Mount Harvard and Columbia

by Daniel Weiss November. 15, 2018 254 views

Date Climbed: June 12 & 13, 2018

Elevation: 14,420 (Harvard) and 14,073 (Columbia)

Mount Harvard from Mount Columbia

Mount Harvard from Mount Columbia

It was a cool crisp morning, and I had slept in much later than I had originally intended. Having not arrived until 1 AM that night, I did not bother setting up the tent only to have to pack it again. Instead, I spent a restless night cramped in my car. Around 7 AM, I managed to get myself up, went through my morning routine, and began repacking my bag from the previous hike on Sunshine and Redcloud. I was over 140 miles away from where I had been hiking less than 12 hours before and I was already moving on to my next set of 14ers. As it stood, I would summit 4 14ers within about 36 hours.

At about 8 AM, I was on the trail, backpack in tow carrying the latest and greatest in terms of my tent and gear (with the exception of my $80 sleeping bag which did the job). I'm not a big gear junkie, but if I'm going to make this a hobby, I might as well go with the best and spend the money. As I see it, my life is on the line with some of my gear, and I want to make sure it's dependable enough to live up to that expectation. One of these upgrades was my new North Face O2 tent, weighing in at just over a pound (less than my sleeping bag, and 2 lbs less than my previous tent!). This meant I could travel further, faster and still have more energy on the other side.

Did this splurge pay off? Absolutely! After a 2-3 hour hike into camp and a quick lunch, I was on my way to the summit of Mount Harvard, the most reclusive peak of the Sawatch. This would put me in at an 11 mile hike that day from car to peak to camp. This, all after summiting two 14ers less than twelve hours prior. On the way up, though, I was able to enjoy the company of passing hikers as they descended the route. It was a gorgeous day, and it would have to be as I would not summit until after noon, a rule I rarely broke. There was still the occasional snowfield to cross through, but the higher I managed to get into the Horn Fork Basin, the more breath-taking the scenery became.

I quickly made progress up the trail. My training and acclimatization from the day before did wonders for my hiking speed. It was as if the slope angle did not matter, I was able to continue up the slope without skipping a beat (although I did to save my shoulders and back). I eventually came face to face with the deceptively threatening mountain goat. In most of my experiences, mountain goats are pretty dumb and harmless, but every once in a while you'll run into an aggressive one that can really ruin your day. In fact for some, these encounters have been fatal, especially on steep terrain, which thankfully this was not. Regardless, I was still miles from help and an injury here would turn an easy day into an epic.

The goat was obviously leery of my presence, and stalked my every move. I knew there was no chance of outrunning this athlete of the mountains so I just had to force my way around him and keep a wide berth. This seemed to work once he lost sight of me around a hill. After spying me above him, he seemed to lose interest and moved off down the hill. Breathing a sigh of relief, I moved on toward the summit. Above were two older men who seemed to be taking their sweet time on the summit block. As I approached, one of them warned that the last bit was tricky and to be careful. He even said it might be good to have a rope.

I was surprised as I had heard nothing special about this peak other than its remoteness. I thanked him for his warning and began the short climb to the summit. Along the way I found his partner, using using the classic butt-scoot technique on his way down the slabby rock. He seemed pretty nervous, so I pointed out where I came up and told him it wasn't bad at all on the side I took. He seemed relieved and continued moving down.

A minute later and I was on the summit. As I called family and enjoyed my hard earned lunch, a chubby marmot made his way up to me. He obviously did not lack for food, but the company was entertaining as he tried to sneak off with my trail mix. A few minutes later, I descended the summit block, only to find the two older men still standing at the bottom. They had found the climb to be a challenge and were obviously ready to get home. I had a nice chat with them, and after hearing a few of their war stories, we decided to stick together.

In Horn Fork Basin, Mount Yale in the distance

In Horn Fork Basin, Mount Yale in the distance

One of the men in particular had some great stories of his encounters with wildlife and his hikes in the Sierras of California. In fact, I believe I said maybe two sentences in the two hours it took us to get back to my camp. Regardless, the company was appreciated as I would be alone until I packed out the next day. Once in camp, I took a quick nap, made some dinner, and settled in for a good nights rest.

My alarm woke me up well before dawn. It was still surprisingly cold as summer was not yet in full swing, and I stayed in my sleeping bag for as long as I could justify, munching on my breakfast, waiting for my body to wake up. Half an hour later, I was on the trail.

Unlike yesterday's hike, this one was a seldom travelled hike due to the poor quality of the trail. Famous for its loose rock, it was less of a trail and more of a slog-fest up a scree filled gully. Trail maintenance had been commenced, but without an updated map of the trail, it would be hard to find in the dark. Once at the base of the gully, I elected to take the most direct way to the summit: straight up. I relied on my training and experience to guide me safely and efficiently up the loose slope. Progress was good at first, but it soon became apparent that I needed to make my way south in order to avoid the worst of the scree.

I was soon hiking on slick grass as I caught my first initial glimpse of sunlight. The sun had just risen and a faint yellow-red glow could be seen across the valley. Up, up, up I went on the never ending ridge. Without a trail, the going was intensive and time consuming. The air was still cold and damp, but the hard work kept me just warm enough. Soon, my every thought was consumed with the obsession of reaching sunlight. Just the warm glow and tingle of the sunlight on my face was motivation enough to keep me moving as quick as one can move on such a steep slope. Finally, after an hour and a half of slogging, I reached the sunlight and the ridge proper.

Trying to reach the sun

Trying to reach the sun

The remainder of the hike was quickly over as I made my way across the flat open ridge to the summit. Once out of the wind, I made a call to my family, letting them know I had made it, and in just under 2 hours from camp. Far below, the sleepy town of Buena Vista was just beginning to wake up as the sunlight reached their town. Pancakes, eggs, and milk was all I craved at that moment. My breakfast? A cliff bar, twix, and some trail mix. One thing I can take away from this experience; hiking on a budget sucks! I took a few quick pictures and began my descent. Not long after leaving the summit, I ran into a trail runner quickly making his way up, followed by a half dozen other hikers. Now in the sunlight, the half-finished trail became obvious, and I worked my way through the loose dirt and made blistering progress back to the base of the mountain. A few hikers asked about the trail and I pointed it out, although I could not tell them much of the last bit as I had not been able to follow it.

Once at camp, I opted to refill my water and took a bite to eat. Once I broke camp, I began the long journey back home. The 3 miles I covered on the way out were beautiful, but I was just ready to be home. For that reason, it was the longest 3 miles of the whole week. Once back at the car, I took the pack off, kept everything on and drove home as quickly as I could. I had made good progress on my journey to top the 14ers, but I still had some of the hardest ones left, namely Little Bear, Crestone Needle, Pyramid, and Capital Peak. It was time to finish the 14ers and knock out the big ones.

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