| Harvard/ Columbia Winter Ascents
March 11 and 12, 2007
Mt. Harvard: 17miles/5300' 11 ¼ hours
Mt. Columbia: 13miles/ 5000' 9 ½ hours
These trips began a week earlier, March 3, from 9000', three miles shy of the summer trailhead for Horn fork Basin. I had intended to set a camp seven miles further up the basin, near timberline, and attempt Columbia on the same day; I would attempt Harvard on Sunday and pack out. I carried a too full pack in to 10,200', 5.5 miles in from the winter road closure. The first three miles along the road to the normal summer trailhead went smoothly with about 3 inches of fresh snow over packed trail. The next two miles which a sign-in sheet indicated hadn't been visited in three weeks had about 6-10 inches to beak, and the final 0.5 mile showed no signs of travel and had 12-15 inches to break.
Unfortunately, my bad shoulder (surgery is scheduled in two weeks) was causing pain to radiate the whole right side of my body. My progress was slowed by this pain and the breaking of trail; I knew I would not make my goal. Though only 11:30am, I opted to camp here and try Columbia in the morning. I set my tent and tried to nap. My shoulder became increasingly stiff and swelled; I had to doubt if I could haul a pack by the morning. So I got up. I broke camp and hiked out the 5.5 miles to the car, feeling beaten. The next few days were painful and I attended an appointment with a surgeon which I had made after my 2/8/07 shoulder dislocation (2nd dislocation in 4 months) on Long's Peak. He scheduled surgery and proclaimed a 5-6 month hiatus on climbing. I'd better get some done before surgery!
Eight days later, I returned with a second plan. I will day climb each peak separately with a much smaller pack. I was able to park ½ mile closer to the summer trailhead at 9150'. Leaving at 5:00am MDT, one hour walking on frozen snow brought me 2.5 miles to the summer trailhead and another hour and two miles of snowshoeing on my still broken trail brought me to the fork with Kroenke Lake, just as enough sun reached me to turn off my headlamp. The right fork began the two hour, two mile crux of the day. Here there was no broken trail, I quickly lost the normal route and bushwhacked on soft snow to timberline, The route crossed several run-outs from the West Face of Columbia; fortunately the danger was rated low on this aspect at all elevations. Five steps would go fine, and then I'd break thought the crust for 5 steps of mid-thigh sugar snow, especially in and near tree wells.
By 9:00am, I finally broke through the trees into upper Horn fork basin. The Basin was beautiful and probably (based on sign-ins at the wilderness boundary and the summit) being visited for the first time since Christmas. The snowshoeing was excellent with about 2 inches of snow to break all along the basin floor. It felt remote and pristine. Having sumitted Harvard twice before on this route (once on the East Ridge), I felt confident about following the summer route. About 1 ½ miles up valley and left, you reach a headwall that presents a steep East face. Following the large cairns built by the 14er initiative, you can climb 600' up the face along a subtle rib which provides the safest access to Harvard's south ridge. This avalanche prone area had a moderate rating for the day. No activity or whumping was evident; the snowshoe crampon was sufficient. I reached this ridge at about 10:45.
The final 800', ½ mile pitch to the summit is pretty straight forward with some 2+ scrambling at the top. The distance was 8 ½ miles with 5300' gain. The views were amazing, the weather pristine, a truly rare day in the winter. I sumitted in 6 ½ hours and drunk it all in for about 20 minutes. I toyed with the idea of doing the ridge to Columbia, but the final 800' had tired me and I had two friends joining me in Buena Vista in the evening to attempt Columbia tomorrow. So I came down from my perch.
The descent was uneventful except for the two miles from timberline back to the Kroenke Lake junction. This portion was as challenging as it had been on the ascent (except that I didn't have to think about where to go!) The warming snow had me breaking through where I had stayed on top for the ascent. Snowshoers could follow my route, skiers would have a challenge as I crossed several scree fields and went through some tight trees (also plenty of unnecessary ups and down in this area, but I'm not one to break a second trail on my way home).
By 2:45, I reached my well broken trail at the Kroenke Lake junction. By 4:30pm, I had reached the car. The last 1 ½ miles was too spotty to snowshoe, so packed them away and slogged through the soft snow to the car. By 5:00pm, I checked into the Super 8 and was enjoying a shower when my friends arrived.
Monday 3/12 two friends, Tom Jagger and Josh Blee, and I climbed Columbia via the route USAKeller and sdkeil broke snow for this past Friday. They posted a complete trip report (with nice photos!) on this website on 3/10. Their effort made the ascent below timberline easier. I was pretty beat from the day before, so this broken trail and my friends patience were a big help on this mountain. This was my fourth ascent of Columbia and this was by far the most pleasant route. I enjoyed it immensely. The route spends three miles above timberline along the east then south ridge; the weather was beautiful and the colors and views amazing. The route would be unpleasant in poor weather or wind, but today was idyllic.
We descended a different route. We took a gully due south from between Point 13,544 and Point 13,298 intersecting North Cottonwood Creek at 10,400‘ where we were able to pick up trail I had broken the day (and the week)before on an ascent (and an attempt) at Harvard. The descent was fun too. It had a good glissade and (by intersecting the broken trail) shaved a little time.
Two nice winter ascents with very spring like weather.