Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Post Date:  05/25/2010
Modified:  05/07/2014
Date Climbed:   05/21/2010
Posted By:  USAKeller
Additional Members:   comin2getcha, BillMiddlebrook

 Mt. Harvard Summit Ski (South Slopes)- N. Cottonwood Creek TH    

Mt. Harvard South Slopes Ski Descent

Date: Thursday-Friday, May 20-21, 2010
Skiers: Lance, Bill, and I
Route: South Slopes standard ascent and ski descent from N. Cottonwood Creek TH
Stats: 13.5 miles; 4,600’ climbed; 4,300’ skied; 10 hrs on summit day

Our routes (blue=climb; red=ski):

Topo of the route (blue=climb; red=ski):

After last week's failed ski attempt (for Lance and I) on Mt. Harvard, we decided to give it another go with Bill while there was still snow lower down and it was still in from the summit. The plan was to skin a mile higher than we were last week. Lance and I headed down Thursday afternoon (the road is clear to the summer TH) and started the skin at 4:20pm – Bill started a few hours earlier. We were both surprised at how much snow had already melted out on the trail – several intermittent dry patches, whereas 5 days ago we were able to keep skis on the entire time. Bill figured, though, that we walked about ˝ mile total through the dry areas and were able to stay on skis the rest. You certainly would want some sort of flotation. 4 hours and 4 miles later, we arrived at camp; Bill found a sweet spot at tree line near 11,600' in Horn Fork Basin.

The only crux of the skin up was crossing the stream on soft snow!

The Climb:

The alarms went off for a mandatory early start and we were skinning by 4:20am, following Bill's previous tracks on hard snow. We made good time (2 hours) to upper Horn Fork Basin and continued to 13,200' just under the south slopes where we switched skis for crampons. With the recent warm temperatures and minimal freezing, we were a little concerned about the snowpack. Here, Bill dug a pit to analyze conditions. He found two 2-inch layers of hardpack on top of a thicker layer of weak slush that was of most concern, all not bonded. This solidified our ski route as the standard route; we weren't going to touch any of the enticing South Face Couloirs, especially since two of them had surprisingly not slid yet, and one had a recent wet slide. We made our way up the slopes – Bill dug another pit at 14,000'. Again, he found two 2-inch windslab layers on top of a weaker icy layer. After a short scramble up the summit pitch, we were on the summit at 9:05am, accompanied by strong winds.

First light on Mt. Yale's alluring Silver Creek Bowl:

Bill and Lance make their way to the base of Mt. Harvard's South Slopes:

The terrain steepens as Lance and I climb before Mt. Columbia near 13,800':

Negotiating the summit pitch:

The Ski:

The temperature was forecasted to be high 50's and a short summit break was required; we were skiing at 9:35am. We skied east along the summit ridge a few hundred feet and turned southwest to find our exit point.

Bill leaves the summit and heads through the exit gully:

Lance's turn:

I followed suit:

Bill pounded on the snow and we made a high traverse back to the standard route, which was the most conservative ski option we had.

comin2getcha traverses across the upper south face:

Back on the south slopes, we skied on windblown snow negotiating through a short rocky section, before instantaneously hitting fabulous creamy corn! A few photos skiing the standard route…

Bill went first:

I get my turns:

Lance hits it:

The corn turns were a blast – but if we hit that route any later in the day, it could have been much worse and we were thankful for the higher winds keeping things a little cooler. We skied through the gentle basin back to camp where we arrived at 10:30am.

Looking back at Horn Fork Basin and Mt. Harvard from camp at 11,600':

Breaking down camp:

An hour later, we left camp, totally stoked for the warm snow and on-again off-again ski down. It's certainly a long slog out of there and we milked each patch of snow for all it was worth. If you don't have skis or snowshoes, you're in for some fantastic post-holing! It took just over 3 hours to get back to the cars. What a great day boys!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

A great day indeed!     02/05/2011 00:22
Good snow conditions from the very top and a fun, mellow ski back to camp.


A Rockin‘ Day     05/25/2010 14:16
So much better than the week before. I had a great time!


good work     05/25/2010 14:24
sounds like a good time, great photos too.

Glad you guys finally got it!


Glad you guys got it!     05/25/2010 15:49
Looks like the snow up top is still sticking. Congrats on getting after it, that sure was a fun ski!


nice perseverence Caroline     05/25/2010 16:59
2nd time is a charm. Great weather, great line on a great peak in a sweet basin. Nice work.


sweet     05/25/2010 17:12
Looks like revenge was sweet!

Fred Moore

Excellent report!!     05/25/2010 17:26
Well written trip report with excellent photography. That‘s a long approach to a big mountain. Glad the snow held up, what great fun!! Never give up...


times     05/25/2010 18:13
given the elevation of this peak, I really appreciate your afternoon and morning start times.

nice work


Thanks for your comments!     05/25/2010 22:44
I‘m glad the 2nd time was a charm because we surely weren‘t heading up there for a 3rd!

Dad: Your encouraging words are never forgotten.

dubsho3000: The early start times were mandatory because the temps were sooo high those last few days. We were thankful to get out of there when we did!


very cool!     05/26/2010 02:58
Thanks for posting this. This is one of the ski descents I‘ve been considering for this weekend, so this is great info (great pictures too!). Sounds like you guys had an awesome trip.


Great     05/27/2010 16:11
Great climb, pics, beta and TR. All of the way around 5 star qulity.


Way to go guys!     11/30/2010 17:28
Nice TR Caroline. I'll echo the praise for your disciplined approach, being on the summit and skiing by 9:30. This spring I've found that true alpine start to be so elusive, it's nice to see it done right. Good job! Glad you found some corn too .


Thanks again guys!     11/30/2010 17:28
Micah: thanks, but I certainly thought this was not one of my better TR's. I try to answer questions in my TR's that I originally had as well as provide useful beta. I'm glad you found that!

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