| College Graduation: Finishing off the Winter Collegiates on Harvard
Frenchmen Creek to East Ridge
February 11/12, 2013
Camp: Intersection of Frenchmen Creek and Colorado Trails (11,200')
Car to Camp: 4 Hours
Camp to Summit: 6.5 Hours (9.5 hours RT)
RT: 16.5 Miles, 6000' (approx.)
The future is wide open. Today I am at the start of a brand new adventure. I find myself with a lot of free time. It's mid winter, the time I most dream of 14ers.
Not wanting to get too ambitious, with this being only my second winter season and all, Harvard from Frenchmen Creek was the obvious choice. Not only had I climbed Harvard once before (Horn Fork Basin, Aug 2011), but some friends and I had attempted it as a day hike earlier this year on a frigid January day. With all the recent snow, I knew that window had closed and I would have to overnight this. The trail would be easy to follow, even with snow cover, and if I chose my route carefully, I could avoid any avalanche terrain. Monday wasn't looking promising, but Tuesday seemed alright for a summit attempt.
I left Vail before 7am on Monday, got my McDonald's coffee and headed towards Tennessee Pass. On the way, as I rounded a corner and saw the sun for the first time that day - The Beatles Abbey Road transitioned into Here Comes the Sun. I enjoyed a period of relaxation and excitement at the coming adventure. Before long I was turning right onto CR 386 (11.4 miles south of the HWY 82/HWY 24 intersection), and barely off the highway, as expected, I was stopped by snow (high clearance or 4WD could probably go a bit further - I have a Subaru Impreza).
Looking back at my car from the start of the hike
Snow everywhere...even by Hwy 24.
Typical road conditions
I parked at the turnoff for Frenchmen Creek and started getting my things together. Not only would I be carrying a full pack, but I would be breaking trail the entire way...from the first step. Unsure of how many days I was looking at, I packed some extra food and such. By 9am I was on my way up the familiar road.
I was several hundred feet down before I accepted the fact that this route was going to be all snowshoes, all the time. I stopped to put them on and take off a layer. Carrying the pack was hard work and most of the approach was done in a base layer and fleece despite hiking into a minor snowstorm.
The snow on the road wasn't too bad, and I steadily made progress upwards. The snow would come and go, though at worst only being a mere inconvenience. The road gradually gains elevation and the last stretch is along a ridge with some nice views of the forest. A bit before 11:30 I arrived at the "Road Closed to All Vehicles" sign that marks the start of the trail.
End of the road and start of the trail
Frenchmen Creek Trail
The Frenchmen Creek Trail starts off fairly flat and very wide. The snow was certainly there, but by now I was used to it. Luckily, the trail was just as easy to follow without a track as it had been in January when we had had one. I slowly made progress upwards. Knowing that it was going to be a cold night, and above 10,000ft, I started to think about a campsite. "It's early," I thought," and realized I would likely be setting down by 1pm or so and would have a long day of doing nothing ahead.
There is another "Road Closed to All Vehicles Sign" just before the intersection with the Colorado Trail. Make sure to not Be a Mad Mike and stay straight here (but I was happy to continue the tradition of poaching Elk Trenches). There is a small sign that says "Frenchmen Creek" and states the elevation to be 10,976'. The gain and the deadfall really start at this point. At one point there are 3 downed trees in a row that required crawling due to the huge pack. Lame. I made it another couple of hundred feet before settling on a flat spot at 11,200 to make my camp. I spent most of the afternoon melting snow and just thinking. As the sun set, I settled in for what would be a miserably cold night
2nd 'Road Closed' sign marking the CO Trail insersection
Willows in the Basin
Across the way
I sat up at 5am and began heating water for oatmeal. I had slept enough, but it had been intermittent (I had to borrow a sleeping bag for this trip and it was not up to par). Getting moving was a welcome reprieve from the cold monotony of the night. I was on my way by 5:45am and the trail was easy enough to follow. The sun started to show its face and the headlamp was soon off. as predicted, the weather was clear and I could see the high peaks all around.
Lots of snow
in January, we had gone up the creek into the upper basin, gotten a sweet view of the Rabbit ears and turned around. Today, I wanted to traverse up and onto the saddle from below tree line, so I took a hard right and dropped into the creek. After a hundred yards I exited on the right and headed straight uphill through some deep powder interspersed with nearly bare ground. A few hundred feet of gain later and the snowshoes were off. I did post hole a lot the rest of the day, but the rocks were too plentiful and slopes too awkward to allow for snowshoes.
Looking towards the saddle
The traverse to the saddle was not fun. The steep loose rock was covered in fresh powder and it was rather slippery for how steep the slope was. I probably should have put on microspikes, but I was lazy. After a while I found myself on the saddle of Harvard and its neighboring unnamed thirteener. The views of Columbia and the Rabbit Ears are phenomenal when covered in snow. The saddle terrain was a welcome change and involved flat walking or minor rock hoping for a while. As I approached the Harvard side and I found myself favoring left and the gentle slopes found on the Columbia Ridge. I took this option and then turned right and headed up to the crux section of Harvard's East Ridge.
Rabbit Ears again
Looking back down the ridge
It was sometimes cold and windy and sometimes dreadfully hot, you know...winter. I found myself doing a lot more scrambling than I had anticipated and the poles and liner gloves were a nuisance. Early on I located a cairn or two and made my way upwards. On the ascent I stayed on the South Side the entire time and almost entirely ignored the summer route. I don't really know why I did that, nor do I recommend anyone else due that. There were a couple of slopes that I probably should not have crossed and the route was steep over drop offs with the same loose powder. once I saw the descent route I certainly laughed at myself a bit.
Horn Fork Basin
overall the climb to the summit was much more difficult than I had expected and I was pretty wiped by the time I topped out. I snapped a photo, sent a SPOT message and shoved a few handfuls of food in my mouth before I was on my way. I had decided to put the poles away and to try and stick to the summer route this time. I figured I could take the ridge all the way down to the saddle, then drop into the basin and mostly retrace our steps from the January Attempt.
Summit finally in view
Summit. Winter 14er #23
Easier going down than up
The descent was a relief and much easier than I had expected. I enjoyed the views and the sunshine as well as the success on what I consider to be one of the 3 hardest Sawatch peaks in winter (I still haven't done Shav/Tab though - not looking forward to it, either). I located my track with ease since it had been in the creek and was back at camp around 3:15pm. I relaxed for a bit and headed down the trail. The trench made the goings easy and also made it clear that no one else had been up here. I made it to the road before 5 and had some hopes of making the car before the headlamp needed to come out. Just before 6, I spotted the car.
About to find my trench
I've seen it raining fire in the sky
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):