| Harvard/Columbia - Standard Ridge Combo Route
After figuring out all the semantics and connections involved (Steve (flew in from KC), Adam (flew in from Phoenix), Gordy (from KC but already in Colorado, family dropped him off at DIA)), Tyler and I picked up everyone in Denver at various spots and times, using my vehicle which we had driven from Topeka, KS. Our goal was to climb two combinations, the first of which was to be Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia via Horn Fork Basin and the Rabbit Ridge. First, we went to the Flagship REI to get some last-minute gear and supplies. We then got some groceries and gas in west Denver, and we were ready to start making our way to the North Cottonwood Trailhead for Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia. On our way, we stopped at Quizno’s in Silverthorne for a quick lunch. We arrived at the North Cottonwood Trailhead around 3:00, and we organized our gear and started up the trail.
Here is a pic of us just before we got started:
This was a great trail, and we hiked on it for about 3.5 miles until we reached some nice campsites around 5:30 or so, in Horn Fork Basin, below Mt. Columbia’s west face and in a spot where we could easily access camp after our descent of Mt. Columbia the next day. We experienced some rain as we ascended to our camp, but the rain subsided as we approached and set up camp. In addition, there was an abundant water supply around this camp area, about 100-200 feet west of where we set up camp. We set up 3 2-man tents, explored the area a little bit, and then retired for the night.
Pics of the campsite:
The next morning, we got up at 3:00 to get ready for our summit bids. We left the camp at around 3:30 intending to summit Mt. Harvard first. The trail was easy to follow up the valley and it continued through the rocks all the way up high on Mt. Harvard’s west shoulder. Just before the summit, we had a slight scramble to reach the highest perch. All 5 of us were on Mt. Harvard’s summit at around 6:10. We were socked in by clouds, but this was a wonderful summit for us all to share together.
A few pics of us at the Harvard summit:
We hung around the summit for about 15 minutes or so, and Adam and Gordy decided to descend back to camp as they weren’t feeling up for the long traverse to Mt. Columbia ahead. Steve, Tyler and I began the traverse down the ridge toward Harvard/Columbia saddle at around 6:30. This was a beautiful ridgeline hike down to the lower grassy slopes.
Finding the correct line after descending to around 12,800’ was the key to the traverse. We followed the 14ers.com description and 14ers.com user Aubrey's H/C trip report, which perfectly led us down the ridgeline, around a rocky point low on the ridge, down a scree couloir, and then around a corner to the right, where we were able to see the best line where we would begin to ascend again. There was some snow on the line, which actually turned out to be beneficial since it was very easy to walk on compared to the constant talus fields on this route. The line through the patchy snowfields took us up high on Columbia’s northeast grassy slopes. We knew there was essentially a right turn somewhere which would take us up to Columbia’s north ridge, but we missed the turn and ended up ascending to Columbia’s northeast ridge (I guess, that's what it would be called), which we followed all the way to the summit. This route worked fine and was probably not much more, if any, strenuous than the standard north ridge ascent. As with all routes on Mt. Columbia, the northeast ridge was ridden with small, ankle-breaking talus, but we expected this and just got through it. Steve was feeling really good at this point and he ended up ahead of Tyler and me by a good 15-20 minutes or more. When we all reached the summit at around 10:00, we shared a few minutes up there relishing in the long ascent and traverse we had just made of Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia. This is not an easy route and we had persevered through it in reasonable time and shape.
Pics on the Columbia summit:
We then started the descent of Mt. Columbia’s west slopes route. This descent was an extremely steep scree slope all the way down to the valley. There was a good trail all the way from the summit to the valley, so it was not difficult to follow as we thought it might have been from our studying of the route. Even on the trail, though, the route is tough on the legs and knees due to its steepness, and I don’t believe I would ever want to ascend this route due to how loose the rocks are and due to the scree and erosion there. We finally made it to the bottom of the scree slope and found a trail which led us almost perfectly back to our campsite, where we found Gordy and Adam around 12:00. I immediately took my pack off and laid down basking in the sun for a few moments. We then packed all of our stuff into our heavy packs and descended back to the car, arriving there around 2:00. What a climb!
NOTE: We had both of the Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia summits to ourselves, and beyond the campsite, we only saw 3 people the whole time on our Harvard/Columbia summit climbs. The 3 people were ascending Mt. Columbia on our way down the scree slope.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):