Total length: 14 miles
Total elevation gain: 5200 ft
Only a couple 14ers away from finishing the Sawatch, twhalm and I set out to summit Harvard and Columbia. Neither of us cared to go up or down the scree-fest that is the West Slopes of Columbia, so we devised an alternate route that would avoid them entirely. We decided to start from the Frenchman Creek Trailhead, climb the East Ridge of Harvard (14R3 in Roach 3rd Ed), do the standard traverse from Harvard to Columbia, and descend from Columbia back into the Frenchman Creek basin.
The 4WD road up to the Frenchman Creek Trailhead was quite narrow and there were a few obstacles but overall it wasn’t bad. Any stock 4WD shouldn’t have any problems as long as it is not too wide (we were in a Jeep Cherokee).
We started hiking around 6:30 pm on Friday night, August 2. There were a few areas of significant deadfall but it was all passable.
Deadfall along the trail
We found a phenomenal campsite at 11,800 feet right below treeline.
Campsite at 11,800 along the trail
We got an early start on Saturday morning. Instead of following Roach’s route, which gains the ridge between Harvard and Pt 13,242 close to Pt 13,242, we aimed toward Harvard and went straight up the grassy slopes.
Our approach up Harvard
We summited Harvard and then completed the standard traverse over to Columbia. One of the big advantages of climbing from Frenchman Creek is that, if you are on the traverse to Columbia and need to bail, you can easily go back down into the Frenchman Creek basin, whereas if you are climbing from Horn Fork, it is very difficult to bail off of the traverse.
After summiting Columbia, we started descending Columbia’s East Ridge, and then made our way down a grassy "ridgelet" to the northeast of Columbia that leads right back into Frenchman Creek basin. The descent was almost entirely a nice, moderate-angle grassy slope. There were some sections of talus but it was all solid. Our approximate descent line is shown in the picture below:
Approximate line down Columbia
This route took us right back into the basin and back to our campsite.
While the traverse from Harvard to Columbia was still a slog, I would recommend this route for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with the scree on Columbia’s West Slopes!