Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mount Harvard and Mount Columbia 8/26/2010

Roundtrip Mileage: 15 miles
Roundtrip elevation: 12,200 ft.
Starting point: North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead

Mount Harvard is the third highest peak in Colorado and the highest peak I've climbed to date. I was very excited for this combo hike. I have heard that the standard western slope route up Columbia sucks a fatty so I figured if I did the loop I could avoid going up the west slope but would still come down it. I was very glad I had done that by the end of the day.

I left my house at 4am and arrived at the trailhead at 6:30am. I finally bought gloves which came in very handy (get it!). It was a cool morning and the first three miles went by quickly for me. This was my first time using trekking poles and I must say, I'm a believer. I still think they look really stupid, but they're as helpful as they are dorky. Right before treeline I hit a clearing and got my first glimpse of Mount Columbia.

A little further up Harvard came into view. As I stood taking this picture I realized that from this point I had three different views of three different 14ers.

To the north: Harvard

To the east: Columbia

And to the south: Yale

At this point I was in what's called the Horn Fork Basin. Apparently it's a popular place to camp for those attempting Harvard, Columbia, or both. I didn't see a single soul though. Pretty nice actually. From the top of Columbia I got a picture that shows much of the route from treeline to the summit of Harvard.

The red is a rough idea of the route I took.

Conditions were ideal for me. No clouds, no wind, no people. I've always been dead tired when I've reached the top of a 14er. After reaching Harvard's summit I felt fantastic and not anywhere close to out of gas. I had told myself that two things would turn me back at this point. If the weather was questionable or if I felt spent physically. Neither was the case so I decided to continue on to Columbia.

The most fun I've had on any 14er was climbing the last 30-40 feet to the summit of Harvard. It requires actual climbing and upper body strength to get there. And you know I've always been known for my upper body strength. Here's a pic of the final pitch.

Over those rocks and I had the summit all to myself.

No people so I had to rely on auto-timed pictures all day.

I took a video showing the 360 degree view from Harvard's summit.

So I stayed on top for about 20 minutes. I enjoyed the views, some food and some Gatorade and continued on to what would be the most taxing portion of the day. Hiking the traverse isn't as easy as just following the ridge all the way there. From Mount Harvard (14,420 ft) you drop down into a basin that is about 12,900 ft. How you get there and how far you drop in elevation is up to the hiker. Close to halfway between Harvard and Columbia there is an unnamed 13,000+ ft. peak. It is here where the hiker must choose to descend gently down this ridge increasing mileage or drop abruptly down a gully of loose rock cutting off a bit of the route. I chose the gully and deeply regretted it. Coming down the loose rock I found myself surfing rock slides for about 3-4 feet at every step. At one point I needed to slow myself down which I did very forcefully with one of my trekking poles. It stopped me but was snapped nearly in half in the process. It was unusable the rest of the day. In addition to that my knees took a pretty bad beating. If you choose the gully you don't need to drop down in elevation as much as long as you don't mind hiking on loose rock. I did mind though after coming down that gully. I continued down into the basin ending up where I would have ended up had I chosen the gentle descent. At the bottom I looked back to see the gully. The red indicates my route and the black is where I should have gone.

From the basin I could hike nearly the rest of the way on softer grassy terrain. My knees were bothering me so that's what I chose to do. Excluding the last 200-400 vertical feet to Columbia I was able to continue hiking on soft grass. It was slow-going but I felt no need to push myself knowing that the descent down Columbia would be coming soon. Close to the top of Columbia I saw a great view of Mount Princeton and Mount Yale together.

I actually had really good phone reception here so I called my wife to check in. (Brownie points!!)

I finally made it to the top at 2:30pm. It took 3 hours and 20 minutes just for the traverse. I had anticipated finshing that part in about 2 hours so I was surprised at how long it took. I ate some delicious PB&J dessert treat my wife made and headed down after taking this summit shot.

So I began the dreaded descent and I honestly expected the worse. Truth be told the gully I descended on the traverse was much worse. Also, much shorter to be fair. It wasn't so much the steepness down Columbia but the length that got to me after going down about 2/3 of the way. It just never ended. I passed a group of four climbing down that had climbed up the same way. Pretty impressive climb in my opinion. One that I do not plan on doing anytime soon. On the descent I grabbed one more shot of Harvard that also shows a bit of the steep slope I'm standing on.

One of the sloggiest slogs any slogger could ever slog. It sucked.

From the bottom of that western slope I was back in the Horn Fork Basin where I had been earlier that morning. I was about three miles from the trailhead and I enjoyed the leisurely stroll back to the car. Though by this time even a leisurely stroll was tough on my knees. I made good time back and arrived at my car at 5:25pm. A record 11 hour hike for me.

The worst decision of the day came on way home. I stopped at a gas station and bought a 44oz Mountain Dew so that I wouldn't get drowsy on the home (2 hour drive). I don't drink soda regularly let alone Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew was a bad choice. By the time I got home I was feeling mild symptoms of food poisoning. (Not that I think I had food poisoning. I just felt the same symptoms.) It lasted for about 6 hours and then by morning I was fine.

The next thing I have planned is in mid-September my Dad and I will hiking Pikes Peak. In late September I'm kicking around doing another combo. Maybe Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak. So to all my loyal readers, you will both have to wait until then for my next post. So sorry :(

Notes to Self:
-buy binoculars
-bring ibuprofen with me
-read trip reports over and over. No such thing as too familiar with the route


  1. yes all of your "loyal readers" will be very disappointed. you're such a slogger.

  2. Maybe under "notes to self" you should include 'Bring a buddy'. It's not that you could find anyone who would be willing to haul your fat behind out should you pull a Chelsea, it's just that you need to decide who you would rather have doing the looting on your person....a friend, or a stranger.

  3. I agree Brian. Come to CO and hike with me so you can loot my body!

  4. Trekking poles are great - I wouldn't do a serious hike without them after having done Whitney with and without them....Steve

  5. HAHAHA, I love that someone posted on here as anonymous and then signed their post, Steve!

  6. Sounds like a loooong day! Great job though! I agree with you on the trekking poles. They're a knee saver!

  7. Hey, Brady. I am hiking these peaks this weekend and I'm super excited. Your entry only confirmed the idea in my head that I should do Harvard first and then Columbia. Any other pointers? What do you recommend about the ridge between the two, any pointers?

    1. Hi Braden,
      Plan for a long day. It's a beautiful area and you'll have a lot of fun. From Harvard to Columbia stay as high as you feel comfortable. I probably dropped down a little lower than necessary. Made for more work. Have fun!