The pre-dawn drives from Denver to the Sawatch Range were getting old, so I headed up into the mountains this past weekend for two days with the hope of tackling several peaks that I had not yet climbed. I ultimately was able to finish five peaks (Harvard, Columbia, Oxford, Belford and Missouri) in two fun and rewarding days, but the cumulative 28 miles and 13,000 vertical feet was exhausting.
After spending the night at the North Cottonwood Trailhead, I got on the trail to Mount Harvard at 5:15AM. It was dark when I first got started but was able to put away the headlamp after about 30 minutes on the trail. I was moving quite quickly for the first two hours, for the trail is in great shape and climbs quite gradually until well above treeline.
Along sunrise along the Mt. Harvard trail
Bear Lake Once I reached the Bear Lake turn off, the trail began to climb more steeply as I began ascended the south slopes of Harvard. I did lose the trail in the snowfields below the ridgeline so I just headed straight up until I eventually found it again at the top of the ridge.
Approach to the summit of Harvard I was very excited to see an ermine run past shortly after rejoining the trail. The rest of the route to the summit was pretty straight-forward until 50 feet below the summit. The final climb to the summit was not very difficult but was certainly the steepest part of the climb. I reached the summit of Harvard at 8:55 under clear skies with only the slightest wisps of clouds starting to form over the mountain. The view of the other Sawatch 14ers was outstanding.
View south along Sawatch from Harvard summit
On the summit of Harvard
After a brief stay on Harvard, I began the journey over to Columbia at 9:05AM. The east ridge of Harvard was mostly enjoyable (to me) Class 2 rock hopping until it finally reached the gentle grassy slopes of the Frenchman Creek drainage.
View of Columbia and saddle from summit of Harvard I followed the trail that headed toward the rugged class 4 ridge leading to Columbia. I was expecting the trail to drop below the east side of the ridge but I lost the route and stayed fairly high traversing the ridge until I apparently went too far before descending and ended up in a moderately steep, rocky gulley. A steep drop made traversing further south into the next gully difficult. I wanted to keep as much elevation as possible, so after a short descent in the gully, I eventually found a short class 4 pitch that I could safe descend into the gully to the south. This may not have been the best idea, as this next gully was much steeper and I end up having to go all the way to the bottom anyway.
Once at the bottom of the ridge, there were several wide snowfields that I needed to cross and at least one of them I would not have wanted to cross without an axe. After the slog through the gullies and across the snow and talus, I was finally ready to begin the ascent of the north slopes of Columbia.
North slopes of Columbia from traverse in Frenchman Creek drainage I was at this time that I noticed some dark clouds drifting over Columbia. While the clouds didn’t seem too menacing and ultimately drifted away harmlessly, it made it very clear to me that one would not want to get caught where I was during a thunderstorm. I went straight up the north slope of Columbia over steep talus and reached the summit of Columbia at 11:20AM.
I enjoyed a satisfying lunch on the summit of Columbia as a reward for my accomplishment but I quickly found that several rather assertive marmots wanted my lunch as well. ) One particularly brazen one came to within a foot of me until I shooed it away.
Assertive marmot on summit of Columbia
View of Buena Vista from sumit of Columbia By 11:45AM, rain clouds were starting to form to the south, so decided it was time to start heading down. I have to say that the west slope of Columbia was the least pleasant descent I’ve had since coming down Bross. It was steep, loose and generally miserable. To make things even more pleasant, the clouds delivered a few minutes of hail on the way down. Things improved considerably once I was finally back to the nice Horn Fork trail. I got all the way down to the trailhead by 2:15pm.