage directly north through the trees. Continue another 1/2 mile to reach the large, open avalanche run-out area at the base of the southwest couloir ( 2). This is a good place to take a few minutes to study the terrain ahead. As you can see by the size of the run-out, this couloir can produce large slides and it's not a place to be when snow conditions are poor. Hike toward the base of the couloir ( 3 and 4) to reach the "choke" at the base ( 5). The lower half of the couloir is no more than ~28° in angle and can usually be done with skis/skins or snowshoes but the upper half can reach ~32°.

After the choke ( 6, 7 and 8), continue to evaluate snow conditions and decide whether to continue in the couloir ( 9) or exit left and parallel the couloir on its west side ( 10). Climb northeast up steepening terrain as you approach the ridge above ( 11, 12 and 13). If you stayed left of the couloir, you will intersect Columbia's standard, west slopes route above 13,000'. Near 13,400', angle left to hit the ridge, west of the couloir's flat top - 14.

Once you reach the ridge (13,600'+), the remaining hike to the summit comes into view ( 15). Turn left and follow the summit ridge over rock bumps and small saddles. From where you hit the ridge, it's over 1/2 mile to the summit. After a few ups and downs, cross a flat area ( 16) and climb the final rock pile ( 17) to the true summit ( 18).


This is Columbia's best ski line but beware of avalanche danger - when it slides, it slides big.
Along the summit ridge: 19
Entering the couloir: 20, 21
Fun in the couloir: 22, 23, 24, 25


This route should only be climbed when the couloir is holding continuous, stable snow.
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 #11 #12 #13 #14 #15 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #21 #22 #23 #24 #25

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Caution: The information contained in this route description may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this route description provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the route description author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

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