June 27, 2003
Heading up to the high country for another weekend of fun, we departed Boulder around 4 p.m. and arrived at the trailhead about 8 p.m. The trailhead was already full of vehicles but we found a place to park and set up camp in the back of the 4runner. While we were getting ready for bed a kid got his Ford truck high centered on a rock right next to us. It didn't take long to get him out of his predictment and hit the sack. It was a beautiful evening in the mountains and the temperatures stayed warm enough that I never zipped up my sleeping bag. A couple of annoying kids came ripping through the trailhead on ATVs several times throughout the evening but besides that it was a very wonderful evening.
June 28, 2003
We decided it would be a longer day than normal so we woke up at 4:45 a.m., had some breakfast, and hit the trail a little before 5:30 a.m. The trail immediately crosses Cottonwood Creek and begins a very gentle hike for 1.5 miles to a junction. The route heads to the right from the junction and the trail steepens just a little but remains relatively mild compared to other Sawatch 14ers. We passed many parties camping as we headed up the Horn Fork Basin. The photo below is near treeline.
Approaching treeline at about 11,600 feet you are treated to some nice views of the Horn Fork Basin and Mt. Harvard finally comes into view.
The trail through this section of the basin was fairly muddy but was relatively short. Coming to the end of the basin the trail steepens and you start to climb Harvard's south slopes. The photo below is from a ledge on Harvard's south slopes about 1/4 way from the basin to the summit and shows the route to the summit.
The weather was absolutely perfect as we ascended Harvard's south slopes. We were just wearing shorts and a t-shirt and sweating because it was so hot. There wasn't a breath of wind which was a welcome relief from getting blasted on Pike Peaks the week before. We kept plugging along and finally gained a ridge that allowed us some nice views to the north. Heading back to the west we came to some boulders that we scrambled up. I was delighted to learn that we were already at the summit, I was expecting to see the summit farther off in the distance when I gained the ridge. We arrived on top at 9:15 a.m. taking just under 4 hours for the ascent of Harvard. We had the summit to ourselves as we took in the views of the Sawatch Range.
There was absolutely no wind even on the summit and I think this was the best weather I have ever had on a 14er. We look around for a summit register but couldn't seem to find it. I saw a nice photo opportunity just off the summit so I climbed down to the boulder below for Amy to take this picture.
After about 20-30 minutes of eating and resting we decided it was time to depart for Mt. Columbia. The first mile of the ridge is quite pleasant as you descend down towards point 13,516. The photo below is Mt. Columbia from the beginning of the ridge.
Taking Roach's advice, we stayed north as we traversed around point 13,516. This is where we should have descended southeast down the grassy slopes to the basin between point 13,516 and Mt. Columbia. Instead we traversed completely around 13,516 and came to a very cliff-like downclimb. There was a steep scree gully that we descended to the south instead of doing the downclimb. The gully was full of extremely loose rock and scree and we set off many mini rockslides as we descended. Amy is circled in yellow and the photo shows the steepness of the gully.
Making it down the gully we took some time to scope out the path of least resistence across the remainder of the ridge. The photo below is taking from the backside of the ridge and shows our route across.
The route crossed several snowfields and boulderfields as we made our way towards the north slopes of Mt. Columbia.
Crossing the last snowfield before the grassy slopes of Mt. Columbia, my leg punched through the snow and was packed around my ankle. Buried up to my waist I was unable to pull my leg out so I began digging through the snow to free my leg. About the time I was freeing myself Amy punched through the snow too and got stuck. After freeing myself I went over and began helping Amy get free. After a couple minutes of digging Amy was free too. My arm and Amy's leg were absolutely frozen. We were able to get across the remaining snow without much trouble and were relieved to reach the grassy slopes of Mt. Columbia's north side. From here the route was straightforward and we proceeded toward the summit. The photo belows shows the last remaining portion of the ridge before Mt. Columbia's summit.
The photo below is looking back towards Mt. Harvard and the route in yellow shows our traverse of the ridge. The route in red is the preferred route staying on the grassy gentler terrain. You lose more elevation following the route in red but you lose much more time following the route in yellow.
Chugging upward we topped out on the summit of Mt. Columbia at 12:45 p.m. taking us over 3 hours to traverse the ridge. We could have easily trimmed an hour off this time had we descended straight southwest of point 13,516 and stayed on the easier grassy terrain. The weather was still wonderful as we now looked at Mt. Harvard from the summit of Mt. Columbia.
We stayed on the summit of Mt. Columbia for about 30 minutes eating and resting from the tiring ridge traverse. There seemed to be alot of people coming on Columbia's west slopes so we decided to depart before the summit got too crowded. We didn't really know exactly where to leave the ridge and descend Columbia's west slopes but found a faint trail. I don't think this was the standard route down but it seemed to work. The descent was pretty steep but not terribly loose as I had heard. Maybe we were off-route, or maybe compard to the horrible scree gully we descended on the ridge, this didn't seem so bad. The photo below is Amy descending the west side of Mt. Columbia.
We finally reached level ground near treeline after descending for probably an hour. The photo below shows our route down the west slopes of Mt. Columbia.
There was an extremely faint trail following the left edge of treeline. Wanting to rejoin the main trail we decided to bushwhack straight across the basin until we intersectecd the main trail. Crossing an unpleasant meadow overgrown with bushes and willows we reached the forest on the other side. After about 10 minutes of bushwhacking in the forest we intersected the main trail as we had hoped. From here it was a pleasant stroll down to the trailhead. We arrived back at the car at 4 p.m. bringing our total time for both peaks to just under 11 hours. Even though we made the ridge between the peaks harder than it had to be, I wouldn't change anything about our adventure. This hike had it all from easy strolling along a trail to descending steep loose gullies, and from bushwhacking to getting buried up to your waist in snow. It was a very tiring day but also very much worth every ounce of effort. This was Amy's 5th 14er and my 29th, only 2 more left in the Sawatch range, wooohooo.