Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  07/07/2008
Date Climbed:   07/06/2008
Author:  thebeave7
 Harvard Columbia Traverse  

The road in to the North Cottonwood trailhead is in fair shape, but as other reports have mentioned there is a 30ft section that is "cratered" right after the road exits the maintained region(photo #1 shows the craters, though they are hard to see). I drove it in my Subaru Forester without any issue, a friend drove his CRV through as well without issue. The remainder of the road is bumpy but easily driven. Thundershowers started as drove up the road just after 1pm and continued into the mid-afternoon.

510a I was off on the N Cottonwood Crk trail headed into Horn Fork Basin, quickly passing two groups. The trail in to Horn Fork Basin is smooth and very runnable, besides a few downed trees the trail is easily traveled with minimal light. At 11400ft I came across the well traveled use trail that leads to the SW rib of Columbia. After crossing a small patch of snow I was staring up at the huge talus/scree slope that would take me to the South ridge of Columbia.


Looking up the SW rib. The use trail can be seen in the grass up the middle.

620a I start up the incredibly steep loose "trail". I use "trail" because while there is a well trodden path, it's incredibly steep, and one has to be careful to plant each foot on solid ground to not slide backward on the loose dirt and scree. The use trail will take you all the way to the upper ridgeline, as I climbed I was treated to an awesome view back toward Mt Yale and up Horn Fork Basin toward Harvard. This climb was an a$$ kicker, and it was good to finally top out on Columbia's South ridge, seeing the final summit not too far off.


Morning light on Mt Yale


Morning light shining on Horn Fork Basin, Harvard on the right.

740a I topped out on Columbia and had the summit all to myself. There was a lot of moisture hanging in the valley around Buena Vista and Leadville, fuel for the thunderstorms to come. I paused only long enough to scout out the traverse over to Harvard(photo #7). Several snow fields guarded the traverse, though thanks to some beta from a friend I'd met at the TH on Saturday afternoon I knew it all could be circumnavigated without any danger.What I SHOULD have done was cut hard left at the base of the first large snow field, then follow the snow right along the base of the steep slopes of the ridgeline. Instead I dropped two far right, finding a nice cliff, back tracking onto the snow and heading back across the valley. I descended below some rock outcroppings to 12400ft before weaving around several snow fields and finally on to the grassy slopes leading to Harvard.


Looking from Columbia's summit down on the traverse, Harvard in the distance.


Looking up at the Rabbit ears and the class 5 portion of the Harvard/Columbia ridge.

830a Once across the valley the going gets much easier as the next 1600ft is easy tundra coated in flowers. Just head up toward the false summits of Harvard seen at the far end of the West slope. As I neared the final steep grassy slope I saw my first person of the day descending off Harvard. We waved as he jogged down the ridgeline and I climbed a direct line up the face. Once at the base of the first false summit you are SUPPOSED to go left(South) around the pinnacle. I scrambled straight over the summit along some nice airy class 3 before dropping back to the ridge. A use trail leads around the side of the first false summit then over the next two(seen in photo #7). There is some easy scrambling along the ridge, and can be kept to class 2 without issue(also some class 3 here and there if you wish). I stuck as high on the ridge as possible, looking for some solid scrambling to mix it up a little.


West slope of Harvard, looking back toward Columbia.

950a I sat atop Mt Harvard enjoying a snack and watching the hikers scurrying up the rocks below me. A few clouds had started to gather to the South over Yale. I snapped a few shots in various directions then scrambled down the SW side of the summit block. After navigating a few snow fields on the South face I located the use trail that led me back down into Horn Fork basin. Part of the trail is covered in snow, but one can follow grassy slopes around the snow. When I could follow the actual trail it was surprisingly runnable. As I descended into Horn Fork basin the trail got smoother and smoother, high alpine running at its finest. Besides dodging a few snow patches and stomping through some marshy regions the trail was very enjoyable. As I neared the trailhead a few light sprinkles fell, but the clouds would not coalesce until almost 1pm. I arrived back at the trailhead at 1130a, 6:20 after starting out in the early morning twillight. A nice route with some great views, and well worth the effort. The drive home through the holiday traffic wasn't as enjoyable, the price we pay to spend time in the mountains.


Looking down Harvard's North slope toward Beloford and Oxford. Missouri is on the far left just out of picture.


View down into Horn Fork Basin from the summit of Harvard.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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