Mt Columbia in Winter – 14,073

RT Length: 14.28 miles

Elevation Gain: 5498’

I’d already summited 3 peaks this week, but with my being so close to 100 14ers and winter weather moving in I really wanted to try to get in one more summit.  I did a lot of weather watching:  the storm kept changing areas, times, wind speeds, etc.  I finally settled on Mt Columbia because I haven’t done it yet in winter and someone said they’d trenched it earlier in the week (remember, my motto this year is not to let a trench go to waste).

I didn’t make it all the way to the Harvard Lakes Trailhead on the drive in. There was too much snow and I ended up backing my truck up for about half a mile to find a good parking space.  I parked here. There’s room for 2-3 vehicles if everyone parks nicely.

I gathered my gear and started hiking along the road. It’s about a mile from where I parked to the Harvard Lakes Trailhead along this road.  Alost as soon as I started hiking my flashlight stopped working, so I had to get out another.  When that one stopped working as well I walked for a bit in the dark, then sighed and got out my emergency charger/flashlight.  It was then I realized I’d missed the trailhead, so I had to backtrack a ways.  I was also very glad I’d decided to turn around/head back when I did on my drive in: the road isn’t driveable to the trailhead.

I made it to the proper trailhead, and followed the Colorado Trail as it switchbacked up the side of the mountain.

After hiking on the Colorado Trail for .8 miles I left the trail and followed the ridge.  Luckily, this part was (mostly) already trenched.

From here on out it was a ridge hike.  I followed the ridge to treeline (about 1.25 miles).  Some of the area below treeline was trenched, but there were many areas under several feet of snow.  I was stubborn and reused to put on snowshoes, postholing up to my waist several times. 

Also, it takes forever to get to treeline!

Finally, it became impossible to go any further without snowshoes, so I put them on, just before making it out of treeline. Here’s a good overall view of the route above treeline.  It’s important to note the true summit is still not visible (it’s behind that ridge, to the north).

Now this became a ridge hike, above treeline.  I could see the clouds moving in, and indeed, it was snowing off and on.  The wind was also picking up.  Taking off my snowshoes, I followed the ridge as it wound northeast.  First heading towards point 12042

Once there, I lost some elevation, and the ridge split.  I don’t think it matters which side of the ridge you take.  I went right, since there was less snow there. Here’s an overview of the route

My camera died here (due to the cold), so I started using my phone.  Here are some more close-up pictures

Around this point the wind became unbearable, and I could no longer take off my gloves to take pictures with my phone, so I don’t’ have any from this point on.  Also, as you can tell, the weather moved in and you wouldn’t have been able to tell much from the photos anyway. What you need to know about the rest of this hike is it’s further than it looks, it’s all class 2, the ridge goes on forever, and what you think is the summit… isn’t.  The summit is actually the northernmost point, not what looks like the summit from below (that’s PT 13544).  It’s a rocky summit, and I couldn’t find a summit marker (but I also didn’t look for one).

The wind didn’t let up, and I summited in whiteout conditions.  It seems the 50% chance of snow after 11am was happing at 9am.  I tagged the summit, turned around, and retraced my steps down that long ridge.  My fingers and toes were burning inside my socks and glvoes.  I had on ski goggles that kept fogging up, and I had to be careful of my footing since I couldn’t see much in front of me.  As I got further down the ridge the weather let up a bit, and I could see my way back (these pictures were actually taken from my way in).

I put my snowshoes back on and kept them on for the rest of the hike.  The snow started picking up again, especially as I made it back to treeline. 

I made it back to the Colorado Trail, and followed it back to the road

And now to follow the road back to my truck

Along the way I was passed by a cross country skier.  He seemed impressed I’d just hiked Mt Columbia, especially since it was now snowing quite a bit.  I’m not gonna lie, I was a little worried about my drive out.  I wished him well as I took off my snowshoes and kept trudging along the road. 

Just as I made it back to the trailhead I turned and saw a white dog running towards me, no owner in sight, clenching a deer leg in its mouth.

The skier said it was his dog, assembling a deer one piece at a time.  His wife soon followed after the dog, they packed up and were on their way. I made it back to my truck at 12pm, making this a 14.28 mile hike with 5498’ of elevation gain in 9 hours.

The snow was really falling, so I got out of there quickly. The roads weren’t as bad as I’d thought, and completely clear by the time I made it to town.

In the end, I was glad I’d hiked today, but will most likely do this one again to get better ridge pictures.  I should have picked a better weather day.

Mt Columbia Summit Sticker can be bought here

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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