Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,075 feet
Date Posted:  02/06/2020
Date Climbed:   01/26/2020
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   whileyh
 Earning Extra Credit on Columbia's Easy East Ridge   

The weekend prior to this Columbia report I climbed Mount Harvard's east slopes/ridge via Frenchman Creek. Without a storm in between I figured why not use my own trench up Frenchman Creek and get Columbia while it's still good? That's thinking smart.

You don't have to make a trench if you use a trench you already made.

Whiley and I left the cars at the winter closure around 7:20am. It was a little windy down low, even in the trees, which was foreshadowing of the winds to come. As we snowshoed up the road, because of course we'd be on a road, where else could a hike possibly start but on a road?, Columbia stood far in the distance.

So far away there's some parallax or coriolis or sphericaloidness effects going on. Or it's just really far away and my camera sucks and I like using fancy and/or made up words.

We hiked along for about an hour and 40 minutes before reaching the upper/4WD trailhead, and about two hours and 20 minutes before reaching the Frenchman Creek Trail/Colorado Trail junction. This was all familiar to us from the week prior and our trench was still in good shape.

No trip report up Frenchman Creek would be complete without a meta reference to my reference of the sign which is, itself, referenced in like every single Frenchman Creek trip report ever. You'll note how incredibly incredible our trench is, just gawjuss.

Not even 100 yards past the junction we happened upon another junction, which we were looking for carefully but didn't have to be because it was so obvious. The prior week a couple of skiers had attempted Columbia's east ridge and had left us a nice skin track to follow. Thanks guys!

Faint filled in tracks near where they started. They were easy to follow to treeline.

We had somewhere between 600 and 800 feet to gain before treeline, which only took us 35 or so minutes, even with snowshoes on. The track weaved like a drunk through the forest but was supportive like one of those friendly drunks who listens quietly to your woes and nods somberly (but not soberly, of course) and gives slurred words of encouragement, and life was good.


We stopped at treeline to put on an extra layer plus shells, because the wind was absolutely howling through the gap in the trees. Obviously above wouldn't be any better. Our snowshoes stayed on as we ascended the first and second rolling slopes, still largely covered in snow, and then stopped to take off our snowshoes when the snow mostly ran out. There was still some on lee slopes but the flats were almost entirely dry and snowshoes would just be excessively tedious from here onward.

Dry enough not to warrant showshoes.

The east ridge of Columbia isn't much of a ridge. It's certainly quite long, which I suppose is ridge-like, but it's also incredibly wide, mostly unremarkable tundra, and generally is a gentle gradient the entire way. Boring, in other words. It makes for an easy if unexciting hike, which was fine by us because for some reason above treeline we were absolutely dragging. Perhaps it was the winds, which were high enough to necessitate walking and standing of a deliberately upright manner. Perhaps we were just tired. Perhaps the ridge somehow grew longer as we hiked. Who knows, except to say that where we felt fast before we now felt slow.

A couple of rollers later we neared the first snowy, bouldery bump. One of only two visually exciting areas on the ridge, it actually was a bisection of the ridge with two rocky protrusions.

Still not much to look at, really.
Giant snowy chocolate chip on the left, ladies and gentlemen. Slightly worse for your teeth if you tried to eat it.

The rocky point on the left was literally the most rugged thing on the entire ridge, and maybe we should have scrambled over the top of it to add what would probably be the only spice of our day, but alas, we did not.

The Forlorn Spice.

Ahead of us the ridge continued to undulate in waves. Those words are synonymous, identical, comparable, and one and the same.

The ridge. Mount Harvard is on the right. Photo: Whiley H.
Rocky undulation.
Tundra-y undulation. I like saying that word.

False summits abound, but only if one isn't paying attention. The Harvard-Columbia connecting ridge in the distance prevented our expectations of the next bump being the summit, or the next, ad nauseam. By far the largest false summit of the day fell smack dab in the middle of our ridge; from Point 13,492 (which is marked on maps as such) Point 13,734 (which isn't marked on maps, for some reason) stood discouragingly in the way.

Action shot, hiii-yahhhhhh! Photo: Whiley H.

While it only took a couple of minutes to drop to the saddle it took what felt like forever to trudge to the top of Point 13,734. The headwind was strong and cold and both Whiley and I were feeling tired despite the good start to the day. It's funny how cold winds just sap your strength. While the ridge certainly wasn't hard it was tiring and I began to lag behind, gradual slope or not.

Humpdy bumpdy. Photo: Whiley H.

We ground up the hill , and from Point 13,734 Columbia itself finally stood in front of us, our first view of the actual summit.

Final, lengthy, ridge up Columbia.
I was up there just a week prior! Mount Harvard's south face (left), east slopes, and the Harvard-Columbia ridge in all their glory.

Though the summit was still a ways off it was a morale boost to have it in view at last. There was a short drop and we anticipated about 500 vertical feet from that final saddle to the top. The tedious, rocky nature of Columbia - something I remembered well from my one other climb in conjunction with Harvard - increased as we began ascending the summit pitches.

Still a ways to go.
I had to take at least one picture that made Columbia look real gnarly, OK?

