Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mt. Columbia

Ann and Laurel nearly summited Mt. Columbia.

Horrible scree slopes to the ridgeline

Birthday Peak off in the distance

On the way back down

Someone else's trip report on has a picture of Ann and Laurel on their descent (you can barely see them way off on the right edge of the photo).

(Laurel) Let me fill in some more details: Ann and I started at the standard trailhead at 7:00am. The first two miles snaked up along a creek and got us to the middle of a huge bowl amongst the surrounding peaks. The trail was very moderate, but over 50-downed trees certainly added to the adventure. I think we add another half mile going around, under and over them! We passed the camping area where many parties stay to launch an early start.

At this point, we were looking for a turn-off that would take us up the west slopes of Columbia. Now, most people follow the main trail to Harvard and then walk the 13,000ft ridge over to Columbia and then descend the slopes. However, being that we were driving from Boulder and it was our first 14er of the season, we wanted to go with the 10-mile option rather than the 12-14 mile one. So, up the trail we went. About fifteen minutes later we found a very distinct trail that sent off to the east. It snaked through some other campsites, but then popped us out onto the western flanks. We followed some cairns and a path up a descent scree slope. Then, the slope got steeper and the scree got looser and looser. It truly felt that for every step we took forward, we slid back two feet. I decided to go explore a rocky outcropping to the right to see if it was any more stable. It turned out it was, and Ann followed me up.

At this point, we got on the grassy west slopes. We took some bearings and decided to change our descent route so we could stay off the loose crap. We followed the slopes to the ridge that appeared to have a great line to the top. Now, this all sounds pretty easy and straightforward, but I assure you, it was anything but. The wind was blowing a steady 20-25 mph and there were stronger gusts. Since the time we left the shelter of the main trail, we were completely out in the open. Secondly, the cairns and the path disappeared. We were navigating our route by the map, our surroundings, and what we knew of the supposed trail. Fortunately, the weather (aside from the wind) was clear and we weren't being threatened by thunderstorms. We continued to crawl up the ridge for over two hours. At that point, we wanted to know if what we saw as the summit was the true summit or a false one. Once again, I scrambled up above Ann to see what I could. Our summit was false and the true one was another 500' vertical above. We had had it. The wind, the slow progress up the scree, and the route finding did us in. We decided to turn back.

A huge success of the day, though, was our teamwork and route-finding. We were able to get down the nicer slopes (there was still some loose scree lower down, but nothing like the ascent) and find our way back to the trail with our excellent skills. We were very grateful to get back on solid ground again. It's always a bummer when you spend a whole day driving and hiking to not summit your goal, but it was definitely the best choice that day. Next time, Columbia!

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