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 Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
 Post Date:  10/05/2010 Modified: 10/06/2010
 Date Climbed:   09/30/2010
 Posted By:  jimmtman

 Harvard and Columbia via Frenchman's Creek   

Harvard and Columbia via Frenchman's Creek

I was interested in doing Harvard and Columbia in a day. The normal way to do these 2 is to go up Harvard via Horn Fork, traverse under the Rabbit ridge, summit Columbia and go down the West slopes of Columbia. The drawbacks of this approach are the reported awful steep and loose descent off of Columbia combined with a total of 15 miles of hiking. I chose instead to approach these 2 via Frenchman's Creek, which has 4WD access to 10800 ft. This saves 1000 ft of elevation and a few miles of hiking over the standard way. Totals are about 5100 ft elevation gain and 11-12 miles. Dawson calls the Frenchman's Creek route the "most aesthetic wilderness route" for Harvard. This sounded like a high quality alternate that would require less energy than the normal way. It is also more secluded and less crowded. I was surprised that there was only 1 trip report doing Harvard and Columbia from FC and it lacked any real detail. So hoping this trip report will be useful for others.

Left the Denver area at 4 AM arrived at the trailhead at 6:45 AM. The 2WD and 4WD roads were dry. The 4WD road was in decent shape with only a couple rough patches. My Explorer made it up with no trouble and never bottomed out once. It was a Thursday morning and I was the only one there that day. From the sign in register no one had used the trail in the last 5 days.

The road ends at the obvious Wilderness boundary and sign

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The route continues up the road. After a short while it crosses the creek on a wood bridge. It climbs through the forest on a nice trail of soft pine needles alternating with rocky sections.

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It passes a second "No Motorized Vehicles" metal sign – this is an important landmark on the way down. Coming down continue straight down past this sign – there is another pack trail that heads right here that is actually a larger more distinct trail. Near treeline the trail passes some old building remains. There is one tricky trail section crossing a wash area – look for cairns and stay to the right.

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From this point it is 10-15 minutes to where you can see and hear the creek – the trail makes a crossing of the creek just above treeline.

At treeline (~12000 ft) the trail cross the creek to the right. From here the summit of Columbia is visible to the left along with the Rabbit ridge connecting Columbia and Harvard. All that can be seen of Harvard is a sharp pointed false summit of about 13800 ft elevation.

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The trail continues up the basin and makes a left turn and traverses a slope. From here on out the trail becomes very faint. Eventually I didn't see any sign of a trail anymore. At this point you are generally below point 13516 ft on the traverse from Harvard to Columbia. From here I went straight through the willows and up the steep grassy slope. The footing is pretty good but it is fairly steep and slow going. Continue up more grass to the ridge and the top of the pointed rock.

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The view of Harvard coming down Columbia shows that this first rock point is one of 5 false summits of Harvard.

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Try to avoid going to the top of the next false summit (as I did) since you'll have to drop back down again. Try to skirt the second rocky summit on the left. If you do pick up a trail it would be the traverse trail between Harvard and Columbia – go ahead and take it to the top of Harvard. The trail may go over the 3rd false summit and traverse the ridge to the 4th false and the true summit.

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Harvard summit on the left


It took 3 hr and 45 min to get to the top of Harvard. I was expecting faster but was slowed down by route finding and going the wrong way a couple times and the steep slope without a trail.

I did the traverse over to Columbia and it took me over 3 hours. The website said to allow at least 2 hours did I was much slower than that. It was about an hour to the start of the talus, more than an hour across the talus, and then some 45 min to climb the last 800 ft of Columbia. I'm pretty sure I followed the traverse route per the website staying at about 12700-12800 ft elevation. It is just slow going over large rocks that shift at times requiring care on every step. I'm thinking it may be better to drop down off point 13516 ft more and traverse lower (12000-12500 ft) on the grassy slopes and avoid the talus all together.

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Alternate traverse to Columbia without talus


It would mean more vertical but probably take the same amount of time. It may even be faster as you wouldn't get worn out by the slow go in the talus. The talus also carries more risk of injury with the sketchy footing at times.

From the top of Columbia the lakes and willows down at the stream crossing at treeline are visible.

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Follow a good path (part of the 3 Elk Trail perhaps) down through some more talus. You will come to a loose scree gully with cairns.

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Plunge step down the scree to the bottom (quick and easy way down). From the bottom of the gully angle right to intersect the lakes and the trail. From summit to the lakes took about an hour. From the lakes to the car was an hour and 15 minutes.

I hope you found this report useful. Happy climbing!

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Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
 


  • Comments or Questions (7)
ChrisSLee1


hoping this comes in handy on Friday     2011-06-29 23:23:47
Myself and a few buddies from back east are hiking into the Pine Creek trail tomorrow (Thursday) and setting up camp near the split off to South Pine Creek trail (which intersects with Frenchman's).

Thanks in advance.


jimmtman

hope this helps and good luck     2011-06-30 18:47:58
You're the first to reply to this tr and I thought more would have. Have a safe and fun trip!

Jim


EM_in_CO


Thank you...     2011-07-05 21:43:11
This route has been on my mind for a long while. I thru-hiked the Colorado Trail in 2009 and contemplated taking a day to cut off and hike Harvard via Frenchman Creek. Thanks for the first-hand report.


jimmtman

EM_in_CO     2011-07-05 21:48:30
You are welcome. Did you do it already or do you plan to this summer?


EM_in_CO


Today     2011-07-09 23:10:22
Actually, I hiked Harvard via the Frenchman Creek route this morning; got extremely lucky with the weather.

The other trail you discuss in your third paragraph above is the Colorado Trail (CT). There are CT markers on trees on either side of the intersection. If a hiker sees the CT marker just a few feet after the intersection then that person is on the incorrect trail.

Also, there are a hand full of snow fields blocking the trail this year; however, there is a very nice hikers trail being formed/already formed due to traffic. The places where the trail is difficult to see now has a nice row of cairns to help with direction. My ascent was off trail due to looking for a place to cross the creek; however, I took full advantage of the trail on the descent.

Finally, the Frenchman Creek crossing after treeline (~12,000 feet) is difficult. The water is really pouring down this season. A hiker must walk approximately 20 feet up-river to find a place to jump (not step, not hop) to the other side and continue on the hiker trail. The spot is easy to miss; I missed it this morning on the ascent and found it on the descent.

Thanks again for the trip report. Your notes are right on.


jimmtman

EM     2011-07-09 21:41:05
Great job getting it in today! Interesting to hear how things are much different earlier in the season. Glad to hear my notes were helpful.

It has been raining hard in Denver the last few days and I'm thinking that we're probably in for T storms most every day for the next 6 weeks or so and that the mnts are getting pounded. So good to hear that you got it in today. I'm probably going to do shorter hikes where I can get off by late morning until T storms go away late August. Perfect excuse to do some easier ones with my 11 year old.

Happy climbing,

Jim


djilk

Trail nearly impassable as of June 2012     2012-07-02 21:33:03
I hiked Frenchman Creek trail this past weekend. It appears that there was a horrific windstorm at some point; after (west of) the junction with the CO trail, there are masses of downed trees that only get worse as you try to get around them. This continues until close to treeline. On the return I bushwacked and stayed roughly toward the creek, and it was MUCH easier hiking but more routefinding. Forest Service needs to get in there with a battalion of chainsaws...



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