Permits: Northwest Forest Pass
Route Name: West Spur
Snow Level: 4900 ft
Elevation Gain: 5400 ft
Total Miles: 23.00 mi
Gear: Helmet, Ice Axe, Overnight Gear, Yak Tracks/Micropikes/Crampons (though boot traction not used)
From Trail Head to Camp: 11.0 hours
Weather: HOT and clear, with mild clouds and minimal winds. High of 55 at summit elevation on day 1 and high of 88 at trailhead elevation on day 2.
Group: Juliet and the Badass Mommas
(i.e. Holly Krantz, Juliet Holzknecht, Sara Papanikolau – Juliet’s sister)
Trip Report en Limerick:
Columbia Peak was quite airy,
The scrambles and gullies were scary.
The mileage was rough,
But now we feel tough!
Yet this climb still raises my hairies.
• Route-finding traverse leading to steep heathery ramp.
• Climber’s trail fairly well defined on meadowy ridgeline traverse.
• Steepish snowfield with solid snow, no boot traction required, easy to kick steps; ice axe required.
• First class 3 gully was quite exposed and had a lot of loose surface rock as well as rocks that easily pulled out of the mountainside. Route finding was primarily “go up and stay as left as you can”. This was by far my least favorite section to downclimb.
• There are two class 4 sections that have minimal exposure; first section doesn’t have good hands at the exit, making it challenging both for the ascent and descent. Both sections are quite blind on the downclimb for finding your feet, but going slow and staying calm help get you through.
• The next sections are zig-zagging gullies with loose-ish rock and dirt, but are narrower, allowing more options for handholds.
• The final ledge traverse takes you clockwise left around the summit block to a thinner ledge with crumbly rock for handholds. Potentially a slip-fall-get-really-hurt section. There’s a bit of a blocky divide at the final saddle before the summit block. Juliet and Sara wrapped around to the back side and approached the summit block between a tall snow patch and the rock; I took the dirt-and-rock gully shown in the trip reports. The ground was a bit loose, but I preferred the snow-side for the descent opposed to the gully.
• The final summit block push has a bit of exposure and a few class 3.5ish moves which were a bit stiff for the start of the downclimb, but with some concentration, the moves were all there.
• Due to the nature of loose rock throughout most of the gullies, the entire descent from summit to saddle took the exact amount of time as it did to summit. Typically they say going down is faster, which was true for our hike out, but not for this style of downclimbing; at least for us to feel safe.
• Camping at Twin Lakes was refreshing and nice to have clean running water to filter, but the descent trail was quite a pain in the butt after such a long day. There was a field that you can use to descend the ridge without having to traverse all the way back to the saddle, but it would require taking full packs all the way to the base of the snowfield on the summit path. Personally, I was happy to leave my pack back at the saddle.
Approximate Mileage* and Time Details:
3:30am wakeup to depart Bellingham by 4:15am
6:45am departure from Barlow Pass Trailhead
Monte Cristo Ghost Town: 4 miles – 470ft gain – 1hr 35 mins
Silver Lake Saddle: 2 miles – 1,520ft gain – 1hr 25 mins
Twin Lakes Saddle (stash packs): 1.5 miles – 910ft gain – 1hr 35 mins
Columbia Peak Summit: 3 miles – 2,000ft gain – 3hrs (Summit at 4:13pm)
Return to Packs: 3 hours
Saddle to Twin Lakes camp: 1 mile – 500ft descent – 40 mins
7hrs 35mins active movement from trailhead to summit; 11hrs 15mins total to camp
7:00am wakeup and super thankful to not have 2 alpine summit mornings
9:30 departure from lake camp
Twin Lakes Saddle: 1 mile – 500ft gain – 35 mins
Silver Lake Saddle: 1.5 miles – 1hr 25 mins
Monte Cristo Ghost Town: 2 miles – 1hr 10 mins
Return to Barlow Pass Trailhead: 4 miles – 1hr 44mins
4hrs 50mins active movement from camp to trailhead
*Due to malfunction in mileage tracking, the distances below are a rough estimate using waypoint tracking on the map with my Backcountry Navigator app on my phone
**Photo Credit for all but 1 photo goes to Juliet Holzknecht