The closer we got to the summit the deeper the snow became. Most of it was nicely hard packed and we happily kicked steps up it instead of wallowing.

Actually getting close now.
"I think my boot is untied." That's Point 13,734 way back on the ridge, which is only like the halfway point. Photo: Whiley H.

The last 50 feet were steep but not steep enough to warrant getting the ice axe out. We just punched and kicked into the snow instead.

Whiley in the midst of doing approximately 23,000 pushups, one for each step taken to the summit.

Then, it was over. We were on top of Mount Columbia, our second winter 14er in two weeks via Frenchman Creek. Our efforts the week prior had paid off!

Mount Harvard's south face.
Southern Sawatch.
Looking back down the east ridge with lenticular clouds beginning to form.
Columbia's southeast ridge, another moderate ridge route to the summit.

Is a summit selfie still a summit selfie if you didn't take it? Photo: Whiley H.
Whiley about to do a quintuple axle double jackknife backflip 720 into Horn Fork Basin.

Somehow the winds had died down completely on the summit. We took a break of about 15 minutes, lounging in the reprieve. We figured it'd be the only one we got all day where we weren't just getting hammered by the gale.

Like all things our rest came to an end. It was mostly downhill from here; there was still the matter of the two ridge bumps to go over, but their summit-side slopes were shorter than their ridge toe-side slopes. We went directly over both as that was easier than skirting their talus-laden slopes.

Bumpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Rumpily Lumpty had a great fall.

From the second, lower bump, the ridge stretched out in front of us, going on far longer than either of us would have liked.

It does indeed end somewhere down there.

By now massive lenticular clouds had formed over the Buffalo Peaks and extended for miles in all directions, including up. Stacks of the saucer shaped clouds towered over a great area and were simply a visual indication of what we'd experienced all day.

Yikes. This might be the biggest set of lenticular clouds I've ever seen.

The winds had started nearly immediately after we left the summit and kept us company for our descent to our snowshoes and treeline, which took about an hour and a half.

Whiley descending.
Last little bit down to the trees.

Though it was still windy ambient temperatures had risen and the snow below treeline was soft. We sank a few inches into it even with snowshoes on, which was a little irritating. Still, we had no trouble following the now well beaten path back down into the drainage where the really solid trench was.

Follow me to fun.

Whiley was faster than me here so she went ahead to the bridge where she waited to make sure I crossed it safely (the compacted snow on it was about eight inches wide and twice that height, so it was like crossing a high beam on snowshoes) and then went ahead again while I plodded behind.

Nearly back! I never have to return to Frenchman Creek if I don't want to! Photo: Whiley H.

We met at the cars about 15 minutes apart and drove to Leadville where Whiley convinced me to not get High Mountain Pies for once in my life. Instead we went to Casa Sanchez 2 (is there another one?). I'm pretty sure the burrito I ate in its entirety was three pounds. Sometimes I amaze even myself. We've had a good season so far and it was nice to be able to tag two peaks on separate weekends by taking advantage of our own work to do so. I'll have to return to Frenchman Creek in summer but in winter it's beautiful and tranquil and a fun way to experience two old friends in new and different ways.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Whiley H.
Trailhead: Frenchman Creek winter closure
Total distance: 15.6 miles
Total elevation gain: 6,011 feet
Total time: 9:15:03
Peaks: One fourteener

  • Mount Columbia, 14,073'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Frenchman Creek winter closure Mount Columbia 5:28:05 5:28:05 16:57
Mount Columbia Frenchman Creek winter closure 3:30:01 9:15:03 Trip End

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36

Comments or Questions
Nice work!
02/07/2020 09:26
Great job during winter - long and lots of vert. Thanks for highlighting this route. Have been looking for something along these lines for a winter summit. Will consider this route fairly soon.

Vive la France!
02/07/2020 11:44
You have a thing for Frenchman Creek, don't you? Can't blame you - it's a very nice route and this is a very nice report - I assume you poached your own trench?

Some casual pushups before the final summit push
02/07/2020 11:49
NBD I always do that.
Thanks for the TR giggles.
Always a good adventure pushing my limits with you Benito I

02/07/2020 17:51
@greenonion: Thanks! And no problem. Roach describes this route from Three Elk Creek trailhead but not from Frenchman Creek, which I find odd. Perhaps there's a trail all the way to treeline from Three Elk Creek, I don't know. Anyone climbing this from Frenchman Creek will likely have the entire thing to themselves through nice untrailed forest though, regardless of season!

@Jay: I've gotten quite acquainted with Frenchman Creek this winter! Yes, we poached a combination of our approach trench to the Frenchman Creek/Colorado Trail junction and a skin track thereafter from a pair who'd attempted the route when Whiley and I were on Harvard the previous week. She saw them on the ridge at some point, I did not, but I do know from talking to them afterwards that they did not summit. At least we were able to put their efforts to good use!

@Whiley: It's not a true climb if you don't do at least one pushup for each step taken that day. I'm going to start adding air squats and eventually pull-ups to our required training regimen, talk about pushing limits! You'd best be prepared!

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