Mount Columbia, 2018

  • Date: July 20-21, 2018
  • Partner: Matt Odierna
  • Height: 14,073 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: West Slopes (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 11.50 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,250 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 21 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 32
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: This trailhead is a relatively easy find from the town of Buena Vista.  The road has a couple of rough spots but the trailhead is accessible with a 2WD vehicle.

I had the opportunity to do this climb with a really nice, young man (Matt Odierna) I recently met.  Matt suggested we set ourselves up for success by backpacking to the base of the mountain the night before.  It turned out to be a great suggestion.  We arrived at the trailhead late in the evening with maybe an hour of sunlight to spare.  The weather was overcast and threatened a sprinkle of rain which never materialized.

The first section of this trail was a relatively gentle 1,500 ascent spread out across 4 miles into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.  Matt and I made quick work of it and just before we broke out of the tree line, we found many suitable areas to set up our tents.  After setting up camp, we ate dinner and grabbed some sleep in a beautiful Rocky Mountain evening.

Dawn came and we hit the trail shortly before 6:00 AM.  Right away, the West Slopes route gets after business and the ascent begins immediately.  The trail begins a steep climb of 2,000′ for the next mile across a large expanse of scree and bare ground.  To be honest, I had read many horror stories about this part of the route, and while it wasn’t pleasant, I did not find it as bad as advertised.  The trail braids back-and-forth in many eroded parts and there were at least some switchbacks, if only half-hearted attempts.  Off to our right, we could see a new trail being constructed by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative and it looked like they had been making good progress.  Matt, who had completed his thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail last fall, was in great shape, and with him leading the way, we steadily climbed up the slope, where the trail topped out on the summit ridge at about 13,500′.  From here, we turned left and headed north along the spine.  The sun had now arisen and the views of the Colorado mountains were, of course, amazing.

The trail gently led us across a grassy alpine meadow to a few rocky projections for about 1/3rd of a mile and then we could see the final pitch to the summit.  There was a bit of boulder hopping here and there but it was an easy push to the top.  Once on top, sitting there eating our snacks, we could see a valley to the west filled with fog, and the traverse to the north all the way to Mount Harvard, another 14er.  There was a soft, cool breeze and soaking up some sun felt good.

Reversing direction, we retraced our steps, carefully made our way back down the western slope, and arrived back at camp.  After I packed up my tent and gear, we set off back to the cars and arrived around 11 AM.  By then, the lot was full of cars from other day hikers and anglers.

All told, I would say the Class 2 designation for this route is appropriate, given the climb up the western slope.  I would give this climb a 2.5-to-3 in terms of 14er difficulty.  There is nothing technical about it; it is brute force all the way 🙂


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