| 4 Days, 4 Peaks, 3 Summits
My climbing buddy discovered his camera was low on batteries after we climbed the first peak, so we had to resort to the cell phone camera.
We left the Albuquerque area about 3:30 on Wednesday, 8-Jul with a hastily-arranged plan to climb Harvard, Columbia, Antero, and Huron in 4 days. Our original plan was to climb Challenger & Kit Carson, but trip reports on this site indicated there was significant snow on the Avenue. We didn't want to bring the gear necessary to safely pass this obstacle. We stopped at a brewpub in Alamosa for dinner. The food was good, the beer was great, but the service was 2nd – rate. The last mile of the road to the Cottonwood Creek TR was a bit exciting, especially in the dark. We found the flattest parking spot possible and slept in the back of the truck.
We started on the trail about 5:55 am the next morning (9-Jul). We intended to start about earlier, but lost time getting our gear in order. We made adequate time to the Harvard – Columbia trail junction. The weather looked good, so we quickly set up the tent and dropped off the gear not required for a summit attempt. Our campsite was on the left side of the trail to Harvard, just past the Harvard – Columbia junction. It was level and with few rocks, but may have violated the minimum distance from water rule. Even though the water was close in horizontal distance, it was down a steep slope, with a lot of undergrowth blocking easy access. The main channel of the stream wasn't easily accessible, so we had to settle for filtering water from a subsidiary channel.
We followed the route described by Roach and this site. The trail up to the ridge is steep and we consistently overestimated our elevation. There are a number of false summits before one arrives at the true summit, which lacks a register. The wind was fairly strong, with gusts as strong as 30 mph. Since there's very little exposure on Columbia, getting blown off the mountain wasn't a concern. We spent a few minutes on the summit and started down. The portion of the trail in the gully is quite steep and not switchbacked at all – descending was a challenge. This portion of the trail isn't sustainable. It took us about 5 hrs round trip from the Harvard – Columbia trail junction. We felt fortunate to have hiked in and climbed a peak in the same day.
We got an early start the next morning and climbed steadily until about 13,900', where we paused for a snack and to add a layer. Roach's description of the trail is a little thin, but the route description on this site is excellent. The trail is well maintained and well situated. In particular, the trail through the talus on the shoulder of Unnamed Peak is excellent. It's clear that a lot of work went into making this segment of the trail. The scramble up to the summit of Harvard is enjoyable. It was refreshing not to have to deal with a number of false summits. Several parties joined us on the summit. We spent a while relaxing on the summit, as the weather was fine.
Hero Photo - Todd:
Hero Photo - Jon:
It didn't look as though we were ~350' above the summit of Columbia, but we were clearly on the highest point around. The Harvard – Columbia traverse looks tough – you only save about 1200' of elevation above the valley floor and there is no easy escape route back to camp if the weather turns bad. If I had to, I'd do the traverse from Columbia to Harvard, because trail descending from Harvard is much nicer.
Harvard - Columbia Traverse as seen from Harvard
We descended Harvard, packed up camp and headed out of the basin. The last 1.5 miles of the hike out seemed endless. Our initial plan was to truck camp at Huron, but we decided to spend the night in Buena Vista instead. There were two reasons for the change - better availability of pizza & beer in BV vs the Huron trailhead and the possibility that my climbing buddy's parents would come down, as they only live about 80 mi from BV. We really enjoyed the pizza and beer at Pizza Works (north end of town, on the east side of the road near the outdoor supply store). We also decided to attempt Antero the next day (Saturday), rather than Huron. We thought climbing Antero and making the 5+ hr drive back to Abq in the same day was unrealistic.
Due to an alarm clock malfunction, we got a late start (a theme for this trip). We found the beginning of the road up Baldwin Gulch no problem. Warning about the road: Roach's description doesn't indicate how intense this road is. The first ~1.25 mi of the road is extremely steep, rough, and has limited passing or turning around spots. After that, the road levels off somewhat, but is still very rough. My judgment about the road may have been colored by my experience climbing Missouri Mtn (see trip report) – I had no wish to get my truck stuck a 2nd time. We parked before the creek crossing to ensure we gained at least 3k feet on this attempt and because I have a water crossing phobia (see my Missouri Mtn trip report). Once you start up the road, you are committed. You should have 4WD-Low available and have confidence in your driving skills. I saw more Jeep Wranglers than any other make & model. Some of the Jeeps appeared to be in stock configuration, some were more or less extensively modified for 4WD outings. I have a 2000 Ford Ranger, XLT extended cab, with the 4.0L engine. The largest vehicle I saw was a Chevy Suburban, which made it to the parking area at 13,800'.
Switchbacks between ~ 11,800‘ and 12,600‘
Roach suggests leaving the road at 13,100'. We missed the trail. Instead, we followed the road to a parking area at 13,800'. Due to the late start and slow progress, the weather was a bit dicey. We both elected to summit the peak, primarily because neither of us ever wanted to drive the road up Baldwin Gulch again. The south ridge of Antero is quite pleasant and probably very beautiful, but I was focused on the weather, so I kind of missed out. The route on the summit pyramid appears to wrap around to the north, then to the summit. However, the trail is partly covered by a snow field. Most climbers, including us, followed intermittent trails along the south side of the summit pyramid. I spent only enough time on the summit to sign the register and take an ibuprofen. I should have taken a minute to enjoy the view, though. The weather improved on the way down, so our gamble paid off.
View from the summit of Antero:
We encountered two up-bound vehicles as we were down-bound the Baldwin Gulch road. In both cases, passing places were fairly accessible. I had to back up about 50' the 2nd time, but it was easy enough with my climbing buddy assisting me.
We returned to Buena Vista and repeated the previous night's pizza and beer – why tinker with success? – then went to shoot some pool in a local bar.
We got a decent start on the road to Mt Huron. After the Winfield turn off the road becomes a bit rougher. After the previous day's experience on Antero, I felt I had used up my allotment of 4WD good luck. We parked about 0.5 mi into the drive and walked a few minutes to see what lay ahead. Seeing no change in the road conditions, we went back to the truck, got our gear, and started hiking. This turned a 4 mi hike into a 6 or 7 mi hike. We soon discovered that we hadn't walked quite far enough. The road is moderately rough from about 0.5 mi to 1.25 mi. After that, it's not bad. Even at its worst, the road is better than the Mt. Antero road. We made good time to the trailhead, but slowed considerably when we hit the switchbacks. At about 11,600', we decided to turn back. Hiking had become a chore, not a joy, and our pace would put us back in Abq at 9 pm or so – not conducive to my climbing buddy getting another kitchen pass to go mountain climbing any time soon. The drive out to BV and back to Abq was uneventful.
Overall, this was a great experience. We gained about 11,300 vertical feet and traveled about 34 miles on foot. I don't mind having to go back to Huron, as it's a beautiful valley, with many good camping spots.
Including approach road ratings in route descriptions would be helpful. I suspect 4WD enthusiasts already have such a rating system. In my opinion, the road up Antero is about as bad as the road up Rockdale Gulch (west side of Missouri). The road to Huron past Winfield is better than both, but slightly worse than the road to the N. Cottonwood Creek TH. I've never attempted the South Colony or Lake Como roads.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):