| We made it up Harvard, but Columbia was not meant to be
After eating burgers at K’s in Buena Vista, my 13-year-old son Will and I (along with Sadie the dog who, unfortunately, did not get a burger at K’s) took our 1998 Honda Accord up to the North Cottonwood Trailhead. Our low clearance vehicle made it up very easily, although there is a little washboarding along the road, and we heard a number of rocks clang the underside of the car as we drove the road. We made it to the trailhead in under 30 minutes.
We left the trailhead at 1735 with the intention of camping close to the Harvard/Columbia trail split in hopes of climbing Harvard and then crossing the traverse to summit Columbia the next day. After reading the TR, we knew that it would be a long day even with a campsite 3.5 miles into the camp.
We reached the Great Bridge at 1825, the big stream at 1915 and then found a nice camp site right below the Y at 1955, which was none too soon because it was getting a little dark and rain was threatening.
The next morning we began our ascent at 0500, still very dark so we navigated slowly with our headlamps until they were no longer necessary.
We made it past the willows in the basin to the first big stream above treeline by 0525, and we reached the Bear Lake sign at 0615 with the sun beginning to hit the unnamed peak in the background.
Great morning views looking back at Bear Lake, Yale, and Princeton.
After a quick breakfast, we kept moving, getting past the well-cairned talus field by 0705 and then continued to the ridge above it. The talus field is quite well marked. The cairns and the trail maintenance is very helpful. Morning shadows are cool.
We saw a number of mountain goats on our climb. I’m not sure I would pick 13,000+ as my place of permanent residence, but to each his own.
We reached the ridge between Harvard and the unnamed peak by 0750 and then managed to scramble up the very top to reach the ridge by 0830, 3.5 hours after we started. We thought with our early start that we would be the first to summit, but one hiker was coming down and another group of boy scouts had come up from Pine Creek. Here is a picture of Will and Sadie close to the top. The scramble at the very top was not too bad. We took it slow heading up, found a place to boulder up and made it. I think Sadie had the easiest time making it up the mountain.
Here are the obligatory summit pictures. Of course the views are remarkable. Here is Sadie at the top.
Here are the two of us.
This ascent marks our ninth 14er.
The hike was more challenging than we had expected it to be, and already the sky was full of clouds. Here is Will looking at the traverse to Columbia and all the clouds in the sky at 0830.
Two other groups had already decided to forgo the traverse because of the clouds, and after deliberation, we decided to do the same. The mountain will certainly be there in the future (in fact, in the far and distant future after we are all gone, it will still be here) so we decided to save Columbia for another day. It was disappointing. This is the third time we have turned around on a 14er climb, but it certainly won’t be our last. I keep reminding myself that there are no easy fourteeners.
As we descended the clouds broke, and I was quietly kicking myself for our decision, but the blue skies were temporary. The clouds came rolling back in and a steady rain for quite awhile as we were heading down the mountain. I realized that even though there was no lightning, I couldn’t imagine how challenging it would be to make that traverse in the rain and then try the Columbia descent with rocks covered in water. Yes, Columbia will have to wait. We would have had a much more challenging day had we attempted that traverse in that weather.
We left the summit at 0930 and cruised back down to our campsite by 1130. We took some time eating a little lunch and then breaking camp as the rain began to fall. We left the camp right below the Harvard Columbia trail split at 1230 and made it down to the TH at 1355.
Even without the traverse and the ascent of Columbia we were pretty spent and ready to be done. Of course, we had to stop again at K’s for a little more food and then headed back to the cabin. Looking back at the mountain as we headed south, the entire range was covered in dark threatening clouds. When we do this again, we need a lot of clear blue sky in order to make both peaks.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):