Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  06/11/2012
Modified:  06/12/2012
Date Climbed:   06/10/2012
Author:  zephyr_pelicante
 My new favorite and least favorite 14er  

Long story short:

1. Harvard is my new favorite 14er.
2. Harvard/Columbia traverse is new my favorite traverse.
3. Hiking down Columbia is frustrating.

1. Harvard is my new favorite 14er.

After a sweet trip up Massive the night before, Dan, Craig, and I camped near the North Cottonwood trailhead, and woke up early for a 3AM start. We were from Golden, and were planning on meeting my Dad, who was from Durango, at 3AM, but he somehow ended up at the 3 elk creek trailhead, where he got lost. I felt bad because I rarely get to see Dad anymore with busy engineering work taking up most of my time.

We ended up signing in around 3:45 after waiting and trying to get a text out (sorry AT&T users)

The lower trail below treeline had many trees that had fallen over. Hiking early in the morning, over the trees, after the previous day's 14er, made my knees hurt to the point I was unsure if I'd even make it up Harvard.

First sight of Harvard

Looking at the traverse there are many interesting rock formations on the ridge.

Rabbit on the ridge

When we went above treeline, the wind started blowing and I became very cold. Dan and Craig were as well, so we took a quick break for food and hiked until we found sunlight (Columbia got in the way a bit )

Excellent trail above treeline

The hike up Harvard was pretty incredible. We did lose the trail a little bit because we didn't hit any switchbacks, but climbing directly up the slope was enjoyable (a couple other hikers thought so as well). Craig and I would look back to keep an eye on Dan (who was trying to catch up on some phone calls) and be greeted with the amazing valley and views of Princeton, Columbia, and Yale, and farther up, part of Antero, Shavano, and Tabaguache.

Finally near the summit of Harvard, Craig and I took some adventurous class 3 climbing to get to the top. The final 50 ft or so to the summit simply pushed Harvard to the top of my favorite-14ers-so-far list. After Dan caught up, we took some pictures and parted ways: Dan to descent Harvard, Craig and I on to the traverse. Earlier I had questioned my energy, but the rock climbing on Harvard was enough to lift my spirits and the Gatorade was enough to crush my cramps.

Craig, Dan, and I on Harvard

Traverse as seen from Harvard

2. Harvard/Columbia traverse is new my favorite traverse.

It warmed up a lot, and the sky was cloudless as we hopped on over to Columbia. The first portion or so of the traverse is high on the ridge with some occasional boulder hopping with great views to the North (namely Belford and Oxford), East, and the South.

Columbia, Princeton, and Yale from Harvard

The second portion is, as the route description describes, a part where is is best to drop to the north to avoid a very steep gully (trust me you'll get your share of steep loose rock on the Columbia descent)

Drop down on ridge to avoid steep gully

The third and final section was a hike up a boulder field to the Columbia summit. The TR recommends you take the right side of the "triangle" that you see in the saddle, but due the direction of the wind, we found it less miserable to go up the left side. Hikers at the top were jealous of our route confirming our good decision.

Me on top of Columbia

The wind picked up big time on the summit of Columbia. I could tell Craig was tired and I was looking forward to being down myself after over 10,000ft of gain in 2 days.

3. Hiking down Columbia is frustrating.

The decent trail on Columbia wasn't very fun. The rock was loose, the trail was not well-defined, and we found false cairns. One section was particularly miserable.

Loose Columbia descent

The low part of our weekend occurred when we lost trail near treeline, and I angrily flung rocks off of two false quasi-cairns. We wisely backtracked and found a hiker with two dogs who pointed out the trail to us (thank you!)

Back on treeline we hauled back over the trees to the car over the fallen trees.

Fallen trees

We lost a bit of time on the descent, I wasn't comfortable with the slope and got lazy with my technique from the fatigue, and loosing the trail was hard on our spirits. We joked about the omen of my 13th 14er in response to a previous non-summit with Craig on his 13th (Princeton -- lightning). Thankfully Craig and I had a pretty enjoyable conversation on the way to the car, and I was really impressed that Dan wasn't terribly upset with our delay.

