Mount Columbia - Southeast Ridge via Harvard Lakes TH
Date: April 20, 2012 Friday
Start time: 4:10 AM
Summit: 9:10 AM
Ending time:1:10 PM
Total Time: 9 Hours
Elevation gain: 4,862 ft
Mileage: 11.4 Miles
Company: Dave Swink
Resources: 14ers.com Southeast Ridge Route
Since our unsuccessful attempt in November 2011, Dave and I really wanted to make another attempt at the ridge. This was Dave's last 14er to complete the Sawatch Range. After the weather cancelled our plans last week, it looked like Friday 4/20/2012 would have solid weather with cool temperatures.
I drove up from Denver on Thursday morning to check out the trailhead, and the beginning of the route. After a few small hikes in the area, I drove over to the Cottonwood Hotspings to swim and then went to the Eddyline Brewery for a few beers while I waited for Dave to arrive. If you have not been to the brewery it is well worth the trip, the food and beer is outstanding (Try the Crank Yanker IPA and the Midland Trail Colorado Pale Ale) We drove up to the Harvard Lakes TH and set up camp for the night. It started to lightly snow around 8 pm, so we headed to bed for our early morning wake up of 3:30 am.
We started towards Harvard Lakes on the Colorado Trail at 4:10 am. Follow the Colorado Trail to around 10,000 ft elevation, and look for two cairns on the left side of the trail. The second cairn marks the junction for the trail up the southeast ridge. It is easily missed, if you start heading downhill away from the ridge you have gone too far.
At the beginning there are several cairns along the route. If you do this part in the dark it is easy to loose the faint trail, keep on going along the top of the ridge. There is some snow along the route right now but can be avoided if you stay just below the ridge line on the left (south)
Alpenglow on Mount Yale
Once at treeline you will emerge into a grove of dead trees. You'll know them when you see them. They are really gnarly, with most still standing. Does anyone know what happened to make such a large area of trees die off like this?
Dead Trees (Taken on the way down)
Keep on going up the ridge and around 12,500 you will get your first view of Mount Columbia across Three Elk Creek Basin.
We were hit by some brutal wind at this point and it continued past 13,298'. We dropped down on the left side of the ridge to block some of it.
First view of Mount Columbia
Dave gaining point 13,298'
Once you have gained point 13,298', the remainder ridge a can be seen. The semi-circle ridge leading to Columbia is impressive. I wish my camera took panoramas..
Ridge to Columbia
Ridge to Columbia
On the other side of the ridge, we saw our first view of Harvard.
First view of Harvard
While gaining the summit there is some snow you must cross. Microspikes might be helpful but aren't needed. There were a few deep spots were gators would help keep the snow out, but it was solid in the morning. We made it to the summit around 9:10 am, 5 hours from when we started.
Dave finishing the Sawatch 14ers!
Summit shot with Harvard in the background
Ridge to Harvard
Snowy Bear Lake
Hork Fork Basin
After taking a few pictures, we started the long slog back down the ridge.
I highly recommend this this route. It is a tough and long ridge to the top, but the views along the way are well worth it. If you decide to do this during the summer, it might be best to return via the standard route into Horn Fork Basin to avoid any afternoon lightning storms. The Harvard Lakes TH is only a few miles from the N. Cottonwood TH. Someday I'd like to do this Southeast Route, then traverse to Harvard and then return though the Horn Fork Basin.
Congratulations Dave on completing all the 14ers in the Sawatch Range! Good luck in your future 14er endeavors and I am sure we will soon hike together again.
Here are some more pictures from the day. Hope you enjoyed the report. PM me if you want any other specific information.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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