Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Date Posted:  07/14/2012
Date Climbed:   07/06/2012
Author:  Rick Canter
 Mt. Harvard via Horn Fork Basin  

Mt. Harvard, 14420', via Horn Fork Basin, July 6, 2012 13.5 miles round-trip, 4800' of gain
5th report of 6 on this tour

Dave had some bad news for me as we prepared for this hike in the middle of the night. His knee had flared up and he felt that he needed a rest day. Dave's knee ached the evening before, so I already had a clue this might happen. Now it was up to me to hike up the Horn Fork Basin alone and claim Harvard.

Harvard attempts have been jinxed in the past. I had to bail early on my previous attempt on Harvard two years ago, so this again was my opportunity at redemption. I started out from the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead at 2:50 am. By the time I reached the Columbia junction, it was daylight. I pressed forward up this long access, gaining treeline, then a harder, rockier section and into a lovely level meadow at 13000'. The summit loomed larger all the time, and the farther up you go, the longer it looks down Horn Fork Basin. The views are Collegiate...Columbia postpones the sunrise, Yale is closer behind you and Princeton farther away. You stay in the bowl the entire way, minimizing the vistas and exposure.

I knew the crux was the very top. Things got interesting around 14200' and then the experience was profound in the final few feet of climbing. Today's climbers were all attempting a left-side approach, left of a small snow patch, then hard right to reach summit rocks, with a final maneuver to the left to reach the summit. I went up one notch that was a dead-end, then worked with others to find an easier passage, ditching my trekking poles 50' below the summit in the process. I was on the summit at 11:10 am.

I was up top with a group of five, four younger guys and one young lady in their group...20somethings. I did not stay long as the skies were threatening and the rocks just below intimidated me a bit. I had a summit photo taken, but the uneven rocks at the summit make for challenging photo ops. I managed to take some photos facing north and west, views which I had been denied all the way up Horn Fork Basin.

I carefully descended the crux rocks, intimidating in either direction. The terrain improved and bunches of folks passed me on their way up, almost to the top, as I pressed downward. The view of the Horn Fork Basin from here is very nice, but it makes you realize just how long of a hike this is.

The walk down was under consistently threatening skies, but Colorado, the fickle girl she is, never really rained on me, or graupeled, or thundered, as she has many times before. This afternoon, it was a couple of bouts with sprinkles, enough to wet the rocks at one point, and that was it.

I missed my chance to stop by and enjoy Bear Lake. Like Sloan Lake on the way up Handies Peak, these spots are likely worth a little extra effort to check out.

My uphill muscles, quads, had been barking at me all morning long as the tour was taking its toll. I had hiked 53 miles and gained/lost 20,800' so far in six days. Downhill, sore muscles also let me know the time was right for a rest day. We only had 48 hours left in Colorado and this was Dave's rest and recovery day. I spent much of the hike down trying to figure out good scenarios for the next two days for both Dave and me.

I was surprised to find out that I had made better time down to the North Cottonwood trailhead than I had expected, arriving at 3:16 pm.

When I got back to the hotel in Buena Vista, Dave and I took the time to discuss our options for the balance of our trip. We decided that these long Sawatch hikes were risky for getaway day, when we had to fight traffic to Denver and be at the airport by 6 pm. We also had iffy thunderstorms to consider.

It was decided that I would do my best to hike one more consecutive day, so we would try for Belford and Oxford on July 7th. Dave's concession to me is that we would start an hour later than originally planned, giving my legs a little more time for recovery. Then, our getaway day on the 8th may include a driving tour or some less demanding hike in the Retirement or Front Ranges, closer to Denver. That would work.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Camping option
07/25/2012 00:16
We're trying to set up a reasonable trip. Neither of us are regular hikers but in good shape. Notes I've seen say there is good camping in Fork Horn Basin 3.5 miles in from trail head. If my math is right that would leave about 3 more miles to the summit. Does that sound right? It also soundslike there are creeks at Fork Horne for water. We hope to summit early the next day and then head all the way down. Your thoughts?

Rick Canter

07/25/2012 03:17
Camping is certainly an option on this long access, many do it (including the folks photographed above). The camping spots are around the junction with the Columbia trail spur. There is plenty of water, but as there are also plenty of people, make sure you use a filter. I am not an overnighter, so the suggestions of others would be helpful. Camping, then hiking early also helps you avoid the noontime thunderthreat. For a slow flatlander like me, this is a 12-hour day, most locals would be faster. Consider a headlamp and an early start if you day hike, and, of course, enjoy!

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