Mt. Columbia in Spring Conditions
Gary and Lynn Clark
We left Los Alamos around 7:40 am, arriving in Buena Vista for lunch at noon.
After the obligatory exercise of the VISA card at the local mountain shop,
we headed up to the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead (9860'). The
description in the Dawson guide is quite good for this, although the
mileage is wrong for the final stretch - it is 1.7 miles, not 5.4. The
road was rough, but I think passable for a passenger car with good
clearance. (We had a 4 X4).
We left the trail head at 3:00 pm in light snow fall. The trail was
miserable - alternating between dry dirt and 3 foot snowdrifts, into which
every other step punched clear to the bottom. This continued for a couple
miles as we turned off up into the Horn Fork Basin. After a bit, the trail
became so confused that we lost it, and just flailed away in the deep snow,
again punching through when we least expected it. We finally just headed
straight East through the trees, figuring we'd hit the West side of the
mountain and get out of the miserable snow. We soon found a small patch of
dry ground for a perfect tent site.
Next morning we left the tent at 5:00 am, heading straight up the west side of
the South ridge. This is a long grunt up steep and uninteresting ground, but
the developing views of Yale are nice. The scree was mercifully well
frozen. Around 7:00 am we crested out on the ridge, and the fun began - it is
a beautiful knife edge of perfect cramponing snow for 1000' to the summit,
which is well situated in the middle of the Collegiate group, and thus has
Going down we chose a huge couloir that dropped from the South Ridge straight
West to the valley. With some ability and equipment, this would have been
a great ski descent - we saw some old tracks. Instead, we just cramponed
down this 40 degree gully for 2000' to the Horn Basin and our camp. The
snow was still hard frozen. A few hours later we were back at the car, and
back to Los Alamos for dinner. A real nice trip except for the travails of
the trail. Snowshoes may have helped, but the coverage was so spotty that
they may have been more trouble than they were worth.