| Harvard via N. Cottonwood TH w/ traverse to Columbia
Team: Jason Foisset (JasonF), Azlenda (msianmama), and Tom S.
Begin Hike: 3:40 AM
Harvard Summit: 7:30 AM
Depart for Columbia Summit: 8:15 AM
Columbia Summit: 11:15 AM (includes additional 20-30 minutes for hiking/downclimbing from ridge line to green area)
Descend to TH: 12:15 PM
Finish Hike: 2:30 PM
Roundtrip Time: 11 hours
Time w/o breaks (waiting for a certain team member – sorry AZ ) & lost time due to not following green area en route to Columbia: 9 hours
Mileage: Approx. 15 miles
Elevation Gain: Approx. 6,300 feet
This hike could be best be described with the opening line from Dickens "Tale of Two Cities". It was the best of times due to the great hike shared with msianmama from 14ers.com and her friend Tom. Tom and Azlenda (or AZ, for short) both have 20+ 14ers under their belt so I was in great company. Tom and I shared the same pace and while we often waited for AZ to play catchup she certainly had great endurance and was awesome in the sketchier parts of the hike requiring boulder hopping and Class 2+/3 sections of the trail. It was also the best of times since this trip was rather sentimental as it brought to an end my Sawatch range 14er experience – 15 peaks that have taken the last 2.5 hiking seasons to complete. Words cannot describe the feeling upon reaching the summit of Columbia. Tom and I both felt like the 1600' ascent to Columbia took every bit of our will to achieve the summit.
It was the worst of times due to the lack of sleep I got the night before as we camped at the TH (about 1 hour). I felt pretty flat at the final pitch to Harvard, which is the crux of this summit. I also ran out of steam at the final pitch to Columbia. Columbia was a punishing peak via this route – the trail was non-existent at times and required careful route finding, it offered 2 false summits on the ridge of which we partook, it presented a seeming endless black diamond scree run on the descent slope, at the base of the scree it then required a small section of uphill hiking, it finally required several miles of return hiking to the trailhead. Those in need of a little pain and suffering should acquaint themselves with this route . Our team were all in agreement that we will likely never do this route again (but never say never).
In typical Gerry Roach fashion, he describes this traverse as "arduous" – I'm sure he was laughing as he penned this line in his book . Do not underestimate this traverse as it will be very difficult and can bring much misery to your life. Also watch the weather – our team got very lucky as clouds started to build around 10:30 AM. Fortunately we only got a little bit of drizzle on the descent however I would not want to have to make the ascent or worse the scree slope descent in wet conditions, let alone have to bail out on the east side of the ridge line – one could hookup with the Harvard Trail and work your way down from the Colorado Trail back to the N. Cottonwood TH but it would be time consuming at best. Also, when staring at the entry to the main ridge line to Columbia (the scary part), make your descent to the bottom of the "gulch" via grassy sections - IMHO it‘ll be much easier on the body and quicker than downclimbing through the talus and boulder slopes. In conclusion I would highly recommend this route as it was one of the most challenging hikes in my life.
Enough with the chit chat – here are my pics of the trip for viewing enjoyment:
Ridge line between Harvard & Columbia, from Harvard summit:
Horn Fork Basin from Harvard summit – Mt. Princeton in middle background, Columbia to the left of pic, Bear Lake to the lower right:
Jason on Harvard summit with Mts. Belford & Oxford in background:
Team on Harvard summit with northern Sawatch peaks in view:
AZ descending boulder/talus slope in route from Harvard to Columbia:
Ridge line viewed from grassy knoll; Columbia in view at right-hand side of pic:
East side of ridge line between Harvard & Columbia:
Closeup of the Rabbit Ears, located along the ridge line traverse between Harvard & Columbia – and no we did not take the ridge line:
Team on Mt. Columbia summit; Mt. Yale in background:
Mt. Harvard from Columbia summit:
View of Horn Fork Basin from Columbia summit; Bear Lake and the trail in view; notice scary cloud buildup – yikes!!:
Scree slope from Columbia to Horn Fork Basin – this pic doesn't do the steepness of the slope much justice:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):