Make Columbia Great Again

“Scree Hell”. We’ve all heard it. This mountain sets the bar so high, it’s how we measure every other scree descent in Colorado. It couldn’t be that bad, right? Yeah it is. I learned that back in 2012 on a 2 year blitzkrieg to finish the 14ers. It was a solo Sawatch slammer of a weekend that included the standard routes on Shav, Tab, Harvard and that infamous descent of Columbia. Four whole 14ers in one weekend. A feat only a noob could appreciate.

These days my main criteria seems to revolve around the path less traveled. And so three days into 2016, one day removed from the coldest New Year’s Day ascent of Massive ever recorded, and just 24 hours before tax season semi-hibernation, I found myself at the Harvard Lakes TH. I’ll be honest, until I did some homework, I didn’t even know Columbia had a southeast ridge. This probably has something to do with the fact that the ridge itself is almost 5 miles long and wraps around the entire Collegiate Peak Wilderness before reaching Columbia.

Peak: Mount Columbia (14,073′)
Date: January 3, 2016
Trailhead: Harvard Lakes
Distance: 12.5 miles (1/4 mile below TH)
Elevation Gain: ~ 5,000 ft.
Participants: K Bessler, Dillon Sarnelli
Time: 12 hours

Route Overview. (Click to enlarge)

A brief intro. K and I met once at a 14er happy hour a couple of years ago. We met again a few hours before the picture below was taken at the parking lot off Morrison Road. I used to think I was a pretty hip guy, and then I spent a day on Columbia with K.

This is K approaching treeline. The first 2 miles and 2K are in the trees, somewhat steep, and uneventful unless you fall a lot. If you leave the CT at exactly 10,000 feet after the initial switchback and continue northwest up Columbia’s ridge, you’ve succeeded.
Point 13,298 (L) and Point 12,740. Obviously worthy of a snapchat.
Columbia, distant center. We aim for the point to the north (right), skirt it to the left, traverse the saddle in the foreground below Columbia, and continue up and over to Point 13,298 on the far left.
Goingup. Get it?
Money shot. Just 3 more miles.
The ridge narrows significantly as you round the bend for the last mile and a half.
Ben Shulman would tell us to eat our Wheaties right about now.
The view into Horn Fork Basin to our west. Bear Lake (12,374′) on the plateau and Mount Harvard (14,420′) (R).
Did I mention that K has 22,000 Instagram followers?
Not even that final 10 feet is easy in winter.
I can smell Eddyline.
Summit of Mount Columbia (14,073′) – January 3, 2016.
Where we’re going, we don’t need apps. (Photo by K)
“Hey K, is it normal to Snapchat 55 times in one day?”
Hard to believe it’s even the same mountain.
K can smell Eddyline too.
1/3 of Columbia’s southeast ridge, a.k.a the longest ridge in the world.
Parting shot.

What I learned. Vegans don’t eat beef jerky, who needs maps or apps when you can follow animal feces to the summit, when you tell someone without cable that you watch The Voice, sometimes they think you mean The View and snapchat about it, and engineers go to school for 17 years.

Make Columbia Great Again… hell yeah we did. Thanks for one very entertaining and great day out there, K!

Cheers to 2016 and thanks for reading! T minus 99.

13 thoughts on “Make Columbia Great Again

  1. B-e-a-utiful, Dillon! I love your pics – must be that new camera! Congrats to you & K. That ridge looks even longer than Silverheels’ NE ridge we climbed a few winters ago. However, it looks like a slick route to nab Columbia in winter – much slicker and more direct than slogging all the way up Horn Fork and ascending its SW shoulder that we did way back one early March day in 2006. Dude, you guys got so close to the Harvard Lakes TH! 1/4 mile from it? Hot damn. Must be that badass jeep of yours. Jesus, we had to park 3.8 miles from the TH at 9,000′ adding almost 7 additional miles! Well done to you guys again, my man.


    1. Brando, buddy! You only parked 200 feet below where we got to. You slogged the additional 3+ miles to the North Cottonwood TH to get into Horn Fork Basin. (I think!) We hit it from Harvard Lakes. I thought about our Silverheels sufferfest a few times on Sunday. haha. It was hard to compare though because I could feel my face and didn’t have to worry about being blown off the mountain into an abyss never to be seen again. Happy New Year! Let me know if you need a new accountant 🙂 Hope to see y’all soon amigo!


      1. You are correct, man! My bad. Yes, I wasn’t even aware of the Harvard Lakes TH 🙂 Been awhile since I’ve been back there.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That was almost too much #halfpinting for one trip report, but you toed the line like a pro! Did she teach you the ways of the #halfpinter? And I’m pretty sure this makes you famous now. Haha nicely done!


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