| Harvard-Columbia - standard loop from Horn Fork Basin
As part of our annual "Mancation" we decided to tackle Harvard and Columbia. This is definitely doable in one day, but I'm always looking for an excuse to camp, and we made it a two nighter. These would be (hopefully) my 10th and 11th fourteeners. Thursday afternoon a group of frinds and I drove up to the trailhead and started hiking at about 4 p.m. There were 10 of us in all, but different groups came in sporadically. The hike to Horn Fork Basin is about three miles and a nice walk. Weather was on our side and we set up camp near where the trail splits to go up Columbia.
Starting up to Horn Fork Basin
Columbia in the background
The river is close by to most of the campsites and we had a relaxing evening. During the night the rest of our group trickled in, the last ones arriving at about 1 a.m. (unfortunately they had missed their flight, coming in from Seattle - more on that later). Wake up was at five a.m. and after breakfast everyone started hiking up.
Morning light on Harvard
Looking up at Harvard
Starting off with Harvard in the distance
We split into about three different groups - the fast group, medium hikers and the "just came up from sea level" group - again, more on that later.
12,900' on the shoulder
The whole crew on the way up Harvard, about 12,900 ft.
The hike up Harvard is well marked and you get some great views of the surrounding peaks. At about 13,000 feet some of the "just came up from sea level" group weren't doing so hot, and slowed down significantly. A few hundred feet later the vomiting started, and two guys decided to head back down. I was feeling it in the lungs and legs and thought, "just hiking Harvard will probably do it for me today". I didn't think I would have the legs to complete the loop, and felt ok with that. There's some fun rock scrambling to get to the Harvard summit, but no real exposure. I made it to the summit to find the rest of the group there, by now well rested.
The weather was phenomanal! Bright blue skies, warm and sunny, and NO WIND! I could have hung out on the peak for hours, but after a short rest I was feeling pretty good and decided to complete the loop. I wasn't too worried about hurrying, as there was no threat of rain, and we continued on. The hike to Harvard summit took about three hours.
From Harvard we headed over to Columbia. The traverse between the two has been discussed here ad nauseum, but I will reiterate - I do not suggest trying to hike across the ridge. It gets pretty hairy and will end up taking much, much longer.
We took a left when approaching the ridge and hiked down the grassy hill to the meadow between the peaks. From here on out there aren't any real trails, but with good visibility the route isn't too hard to follow.
Down Harvard to the meadow below Columbia
A friendly Marmot on the trail
When we got down near the meadow (you don't need to go all the way there) we rested for lung and re-filled our water bottles in the stream (a nice bounus - bring a filter). That descent was about 2,000' before heading back up.
Lunch break between the peaks
From there it's across some streams and rock fields, and basically straight up to Columbia.
Before starting up Columbia
Before starting up Columbia
There was some nice flora on the route, and I plugged along. My legs were feeling it at this point and the going was slow.
Columbia summit in view!
Near the summit of Columbia there is some more fun bouldering - no exposure just fun climbing. I got to the summit and joined some of my buddies who had waited. Again, the weather was perfect. 75 degrees, sunny, and NO WIND! I don't think I've ever been on a 14er summit with no wind, and I could have stayed there all afternoon.
We were well aware what was awaiting us on the descent, and I was somewhat dreading it. All of the reports and complaints couldn't be more accurate. It was steep, short or no switchbacks, loose dirt and rock, and did I mention steep? We descended 3,000 ft. in about a mile and I still have purpleand black toenails to show for it. The trail seemed to go on and on...and on ...and on. I finally made it back to camp and was pretty spent by then.
The whole hike took about 10 hours, but admittedly I wasn't going too fast - it was too nice of a day not to be on a 14er. If you're really moving it could probably be done in half that time. The last of our group came in about an hour later, and there was a great sense of accomplishment. It was an outstanding hike and an epic day. Dinner tasted extra good that night and sleep came quickly.
My new BD tent!
The next morning we got up early to hike out and onto the next adventure. We rafted the Arkansas River and the next day biked the Monarch Crest Trail - but that is another story for another day.
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