| A 2nd degree from Harvard - in weather
Fall Hikers: Darrin (kansas) & me
Trailhead: N. Cottonwood Creek
Overall Mileage: 13.5
Elevation Gain: 4,600'
Repeating a Sawatch Peak...
With Darrin having repeated Mt Lindsey for me, I knew it was my turn to return the favor. So with the high peaks getting snow recently, we were looking for a class 2 hike. So Mt Harvard it was, with the possibility for a traverse over to Mt Columbia if the weather was good.
Until I returned back to Colorado almost 2 years ago, Mt Harvard was my favorite peak. Not just for the views from it, but for the small scramble up to the summit. A few nights before the hike, I looked at the old photos I scanned and put on my webpage, as well as looked at those I had printed and put in albums. Maybe 10 photos in total, not all that good. Back then, I used a p&s film camera, and didn't take many photos. Now with a DSLR, it's not unusual for me to take 50-100 per day. So, it wouldn't be a bad plan to repeat a peak from the p&s era, as well as take advantage of the fall foliage!
Unusual & Inconsistent September Weather
Darrin wanted to do the get up at 2am in Boulder, and drive to the trail head plan, instead of camping the night before. I usually reserve this style plan for closer ranges like the 10-mile, Gore, IPW or Front Range. Not the Sawatch. Thankfully we set 2 alarms, as one failed, otherwise this plan would have been thwarted before it began.
It was an icy chilly morning at the trail head, so we wanted to start moving quickly to get warm. The first section of trail is nice and flat, and gently rolling. A nice area to get a good pace to warm up. We could see snow in the trees, and sometimes on the trail.
As we started on the uphill portion entering the Horn Fork basin, we started to get views of the north slope on Mt Yale:
A little later the sun began to shine on the snowy ridge of Yale:
Nearing the campsites and the end of the trees, we got our first icy view of Mt Columbia:
Turning around to see Mt Yale in full sun:
Beyond the trees, the first views of Mt Harvard:
The snow has been continuous on the ground for a while now, but not very thick. Walking is pretty easy, and we can see evidence of a group in front of us. In the shade it is still rather chilly, and we've layered up. In fact, I wear everything but my gortex shell layer.
The sun that is slowly making its way south and east down the basin is like a carrot, urging us on to feel the warmth on our faces. As soon as we reach the sunshine, the warmth it imparts is instantaneous. We shed a layer or two. The winter gloves are no longer needed to fend off frozen fingers.
Mt Harvard and trail ahead in sun:
Now is the part of the trail where we gain the majority of the elevation. Up higher into the basin we go. Now the best views are behind us, so I turn around frequently to catch the views I remember being what made this my favorite 14er hike for many years.
At this point, we start to see some fluffy happy moisture puffs starting to form around the peaks. Very small clouds from rising moisture from the melting of the snow that had fallen the night before. We were not too concerned, it was expected with the sun warmth. We didn't think the temperatures were enough to warrant concern.
Up the ridge we go, the summit looks close, but it's deceptive. We still have 500' to go! So to not bonk so close to the goal, we eat a few bites to gather energy for the last push to the summit. The remaining 10' scramble up is quickly done. For once, Darrin doesn't search out the hardest way up. He must be tired after 6.75 miles of easy trail hiking this morning.
On the summit, we see the clouds have built larger, but no dark undersides. They all still look happy and fluffy. We meet a few groups already there. Even a face I recognize, mt_turtle! It's a happy group of people on a beautiful fall day.
Our happy summit block shots:
Mt Yale, Princeton and beyond to the south:
A contrast in snow vs sun:
A look down the Pine Creek Drainage, another approach to Mt Harvard. Surely rarely used.
Some close-up of the foliage:
Darrin does his best to convince some of the others on the summit to make the long traverse over to Columbia with us. No one bites. So after they leave and descend back the way they came, we sit and relax on the summit enjoying the views and refueling.
Within 5 minutes, those "happy fluffy clouds" start to look threatening. I'm no longer convinced that there isn't enough heating from the sun to create some electrical storms. It didn't feel warm enough, but maybe it was just enough...
Looking to the north, the clouds look bad over Belford and Oxford:
They are forming over the 3 Apostles and the Huron area:
We make the decision that descending the standard trail is better than the long traverse over to Columbia. Besides, this way we might get home at a reasonable time too! K's milkshakes were calling as well 8)
Mt Yale shining in the sun, surrounded by the gloom and doom that felt imminent:
We met a group still going up, and we told them it was probably still an hour left to the summit, and that the weather hidden by the ridge looked bad. They could make their own decision on the weather and when to turn around, if necessary.
Soon after there was a loud, single crack of thunder/lightning behind us to the NW. Good decision confirmation!
Of course, shortly after that, as we had descended a lot of elevation, the sun came out in force:
The ridge between Harvard and Columbia was blue and clear. Though, a little further down the trail, the cloud over Columbia let out its own loud thunder crack. Hmmm... So I guess an ascent from Columbia from the basin was also out of the question in this inconsistent and variable weather.
Time to enjoy the fall foliage before the long slog in the trees back to the trailhead:
Darrin's fall camouflage:
Overall this was an enjoyable, if long, hike in fall, only disturbed by 2 dark cloud warning shots. A bonus hike to the end of the summer season.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):