Mt Columbia, CO- Elevation 14,073- 06/26/05
Temperature: Elevation Gain: Round trip length:
I took an extra week off work to finish up packing our things for our big trip to Europe, and to hike a few 14ers. I made an unsuccessful attempt at Lindsey last weekend and the weather has been terrible ever since. Today was no different, forecasted thunderstorms starting at 11am. I decided to go and try anyway. I drove up to the trailhead last night arriving around 10pm. Slept 4 hours and hit the trail at 6am. It was the best I've felt on the trail for a while. The clouds looked threatening all day but it never stormed. I endured near hurricane force winds on the ridge to finally make my 21st 14er summit.
I started bright and early.
I didn't take too many pictures on the way up because I wanted to make the summit. Here you can see Columbia peaking through the trees and sunlight. Still a very long way to go.
I tried my best to talk myself out of making the summit (upper right in the picture) due to threatening looking weather. Harvard was shrouded in gray clouds all morning. I'd say medium gray but not dark yet. This is the ridge at 13,600 where you still have a weather exposed half mile to go to make the Columbia summit. The winds up here were gusting at 50-60mph which worried me quite a bit. I thought a system could blow through here in a matter of minutes. But I decided I would go for the summit unless I saw lightning or heard thunder, which I never did all day.
Yet another cosmicadventure!
Check that hair man! Does it look like I just robbed a bank and ready to make my getaway in Europe or what?
This is the long tedious ridge connecting to Harvard. I was going to hike this last time when I hiked Harvard but was about 4 hours short of time.
A closer look at Harvard and those gray clouds.
I didn't stay on the summit long because I was worried about getting off that ridge ASAP. I did take some video and one timer self portrait. Unfortunately it was so windy I couldn't position the camera in a good spot. I had to put it down low and even then secure the mini tripod with a large rock.
The unpleasant scree field on the way down. On the way up I made a right turn at a very distinct trail which I remember from last time. It was a much better trail than the typical trails leading to campsites. However I ran into a campsite with a few guys who said I went to far. From their site you could only see cliffs and the easy looking south slopes which they thought were the only way to climb it. They suggested turning back and finding a trail about a mile back through the trees. I decided to go forward and try my luck. Turns out it was the right trail to the west slopes. Other than being interrupted by a couple hundred feet of snow the trail was easy to follow up the side of the slopes. I lost it a couple times but there were cairns everywhere leading me back to it. The nice trail up the slopes helped me make the summit.
This picture gives you an idea of just how steep and loose the slopes of Columbia are. On the way up I saw another gully full of snow that was probably the intended trail the campers were talking about. There was a defined trail there too which looked to cut off about half a mile of hiking if I went that way. I believe it is the way the other two hikers I met on the ridge went. I decided to give it a try but the trail was very intermittent and unpleasant. It took a long time to descend and fell a few times getting a bit scratched up.
A self portrait with Yale in the background. You can see the open patch where the trail goes through. I figured it would cut over to the right through a thin layer of trees and back to the main trail. I was wrong.
Here you can see the open area better. Somehow I ended up on the side of this cliff and had to descend a steep gully.
Another look at the steep gully.
Here is the trail going up the gully. There was really only a trail for about 20% of the route. Once I got into that open area the trail just stopped. I found another one which led into the woods to the left but it was the only trail I could find. There were even a few cairns. It led southeast away from the main trail and down into a valley. I fully expected it to cut over and join the main trail but it never did. Finally in the valley I was facing a large cliff separating me from where I thought the main trail was. I sure didn't want to take chances climbing the cliff just to see more trees and cliffs so I headed back up towards the Horn Fork Basin where I knew I could find the trail. I bushwhacked through the trees for over an hour going west until I finally joined up with the main trail. Whew, another trail finding adventure resolved. I really need a GPS!
There is beauty all around on these hikes. Sometimes you get so involved looking at the trail you forget to look around at everything else. As I was eating my P&J sandwich I looked up and saw this cool scene.
Last time I hiked this trail to summit Harvard I ended up hiking the entire trail through tree line in the dark and rain on the way back. I lost the trail at this point and kept going straight instead of right. Seems obvious now but I was a little freaked out at the time and could barely see anything in the rain even with my headlamp. Fortunately I backtracked before I got into to much trouble. Funny how I got lost again today, but at least it was early enough to not be a problem.
I remember this sign well from the last time I hiked up here. It was dark and raining and the spot where I finally saw a couple other hikers on the trail. I was really freaked out at the time and glad to see some other people. Also this sign meant that the trail was really easy to follow the rest of the way. Only a mile and a half from here.
The cool looking wilderness sign.
The trail goes along a steep area. Would be hard to find the trail if I had gotten too far east of it.
The sign in register.
The trailhead parking where I slept in the jeep last night so I could acclimate and get an early start.
On the way home I stopped at the collegiate peaks overlook. This is Mount Columbia on the top left. It was amazing to think I was standing up there just 6 hours previous.