| Columbia Couloir - Ridge line to down climb and up couloir to Harvard
Quick background on me, I just moved back to America from living in South East Asia for the past eight years. I love adventure and the outdoors so there wasn’t a question where I would move back to. So November last year I arrived in Colorado. I climbed Sherman last year and last weekend climbed DeCaLiBron in a white out. I really love winter ascents and from time to time like to go out alone. So this is my first trip report on 14ers.com and I hope to add more. I was also very curious if I could carry a ski set up (such as the weight goes) so I took the full gear up to the top. Tent, sleeping bag, food, etc., a total of 43 pounds. Anyways, I’m just hoping to connect with the mountaineering community and hope to meet some climbing partners.
So after doing a bit of trad climbing in Eldorado with a friend I started off from Denver at about 1800 and drove out to Columbia. The idea was to hike the trail in the dark and get to the base of the couliour. I started down the dirt road to the trail head and all was smooth. I was stocked as I’ve been making a few treks up Greys, and as the road was impassable I had to hike the road. So as smooth as it was it quickly changed and I soon got stuck. After trying to shovel the tires out I had to jack up each tire, and place rocks under each of them in order to get it out. After getting the car out and parking in the parking lot (about a mile from the trail head) I set off into the dark at 1230 at night.
I reached the trailhead at about 1 in the morning and decided to head in with just my head lamp. Again, I thought the trail would be similar to Greys or Democrat, easy to navigate in the dark. This one though, certainly not. It was a struggle to make it through and luckily I found and could follow someones footsteps. Otherwise it would have been impossible. At 0230 and maybe a mile and a half down the trail, I decided to make camp.
Waking up at 0730 in the morning and headed off about 0900; I hiked the mile and half to the couliour and started up it. About 1/3 of the way up I noticed regularly rocks rolling down and one nearly taking out my shin. I decided to move onto the rocks themselves which later became just as dangerous due to the loose slick footing and a steep drop should I fall. I went back to the couliour and by 1330 the sun softened the snow to a near slush. I worried about avalanche and the extra 2 pounds of slush on my boots and maneuvered to the left. Soon enough I was on top of Columbia's ridge line making my way to the summit. On the peak I looked out at the view and had that rush of euphoria that always come when making it to the top.
The real fun of the trip started. So I remembered the route that I looked at on 14er’s.com and saw that I just needed to follow the ridge line. There it was as I looked at it and so I started off. I headed down to the ridge line and started off. Little by little the ridge line narrowed, the boulders got bigger, the drop offs sharper, and before I knew it was looking at 10 foot wide mix boulders/snow with shear drop offs on either side…. Hmmmm, “This does not look like class 2!!!” I then pulled out my GPS and saw the route was way down past the ridge. I was having fun though and felt confident. I climbed around the side of a few impasses I couldn’t get over and was relieved to have bomber placements with my ice axe while I kicked my feet in a top the couloir.
I kept moving along until finally I came to a knife edge. I’m not sure why, but without thinking I straddled it and slid across. Once across I realized that I would be climbing like this for who knows how long, and it could even become harder. I was at my limit. With drop offs on either side I finally saw a crack I could downclimb on. I swung myself over the knife edge and slowly made a 50 foot down climb. Again with great bomber placement with the ice axe giving me just enough foot placement to safely get down. I certainly would have rather had a rope, some protection gear to place, and a partner to belay each other. Or the least a rope I could repel on.
Finally, and slowly getting down, I snow shoed across and around the ridge line until I could find a line back up to the safer ridge line to Harvard. I found a line I could climb to get back up to the ridge line headed up to Mt. Harvard.
It was 1730 as I started back up to Harvard and was hoping to at least get up to the ridge line before dark. I hit the ridge line at 1930 and the light was still good. What looked like the Harvard peak in sight, I decided to go for it and hopefully have a nice area to make camp. I made it to the top just as the light was leaving around 8 pm and I realized it was a false peak. Harvard was still about 300 feet above me. There was this very interesting half cave rock formation on top of this peak so I decided to shovel out the snow, level it off, and make camp. There was a one foot diameter hole in the rocks so I rigged up my trekking poles as braces on the other side. I tied power cord to the poles, backed that up by securing it to a rock. I then stuck an end through the hole and with a double figure eight I anchored lines off it to the tent. Five anchor points through out the side of the tent that was facing into the wind was enough to undoubtedly hold the tent on the mountain and not let it be blown of the edge. It worked better then I thought and it actually made for a comfy night.
It dropped to -18 F. inside the tent at night and I was happy to actually test out my -20 REI bag which performed great. I simply had to wrap my down jacket around my feet to keep them warm. After waking up at 730 in the morning I was pleased to have a stellar view while I melted water, drank my coffee, and ate breakfast.
I made the last few hundred feet up to Harvard, took my snap shot, and then started the decent. I was pretty exhausted and decided on a glissade down to the valley. After which I started that long hike out. Snow shoes are great but when the sun is beating down, the snow turns to slush, post holing with snow shoes is simply no fun!!! Needless to say I was happily relieved to make it back to the car.
All in all I think it was 18 miles as I had to hike down the road a bit and my watch said 6,700 ft ascent and decent. I think as well total moving time is somewhere just over 20 hours which is much longer then I would have wanted. However the crazy ridge line took me much longer then I thought.
It was certainly one of the most amazing climbs I've ever had, and the first time I've slept above 14,000ft. I don't think I'll ever go out with out an alpine rope I can repel with however. I don't ever want to have to down climb with out any type of protection.
Anyways, hope to connect with the Colorado alpine community and looking forward to nocking off many more 14er's.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):