Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Date Posted:  09/16/2012
Modified:  11/08/2012
Date Climbed:   09/15/2012
Author:  emohr
Additional Members:   jlarson630
 Reaching Zen In The Collegiates  

Reaching Zen In The Collegiates


“To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.”
― Robert M. Pirsig

In order to truly reach mountain zen, one must not focus solely upon the summit, but to enjoy the journey along the way. Jake and I decided to try and reach our zen on Mt. Columbia and Mt. Harvard via The North Cottonwood Creek TH.

After reading the recent trip reports, I wasn't too sure we would actually be able to reach our zen on the particular route;

"Let me start off this TR by saying that this is a miserable combo. Mt. Columbia has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and someone should simply scrape off the summit and render it a 13er. They should then bomb the traverse, or perhaps build a bridge."

"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."

Regardless, Jake and I were hungry for the mountains, and the pictures of fall colors only increased our hunger. We left Golden after class and were on 285 by 6.

After a couple of stops in Buena Vista, we found the right road and navigated our way to the trailhead by 10:45.

We planned on backpacking our way all the way to the fork in the road splitting the Harvard and Columbia Trail.

Before we headed off along the trail we ran into a guy who said he was going to do Harvard and Columbia AND Yale the next day. Congrats to you sir if you accomplished that. Doing just Columbia or Harvard makes for a tough day.

I meant to do that..

We walked along the creek trying to zen. We pondered such things as, "Why is it a problem to be up a creek without a paddle? You can just float down right?".

The air was cool, and we made our way up the 3 mile trail in just under 1 hour 30 minutes. We were mainly motivated by sleep.

31 degrees at 11 o'clock. Chilly, but chilly always makes for the best sleeping bag weather. Especially using the "Tony Method" of just sleeping in just the under britches. Makes for a much warmer experience.

Setting up the tent

“Getting lost is just another way of saying 'going exploring.”

-Justina Chen Headley

Our alarms went off at 3:30, and we were able to set off for Columbia by 3:40. We headed off at a brisk pace to warm up a bit. Following the trail was a bit harder than we had anticipated; we backtracked along the trail several times. Luckily, we were able to follow the small cairns well enough to reach the ridge just south of Columbia by about 6.

The suns colors were starting to burst through for us as we crossed the rocky ridge.

Sun teasing us with its colors

We reached the summit of Columbia by 6:15, and decided to capture Nirvana by watching the sun rise over Pikes Peak in the distance.

No wind. No people. Not much heat. Good zenning conditions

Antero Reservoir(left) and Pikes Peak(Right)

Celebrating our frozen summit

We waited. And waited. And waited. And waited for that sun. I was doing a one man tribute band to The Doors and sang "Waiting for the Sun." I would always much rather hear "Here Comes The Sun" by The Beatles, because it actually means the sun is there. Unfortunately, the sun didn't come soon enough for our frozen fingers, so we left the summit right as the sun peaked over Pikes Peak.

Here Comes The Sun duh nuh nuh nuh...

We stared over at Harvard. It just looked so far away. Grays to Torreys, Shavano to Tab, Belford to Oxford are all feasible distances compared to Columbia to Harvard. I knew we were in for a long day.

Unable to find a substantial trail, Jake and I headed straight down the valley. We found some fun scrambling and were able to avoid too much Rock Surfing. Some of those boulders were not only large, but quite loose. We made our way through slowly but surely up to the grass on the slopes of Harvard.

Our route off of Columbia towards Harvard

Staring off towards our Harvard

Another sign that summer is over

A "sick" "gnar gnar binks" chute we found on the descent of Columbia

We reached the grassy slopes and trudged on up the hill. It was tough going, but the views kept us motivated.

Fellow hikers enjoying a Fall day with Mt. Yale in the background

Goats just East of the Harvard slopes

After an hour of hard climbing, we saw the top of the ridge and thought we would summit in about 15 minutes. How wrong we were...