This is truly the hallmark in my hiking/climbing career. I intentionally did some class 3 stuff on the traverse and a bit on Harvard's summit. Craig and I did some good, responsible trail finding on the traverse. Columbia was fun to ascend but not my favorite descent. I found later that on his way back to Durango my Dad found a bike trail that he said was one of the best trails of his life.

I may take a weekend off, but I'm seriously addicted to these peaks now. My next 14er will be my 14th, I'll have to do something special to celebrate. Long's peak is starting to becoming a realistic goal and I anticipate that with much fervor!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

06/12/2012 13:16
I agree, Harvard is fun! And although I've never met a mountain I wouldn't climb again, Columbia is probably at the very bottom! That scree coming down the standard route is awful!! Thanks for your post!


06/12/2012 13:23
While descending I thought to myself ”I will never do Columbia again” but in hindsight I would if the situation arose and friends wanted to go there.
An interesting consideration is doing the traverse from Columbia to Harvard instead. Maybe it's easier to ascend Columbia, at least easier to stay on trail!


06/12/2012 14:33
Columbia descent kicked my a#s. Congrats on a big weekend Colby. Good to meet you. I'll be on Longs on the 23rd if that happens to be number 14 for you. Hopefully see you again.


Ditto-Ditto, etc.
06/12/2012 18:53
I did the same route on June 11. I did Longs on June 7. Longs is better and easier (maybe because I camped at the Boulderfield and did not attempt it all in one day).

I too really liked Harvard, but I was not as enamored as you with the traverse. I probably erred by refusing to give ground all the way to the very bottom of the gully. Instead I traversed around in the talus/boulders above (i.e. higher on the ridge) where I encountered some snow crossings. I don't think it saved any time or energy and it was less safe.

Columbia absolutely sucks. I will never go near that mountain again. It is one and done for sure. I thought that beautiful, flat ground would never get there.

Also, I found the dozens of downed trees particularly annoying on the descent.

It is also worth noting that I had a much better day with far less wind. I would not have wanted to be out there on Sunday.


Nice report
06/13/2012 01:20
Try Columbia from the east side - was actually a pleasant trip (a bit of routefinding, but very pleasant)...


06/13/2012 02:23
we did this last year; hiked in a couple miles and camped and still found it to be a beast the next day. We ended up going down that screen gully early in the traverse; it sucks. We also went up the left side of the triangle; as it seemed a little longer but less steep to us. I don't think there is any way going up Columbia's west slope instead of down would be better in fact I think it would be much worse. Longs is not easy but it's no worse that banging out Harvard and Columbia; go get it!


06/13/2012 02:24
we did this in August last year and it was more green by many orders of magnitude than it is there right now! I was on Yale on Saturday and thinking how incredible the difference is.


You know you're a peak-bagger when....
06/13/2012 05:36
you climb up and down Columbia. I am really not looking forward to the descent from Columbia, and I can't see how that would be an enjoyable experience. Kudos to you and your buddies for completing the traverse! Definitely an accomplishment!

a94buff I was on Yale the same day you were...what a beautiful day. Excellent views of Harvard/Columbia.


Soon to come
06/13/2012 19:26
We are hoping to do this traverse this July, but were thinking of going up Columbia and over to Harvard and down. Since going up is usually easier for my partner and me, we're hoping that scree slope might be a bit ”better” for us. Are there other pros-cons, etc, scree slop aside, with doing it one direction or the other?


Been there
06/20/2012 02:02
My first time descending Columbia was much like your trip report. Hated it! The second and third times were via the Frenchman's Creek route from the north, which I don't see discussed here on Perhaps the access is closed now? It was a FAR easier route on Columbia with pleasant grassy slopes most of the way. Harvard is more fun from Horn Fork Basin though.


06/20/2012 02:19
Personally if I did it again I would start at Columbia and go to Harvard. I think it's a good idea, and you won't accidently attempt a dicey gully on the traverse (see route description: even people who printed out the route description still accidently took that gully.

There's a thread right now in the forum where folks are discussing it.

In fact, I made a comment considering the trade-off between the ease of Columbia offered by the Frenchman's Creek TH and the beauty of the standard Harvard trail from North Cottonwood that goes over by bear lake. Honestly I thought the traverse was fun enough that I'd certainly repeat either route.

Ideally you could start at North Cottonwood and end at Frenchman's (or vice-versa), if you had some really good friends willing to pick you up you'd be set

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