Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Date Posted:  09/16/2013
Date Climbed:   09/01/2013
Author:  requist4
 Adventure on Harvard (via Pine Creek)  

Starting from the Pine Creek trailhead, we backpacked in about 4.5 miles and camped. From this location, it is another 1 mile to the cabins. The next morning at about 6:45am, we began our hike up Harvard. We were anticipating a moderate class 2 climb. After reaching the cabins, we turned south and followed a faint trail across the meadow. We then crossed the stream (only one log to balance on!) and began the assent to tree line.
Crossing the stream! If you are not great at balancing, use trekking poles or sticks.

We gained about 1,500 feet of elevation in about a mile of relatively steep trail hiking. We reached a saddle at tree line (12,000 feet) - a good portion of the remaining route was visible from this saddle.
At the saddle.

After this point, have fun bushwhacking! There is a trail leading to the right, but do not take it. On our map, the trail to the right appeared to lead to a point at 12,800 feet. However, this trail actually disappears in about 200 feet. Instead, from the saddle, we headed down the slope in a southeast direction for 50'-100' where there is an evident trail. THIS IS NOT THE TRAIL YOU WANT! This trail leads in the opposite direction you want to go (we tried it!). Instead, walk a short distance on this trail and then look for another very faint trail off to the right (south). We took this faint trail across the basin and watched for cairns along the way. The cairns eventually led us across a stream - after this point, the cairns became few and far between. Some route finding was required in this area until we reached the other side of the basin. We hiked in the direction of the 13,000 foot saddle that sits between Harvard and the peak to the east (an unnamed 13’er) - the saddle is at the top of the really steep slope that we climbed next! As we neared the other side of the basin, the cairns began to show up again and, eventually, so did the trail. The cairns then guided us to a small lake.
Passing the lake.

Beyond the lake, we followed the cairns to the base of a slope where the trail began to switchback up the slope.
Starting up THE slope.

The switchback ascent starts out gradual but becomes steeper - some of the switchbacks are 35-45 degree pitches!
View of the slope from a different angle. It looks slightly steeper from this location than it really is.

Finally, we gained the ridge at about 13,000 feet. To the southeast is Colombia. Off to the southwest is Harvard.
View of Colombia.

We ascended the ridge toward Harvard, staying left of the ridge crest. As the ridge became steeper at around 13,800 feet, we traversed to the south around the point at 14,000 feet. After traversing around the point, we began the scramble across the south face of Harvard. Staying below the ridge crest, we scrambled across some (slightly) Difficult Class 2 rocks. As we were climbing over these rocks, we located the faint trail for the Harvard-Colombia traverse. This trail led us across the side of Harvard’s south face and then up to the ridge crest at 14,300 feet.
We traversed across this slope.

After this, we enjoyed the quick scramble to the summit.
On the summit!

Belford (left) and Oxford (right).

For our descent, we did not return the way we came up. We decided to head down the NNW ridge - our topo map showed a trail starting at 12,800 feet and showed that it would meet up with the ascent trail at the 12,200 foot saddle - this trail did not exist.
Pine creek valley. We descended via the ridge shown in the photo.

After a slightly steep 400' rock/grass descent from the summit, the slope became more gradual. Once we hit the ridge at about 13,000 feet, we stayed on the ridge crest and then eventually to the right of the ridge crest. After passing several bumps on the ridge crest to our left, we met up with the trail at 12,000 feet. We turned northwest and followed the main trail down to the cabins.

In conclusion, this hike required some route finding, bushwhacking, and tundra hiking (which we found to be much harder than trail hiking!). You should also have a good map with you. In our opinion, our ascent was a relatively difficult Class 2 climb. In hindsight, if we had ascended Harvard the way we descended it, the route would have been shorter with the same difficulty, but there would not have been a trail to follow at all. There was at least somewhat of a trail on the very steep part of our ascent. Either way, this was a great hike, and though harder than the standard route, it was very much worth it. Very pretty views and no company. If you decide to do this route, have fun!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Pine Creek
09/16/2013 16:10
Congrats on a non-standard approach up a Sawatch 14er. I've done Harvard and Oxford from that approach. The Pine Creek area is fantastic. Consider hiking about 6 miles and camping behind Little John's cabin next time.


Great TR
09/19/2013 02:15
Beta like this, on a rarely-used route, is always great to see. Thanks.


Current Conditions?
09/26/2013 16:32
My wife and I are planning on hiking Pine Creek this weekend and spend a night at Little Johns. Anybody aware of current conditions?


Older 14ner
05/15/2014 12:49
I climbed Harvard 3 times from Harry Littlejohns cabin in 1972, 1976 and 1983. It was a lot of fun and Pine Creek valley makes a good backpacking trip. Missouri Basin and Elkhead pass are good points to reach too. Glad you had fun.

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