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 Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
 Post Date:  07/07/2010
 Date Climbed:   07/03/2010
 Posted By:  KeithK

 Cowards Need Not Apply   

Mt. Harvard(14,420')
July 3, 2010
East Ridge from Frenchman Creek
Elevation Gain: ~3,700'
Round Trip: ~10 miles
Solo



Colorado's mountains are alive with summer, as the alpine has sprung to life and the air runs thick with renewal. This is my time, when the Sun lifts my spirits and energizes my very being. Insect repellant replaces smothering layers, and the cool air of dawn is more refreshing than uncomfortable. The oppressive white layer of death has been replaced by a lush, green carpet, dotted with yellow, blue, purple and red. There is no substitute for this time of year.

With less than a handful of Sawatch Fourteeners left on my "list", it was easy enough to choose Mt. Harvard as my target for the first day of a long weekend. After all, the route is morbidly long, and I wanted to hit it while I was fresh. That is, until I began to really think about the options. Horn Fork Basin was sure to be crowded on this Holiday, which directed me towards the alternative approach from the east. Kevin Hayne had raved to me about the Frenchman Creek approach, and the more I researched, the more I felt compelled to take on this challenge for myself. Last year's trip report by Greenhouseguy on 14ers.com combined with Summitpost's route description had me feeling plenty comfortable and confident, but still sensing adventure. It is always exciting to think about trying something different, exploring the less-than-beaten path.

The four-wheel drive road to the trailhead is rough, steep and annoying, like most four-wheel drive roads. It's narrow, too, and will claim running boards if one is not careful, as another hiker related to me later in the day. I arrived an hour later than I had intended, hiking from the very cozy trailhead parking area at 6:12 a.m.. I had decided to try something different on this day, and had my MP3 player charged and ready. I had no expectation that it would last the entire 10 hours of the hike, but it did, and it was one of the coolest days in the mountains I've ever experienced. Normally, I have a song stuck in my head at any given time on the trail, and it was startlingly pleasant to have real music playing. I always thought it would detract from the experience of nature, but now I've changed my mind.

Iron Maiden opens the show…"El Dorado step this way, take a ticket for the ride…"


The fancy bridge…


The old road makes for easy hiking, and the first quarter of a mile or so goes by on very flat ground, before finding some uphill slope after the first and only bridged creek crossing. Meandering through the forest, the hike is pleasant and an old mining cabin is encountered along the way, reminding of the pioneers that once explored these wonderful backcountry valleys. It is still really hard to fathom how hardy and strong those people were, as I wonder up the trail, GPS turned on, with no concern of finding my way up or down. Shortly thereafter, the Colorado Trail junction is finally reached, with another cast iron sign forbidding motorized travel. I can imagine that in the dark, it could be easy to accidentally wander up the wrong trail here, as the junction forms an "X" instead of a more customary cross. Stay pointed forward into the woods.

Remnants of a time gone by…


What the correct trail looks like at the Colorado Trail junction…


Immersed in the glory of great music, I strolled along the trail, maintaining a firm, steady pace. There are a couple of sections of steep, rocky Sawatch terrain, but for the most part, this is a surprisingly easy hike. Another creek crossing was encountered beyond an open camping area. This was a bit confusing at first, and it took me a minute to see the trail heading down to the easy creek crossing. Moving higher up the drainage, the splendor of summer began to permeate the edges of the trail. Although not spectacular, any wildflowers are a good thing, and I was completely happy to be out here, enjoying the relief of summer. Before long, the basin began to open up, and glimpses of big mountains were to be had. It was a very pleasant morning.

In an open camping area, look to the right to find the creek crossing…


I don't know the latin name, but the HTML name of this flower is #3333FF…


The first look at the Ivy League…


Gaining ground, I could sense tree line approaching, always a welcome event. There is one last camp site at the base of an obvious hill, before the trail contours directly towards the creek as the drainage narrows considerably. A large tree is down across the trail, which eludes the obstacle to the left. Be sure to note this, as going through the campsite will only lead you down to the creek, not accomplishing much of anything. Following the trail, within minutes I arrived at the last creek crossing, which was hardly a challenge on this day as the water level was fairly low. Pick your rocks and step across it.

