(Previously Kat Carson)
East Ridge 2+
8.4 miles / 3240'
I left Breckenridge at 4:00a for a 7:15a meeting time at the WestCliffe Inn in Westcliffe. I arrived a little early and checked in with Alan Silverstein who was coordinating the 4WD effort to transport the families of the Columbia Space Shuttle along with current shuttle astronauts and others up the South Colony Lakes Rd.
I was honored and privledged to drive Mrs. Husband, her two children, and an astronaut named Steve up the road. I didn't get Steve's last name but he was a great guy to talk with up the road. Mrs. Husband was wonderful as well as we had a lot in common. The kids had fun bouncing up the road in my 4-Runner.
It was about 1:30 up the road with a large convoy and lots of stops. Once at the locked gate we helped carry some luggage up to the NASA camp sites which had already been set up with tents and supplies hauled up by horses.
My job was basically to get the families up the road, carry some luggage, install the plaque, and then help strong family members back up to the summit of Columbia Point for the dedication. It was appropriate for the support people to allow the families and VIPs privacy which is what we did.
Around 3:00p, Alan, Tim Flannery, and I started hiking up to the peak. Roach rates the route 2+ but I think it's harder than anything on the standard route up Kit Carson or Long's. The ridge between the Humboldt saddle and the Bear's playground is tedious, with many ups and downs, and we made many class 3 (unexposed) moves with our massive packs. The mileage/gain is similar to Quandary which I climb all the time and have done in 2:20 round trip but IMO the climb to Columbia Point is much more difficult than it would seem from the rating/stats.
The goal was to either summit and work at night or camp up high in the Bear's Playground and get a very early start depending on weather. The weather did not cooperate. About an hour into the climb thunderstorms started so we put on rain gear to ride out the storm. After about thirty minutes I took out my tent's rain fly and covered up. After about another 30 minutes I was cold and shivering and decided to pitch my tent right there. Tim and Alan decided to descend and camp lower. It took me about 30 minutes inside my 20 degree bag to stop shivering. Heavy thunderstorms continued pretty much all night. I was warm and dry and actually slept well.
The original plan was for the NASA families to start up the peak at 4:30a. I was fairly certain that plan wasn't going to happen because of weather but I didn't know much else until I saw Tim and Alan coming back up the trail at around 6:00a. The families decided to move the dedication to the Humboldt saddle for 10:00a with a late start.
We (me, Alan, Tim, and Forest Rangers, Mike Smith, and Daryl Bressan) started toward Columbia Point with many pounds each of gear needed for the install.
Tim stopped at the Humboldt saddle to prepare the dedication site and the four of us continued to Columbia. Daryl had to bail before the last pitch to take care of other duties. The three of us arrived on Columbia Point at around 10:00a.
The sky did not look friendly. Clouds were already building everywhere. Often we were working in the middle the clouds. We took a short break when we heard four military jets flying towards us in formation but quickly got back to work. A few minutes later the jets came roaring back passing about 500 feet east of Columbia Point at eye level when one of the planes broke the formation and roared straight up disappearing into the clouds. It was a sight I'll never forget. After cheering at the top of my lungs, I fought to hold back tears of pride in my country and the sacrifices that heros have made for me.
After collecting ourselves we quickly got back to work. Three hours later the install was complete. I built seven small cairns surrounding the summit cairn in honor of the crew, took a bunch of photos and Alan covered the plaque with plastic. After a moment of silence we started down the peak. Storms were
building all around but not directly over us or our path down. After the Bear's Playground, about halfway across the tedious ridge back to the Humboldt saddle we decided to bail off the ridge as lightning struck nearby Humboldt and we came down the loose slope directly to the upper lake.
Back at my tent we rested. It took all five of us, plus the previous trip up Columbia a few weeks ago to get that plaque installed. Alan and Tim put together a brilliant plan that was far more complicated than one would imagine. Mike and I carried gear and just did what we were told. I feel honored to have been a part.
After packing up my campsite we stopped off at the NASA campsite to share photos and drop off the collection of summit rocks we brought down for the families.