| Mt Harvard to Mt Columbia traverse from the North Cottonwood Trailhead
As we started the hike from the North Cottonwood Trailhead, I knew that myself and my hiking partner were in for a long day. The trip up Harvard would be Dan's first 14'er summit, and he felt that he would be up for the traverse over to the Summit of Columbia as well. He certainly had the resume for scree fields, since he grew up scrambling up the mountains and mesas surrounding Rifle, Colorado. In fact, when I described the route based on 14er.com trip reports, he actually got excited.
We made pretty good time on the trail, and made it to treeline for sunrise, pulling out camera's out to get some shots of Mt. Yale in the distance, and scoping the West side of the ridge connecting the 2 14ers.
Harvard proved to be straightforward, and before we knew it we were on the summit.
The view was amazing, it was a really clear morning still and you could see the distant (or not so) 14er's to the South.
We made sure to get a couple of summit shots each... I was a little put off by the time though, we had spent way too much time with our camera's out of our packs. It was after 9:30am when we reached Harvard's summit, and as we got our first glimpse of the ridge that was to come.
We signed the summit register, popped some shots from the summit and headed off. Our first mistake came in following what appeared to be the trail to the eastern side of the ridge too early, sending us down some nasty scree way too early. At about 14,100 feet we glimpsed a cross over to the Western side of the ridge and found the trail.
It lead to a more mellow slope that was covered with Tundra flowers, and a nice path leading through them... This made the trip down to 13,500 feet much more pleasant. We cut down the ridge to 12,800feet, and got a glimpse of the rest of the route. It seemed clear that if we stayed high, we should be able to maintain our elevation, and if we stayed high maybe even come up onto Columbia's slopes higher, and perhaps made the last little bit easier.
What we ended up finding was that sticking to 12,800 feet kept us on some really solid rock that provided for some nice boulder hopping… then we decided to gain a bit of elevation. This was our mistake. The rocks above 12,800 feet are really loose, and really nasty. I think the biggest problem is that the higher you go, the more difficult it would be to get back down. I had one rock break from under me and took a hard fall on my hip, and had a rock about 2 times the size of my head break loose and roll over my left arm.
It was at this point that Dan ran out of water. I always carry iodine, and planned on purifying some water from the snow melt once we got off the loose rock, but this was still very concerning. We skirted the upper portions of 2 snow fields, nervously eying the paths of rocks that had come loose in the freeze thaw cycles, and finally got off the last by losing about 40 feet, and exiting the scree field at 13,050 feet.
I immediately started searching for water as we walked, and eyed large ponds of snow melt water and headed to them, only to discover that the water was a long way from being clean enough to just use iodine. Setting my Nalgene in the water left a mineral film on the bottle. By this time we were both out of water, and very concerned.
We slogged up the remainder of Columbia, becoming increasingly slower as dehydration set in. When we got to the summit I took 3 photos, making sure I got a summit shot of Dan, since this was his 2nd 14'er, and it was on the same day as his first, unsuccessfully searched for the missing summit log, and headed down.
Luckily we found a gentleman who was nice enough to give us half a liter of water, which cut the edge off being thirsty. At this point though, we were more focused on getting to water than anything else, and moved as fast as possible down the side of Columbia. We hunted water, and found it quickly, dumping Iodine in and setting my watch to wait with anticipation for the water to be purified.
The hike back to North Cottonwood was very un-eventful, and I have to say is an excellent trail.
Overall it was a neat trip, and a great learning experience. In my experience it was certainly more difficult than Longs Peak in regards to endurance. Though I am certain that if we had stayed at 12,800 all the way around things would have been much simpler… but that may just be wishful thinking.>
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):