Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  03/22/2011
Modified:  09/12/2018
Date Climbed:   03/19/2011
Author:  USAKeller
Additional Members:   tylermacguire, BillMiddlebrook
 Mt. Columbia Summit Ski (Southwest Gully) - N. Cottonwood Creek TH   

Mt. Columbia Southwest Gully Winter Ski at the 2011 Winter Gathering

Date: Friday-Saturday, March 18-19, 2011
Skiers: Bill, Tyler, and I
Route: Southwest Gully to West Slopes ascent and ski descent from N. Cottonwood Creek TH
Stats: 16 miles; 4,900' climbed; 4,700' skied; 11 hrs 20 min RT on summit day

(**Click images for larger versions**)

Our routes, Southwest Gully portion (red=climb; blue=ski):

Topo of the route (red=climb; blue=ski):

I met Bill in Breckenridge and we drove to 9,300' on CR 365, about 2 miles shy of the summer trailhead. We started up the road at 2:00pm and skinned up almost all of it (a few dry patches early on). Tyler caught up and after more skinning up the beautifully broken trail by Kiefer et al., we stopped at 10,975' where the winter gathering crew was setting up camp. After meeting and talking to some forum members, it was time for some shuteye.

Crossing the summer trailhead:

About half of the winter gathering establishment:

The Climb

Tyler, Bill, and I left camp at 6:40am and soon after we were in the apron of the Southwest Gully, just east of the standard ascent route. One by one, we aimed for a large rock/safety zone in the center of the choke at 11,600', headed around the corner and hugged (climbers') right side of the gully. Skin conditions were poor - a lot of powder that didn't allow for much skin bite interspersed with breakable crust. Bill exited the gully around 12,300' climbers' left (west) to gain the slope. I was uncomfortable with that traverse point so Tyler and I skinned a little higher until we found an inch of breakable crust on top of ice; here we decided to cut the slope and gain the flank.

Entering the Southwest Gully:

Bill and Tyler skin up the gully:

First light on Mt. Yale never gets old:

Bill cuts the slope near 12,200' to reach the flank:

Looking back down our climb route after traversing the gully:

Skinning conditions were still much less than ideal so we threw skis on our backs at 12,800' and would boot the rest of the way to the summit. The winds were consistent, keeping things cool. The gusts got fairly high and we wasted a lot of unnecessary energy fighting them. We gained the summit ridge and still wrestled high winds the last � mile to the summit. Terry (tmathews) caught up (from starting at the bottom that morning!) and finished out the summit push with us. I was moving quite slow the entire day and finally topped out about 5.5 hours later at 12:30pm, the guys a little earlier. My legs were shot and I truly wondered if I had any juice left to ski.

Making my way up the flank near 13,000' below the summit ridge:

Bill and Tyler on the summit ridge (13,600') with a half mile to go. A line is in from the summit!

Ski lines on Mt. Harvard:

The Ski

After a short summit break, we were skiing at 1:00pm - no photos off the summit due to high winds. To get a summit descent, we dropped slightly southeast down the back side and immediately made a descending traverse heading back towards the summit ridge. We were stopped dead in our tracks from wind gusts exceeding 40mph! We skied to the flat grassy area near 13,800' on the ridge, briefly removed the skis, and walked a short way back up.

Tyler and I gearing up for a windy descent off the summit:

Being arrested by the 40mph + winds:

The line off the summit and along the ridge:

We were able to ski almost the entire ridge, returned to the southwest flank entry point at 13,600', and crossed over to the south side of the ridge. Skis temporarily came off again for about 100 yards before reaching the top of the gully just below 13,600'. Time to ski. We opted to ski the shoulder for awhile before dropping into the gully. The markedly high winds did more than their job to preserve the snowpack; we found all sorts of variable and less than ideal ski conditions; a breakable layer on top if softer snow, wind-deposited powder pockets, and sastrugi; but stable. Not to mention the visibility was also poor.

Skiing the upper shoulder before dropping in the gully:






We dropped back into the gully proper near 12,400', skiing safety-zone to safety-zone, only to find more inconsistent snow conditions as the poor visibility remained. We skied both the south (more hardpack) and southwest (thin layer of breakable crust) aspects of the gully. Then it was one by one through the choke of the gully at 11,600'.

Skiing the Southwest Gully and its' short choke:






A quick ski down through the large avy run-out and we were back to the campsites at 2:40pm, exhausted. I could not believe how tired I and my legs were and, again, pondered how I would be able to ski back to the car with a heavy pack. More of the winter gathering crew showed up (about 15 tents in the area!) - it was so nice to meet even more of forum members and catch up with those I know.

After a snack, socializing, and packing the tents we left camp at 4:00pm. The ski out wasn't bad - some areas with collapsible snow but at least it was all continuous. We crossed the summer TH an hour later and arrived back at the truck at 6:00pm stoked to take the ski boots off. I definitely think a winter overnight 16-mile RT, almost 5,000' vertical climb and ski was overdoing it for my first ski of the season but I suppose its go big or go home.

Google Earth image of our lines (red=climb; blue=ski):

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 26 27 28

Comments or Questions

great report
03/23/2011 00:44
Those are some great shots in the gully. I didn't get a chance to say hello to you and Bill in camp. You guys do some great work for this site. Thanks again.


Well done!
03/23/2011 01:24
Looks like some tricky skiing conditions. Nice pics and nice writeup.


03/23/2011 01:33
Good work Caroline! That first 14er descent of the season always destroys me as well, but you'll feel a lot better on the next one because of it .


Really nice...
03/23/2011 03:10
effort on your first ski this season. Way to persevere! As I hiked that long ridge on Sunday, I kept remembering your words from camp on Saturday...”The winds were brutal!”

And, it was really nice to finally meet you.

Be safe during this spring ski season.

Fred Moore

From your Dad
03/23/2011 03:31
Caroline, very nice trip report and great job in all the wind!


I'm not a skier...
03/23/2011 04:57
but I'm often jealous of those who are. I always enjoy the trip reports that are produced at this time of year, this being no exception. Nicely done.


03/23/2011 13:33
Caroline, thanks for putting this up. It was a good day under tough conditions but that will just make us appreciate the upcoming corn days a whole lot more.

And it was great to meet Tyler and have a boarder in the group.


Great to see you again!
03/23/2011 17:15
Let's hope we can get a ski together in this season!

Ridge runner

I don't know how...
03/23/2011 17:26
you skiers do it with that wind! I was complaining to myself on Columbia Sunday, but then I looked over at Carl who was carrying skis and hiking up in ski boots. I stopped complaining after that! Congrats to your team on a successful ski and it was great to finally meet you! You too, Otina!


03/23/2011 18:56
I was thinking the same thing as Stephanie... seemed nearly impossible to maintain my footing in that wind at times, so I can't imagine having two large planks strapped to my back!

It was really nice to meet you, Caroline. Congrats on your summit ski!



Great Time
03/23/2011 19:20
Great TR Caroline, thanks for taking the time to put it together!I had a great time getting out with you and Bill. We will have to get another peak in this spring.


Good weekend
03/24/2011 03:51
Great seeing you again, Caroline.

Girl, you rock!!

Thanks for a great TR!


I just realized...
04/05/2011 15:49
...that I hadn't thanked everyone for your wonderful comments and likes! It means a lot.

And, again, it was so nice to meet more of you from the site! What a great winter outing.

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