Go left around the tree…


Welcome to Frenchman Creek basin…


Looking back down valley; the last camp site is nestled in the stand of pines in the fore…


The entire valley opens up, with Columbia's East Ridge framing the left side, Harvard on the right, and the famous traverse dead ahead. The terrain was surprising gentle and easy, and I made good time up into the basin, keeping my eyes on Harvard's East Ridge, wondering if I could spy the route. The good trail leads a side hill traverse, before crossing flatter ground and suddenly stops at a large boulder, where a marmot told me to stop and look around. Peering directly uphill, I spotted a cairn, and began to ascend the grassy slope, directly for the ridge. A handful of cairns seem to lead to the base of the ridge, but I did not find anything resembling a real trail. I just picked a line and continued uphill on some of the friendliest terrain I've ever seen in the Sawatch.

Mounts Columbia and Harvard…


The #9900CC flower…


More summer splendor…


#FFFF00


A cairn or two keep you pointed in the right direction…


Guide marmot…


Ascending to the ridgeline proved to be simple, yet longer than I had anticipated. As I gained the ridge, I could see how vast and sprawling the entire basin is, and it looked like there was no real difficult line at all. Even though the East Ridge is supposed to be the route, I could clearly see how easy and practical it would be to just go straight ahead at the saddle between Columbia and Harvard. This would be my choice on the descent.

The first of a series of cairns that lead directly towards the ridge…


The direct line to the Columbia/Harvard saddle; look hard enough, and you'll find cairns to lead you…


Aiming for the saddle between Harvard's East Ridge and Pt. 13242'…


Gaining the ridge is purely optional, I decided, as a more direct contour up the basin would have been just as efficient. Still, it was nice to see the northern Sawatch pop open, with Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford framing the Pine Creek basin to the north. The ridge was easy hiking, and I strolled my way higher and higher, with the prominent fin of Harvard's south ridge becoming more defined and intimidating with each step. I worked out onto the face below this landmark, then turned directly upslope to stay on grassy tundra. This was the steepest ground so far today, but hardly difficult. Spotting a nice exit ramp to the left, I angled and aimed for the south ridge, assuming that I'd find the Columbia traverse trail. I was right.

Easy ridge walking…


Belford and Oxford…


The dramatic East Ridge…


Aiming for the fin, pick the easiest line and gain the south ridge…


A look back on the ridge from just below the fin…


The real climbing can finally begin…


Spotting the first of many cairns, I stowed my trekking poles and followed the route along the south side of the ridge, below the towering boulders of the ridge line. If you're patient, you will easily stay on route through here, before being led up to the ridge, over and along the north side to bypass more jumbled boulders. Along the entire ridge, I'm really not sure I found a true class three move, maybe some difficult class two, but nothing that conjured up images of Maroon Peak or Crestone Needle. It was a bit harrowing at times, though, to be moving along the ridge below massive boulders. I don't think a helmet would do much good against rock fall on this terrain. The route finding seemed intuitive, but the ridge is a lot longer than it seems at first, and it took me quite some time to reel in the summit. I enjoyed the challenge.

The ridge continues on and on, while the summit stays far off in the distance…


A little bit of route finding; the trail turns uphill before the slabs on the right…


Steep terrain adds some flavor…


Now where?


The summit is still waaaaaay over there!