The several false summits to Harvard were heartbreaking and definitely making a long day even longer. We saw happy people on Harvard in the distance, and trudged on in hopes of joining in their celebration

We finally reached Harvard at about 10:30. It was a lot of work to get there, so the summit felt especially satisfying

Our views of the basin we would soon be descending

Looking North from Harvard's Summit

“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there”
― Robert M. Pirsig

A very satisfying summit

Luckily, Jake and I were able to bring quite a bit of Zen along with us on this summit. Jake was celebrating his 20th Birthday. I was glad to celebrate his birthday, 15th 14er, and my 24th 14er on such a great summit. It was 60 degrees, the weather was awesome, and the people on top were only better.

Pano of the basin

After taking a look at the blister on my foot from the trek up there, I decided we had had enough Zen for the weekend. It was time to head down. The trail down Harvard was smooth and easy to follow.

What's a 14er trip without a marmot?

We thought this was a good backdrop for a Coors Commercial

Trail junction with Harvard in back

Stream coming down Harvard's slopes

We entered the forest and were greeted with several aspen groves showing off their colors

The final 2 or 3 miles of a long trip like this normally are long and arduous, but this trail through the forest had enough views to keep us happily captivated till we found our way to the car

Fall colors on the way out





The views of Mt. Yale are enough to put it on the "Next to Climb" list

View of Mt. Yale

We travel home feeling sore, but accomplished. A common feeling from The Mighty Sawatch

14 Miles
6,300' elevation gain

The Columbia-Harvard Traverse is no joke; it's a long day. I drank about a gallon of water and ran out by time we got back to treeline from Harvard. Be prepared!

6:00 - Leave Golden
8:45 - Reach North Cottonwood Creek TH
10:15 - Fork that splits the Harvard and Columbia Trails

3:30 - Wake up
3:40 - Head out
6:00 - Summit of Columbia
7:00 - Leave Columbia
10:30 - Summit of Harvard
10:45 - Leave Harvard
2:00 - Reach TH
4:30 - Back in Golden

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Another Great Report My Friend
09/17/2012 06:16
Definitely one of my most memorable 14ers. Couldn't of asked for a better way to spend the big 20. The report is spot on...surprised there is no mention of long delays due to prime aspen photoshoots though


Nicely done
09/17/2012 07:19
Congrats on the traverse. Columbia and Harvard are two of my favorites, but have yet to complete them both in a day.

Great pictures, especially the first of of the aspen leaves. Good luck with Yale!


09/17/2012 14:22
This report is art. You made the talus slogfest look appeal, bravo to you.


What djkest said...
09/17/2012 16:06
Agree 100%. Love the pics!


Great trip report
09/17/2012 19:07
Congratulations. A delight to read: wonderful writing, a super attitude and beautiful pictures. I am hoping to make Columbia Thursday or Friday. All the best.


09/17/2012 19:22
You definitely did this in the correct direction.

Again your photography is fantastic.


09/17/2012 19:27
Thanks for the compliments! I'm glad you enjoyed

@zephy_pelicante - haha I was slipping and slidding my way up that slope on all 4's thinking about how bad it would be to go down this


01/24/2013 15:31
Great pictures. Really did a good job on capturing the scenes!

Also, good job on the hike!


West slopes trail
09/17/2012 21:50
After you made the turn off the main trail about 11,000', was the trail fairly evident up the west slopes?


the goat herd
09/17/2012 22:28
Great TR! Flintster and I saw that same mtn. goat herd around 13,000 feet near Columbia's east ridge two weeks ago. That was the largest goat herd I have seen in the high country yet. Lots of kids in there as well. Good job on completing that beastly traverse!


RE: West Slopes Trail
09/17/2012 22:49
It was a little tough to navigate in the dark, but we were able to do it without too much trouble. I have a feeling that during the day it would be fairly easy to follow


09/18/2012 12:22
I really enjoyed your trip report - a breathe of fresh air..... youthful soul with honest photography. Thanks for sharing!

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