I could see the denizens of the standard route coming and going as I finally reached the summit block. Scrambling to the top of this boulder heap, I sighed with a bit of relief, as the efforts along the ridge had me ready for a break. The wind had picked up a bit, and I decided to just spend enough time taking pictures and eating before making my retreat. I had the summit to myself, but could hear another pair of hikers reaching the summit block below. The summit of Mt. Harvard is quite unique, in that it's just a jumble of boulders, just like the rest of the ridge I had crawled over. It's really kind of a cool contrast to the other Sawatch mounds that call themselves Fourteeners. As I rested, I thought of Kevin Hayne for a moment, and recalled the conversations we had about Frenchman Creek. It occurred to me that I had the perfect tribute for Kevin in store. We would both frequent the same WhichWich, claiming our free 14er sandwiches. Kevin, this freebie's for you…

For Kevin Hayne…


The northern Sawatch…


The Elks…


The down climb began, and I made steady time back along the route I had followed up. Other than a cool wind, it was a brilliant day, with dramatic clouds swirling harmlessly across the vast central Colorado Mountains. Looking over my shoulder, I was surprised to see signs of moisture, though, and it was clear that anyone on the summits of Belford and Oxford might be getting a little bit wet. I found nothing threatening along my route, as I safely arrived back at the cairn that marks the good trail down to the Columbia traverse. I chose this descent, theorizing that I could easily drop into the basin on a direct line and catch the Frenchman Creek trail. And I wanted to see the traverse up close and personal, if only from a very safe angle.

A glance down at Horn Fork basin…


Weather?


That would hurt…

At the start of the traverse, the southern Sawatch 14ers are all visible…


A good look at the Harvard to Columbia traverse…


Things get serious from here; you can see how long that thing is…


True to my theory, dropping off of the ridge and straight into the basin was an easy task, with soft, grassy slopes cushioning the downhill steps. There is some steeper, rockier sections to negotiate, but nothing really difficult. As the slope began to relent, I suddenly spotted a cairn, which led me to another, and another, all the way across the basin, through willows and between rock outcrops. Clearly, this route has been used before.

Easy ground…


Looking back at my descent route, which followed the obvious line from the saddle left in the frame …


Mt. Columbia as I regained the trail…


Home free now, I strode along the trail, happy to have my 43rd Fourteener summit checked off. I stopped to chat with the first two people I had seen all day, as they were setting up camp at the last site in the trees. I would see one more couple as I plod along, finally reaching my truck 10 hours to the minute from my departure. How many times do you climb a 14er, in the Sawatch, in July, and only see four people? It was a great day, a fulfilling day, and much needed on the heels of one of the most difficult weeks of my life. Climbing a 14er is more than a hobby, it's therapy.

 


  • Comments or Questions
greenwok


Just say no to winter?     2010-07-07 21:48:41
Excellent TR Keith - beautiful photos to help capture the day. Love your sense of humor So how do you really feel about Winter?

Nice remembrance of Kevin - ”Onwards”! KG


Bkat68


What a skill with words!     2010-07-07 23:21:19
You write beautifully - great trip report, love the tribtue to Kevin


kara


ahh...     2010-07-08 09:16:33
Keith, I‘ve read every one of your TRs and I‘m transported each and every time. Great write-up of a less-popular route. I hope to be a part of at least a couple more of these things before you finish!
Onwards...


Presto


Smiling (what‘s new)!?     2010-07-08 15:44:41
I so enjoy your trip reports, Keith. 1) Hiking to music (I do that from time to time and wear my *ss out because I hike to the beat of the music and don‘t pace myself like I could). 2) Interesting floral names ... love the HTML references. 3) Your first paragraph is such a KEEPER (or should I say KEITHER). 8) You‘re chipping away at that list, aren‘t ya buddy! (Any idea what you‘re saving for last?) Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


Ridge runner


”Oppressive white layer of death”     2011-01-31 17:24:16
You‘re too funny Keith! Another great trip report. You‘re getting pretty close to finishing... I can‘t wait to read the reports from those as well. I just re-read your San Luis one, and I know it will be one of the few that I‘ll continue to go back to. One really comforting thing about the mountains is that they will always be there, a constant, in a world where change is inevitable.


Ridge runner


ps.     2011-01-31 17:24:16
That oppressive white layer of death is responsible for the lush, green carpet, dotted with yellow, blue, purple and red.


USAKeller


I‘m behind on TR‘s     2010-07-14 16:23:05
Nice job Keith as always!



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