Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Date Posted:  09/03/2017
Date Climbed:   09/02/2017
Author:  Derek881
 Columbia & Harvard (In Reverse) - Day Trip from Denver   

I decided to do a solo day trip from Denver to summit Mt. Columbia and Mt. Harvard (in reverse of the standard route) and back, simply to have more time over the rest of my weekend, and to see if that approach would work again in the future. I woke up at 1:45 AM, left Denver about 2:30 AM with plenty of coffee, and started my hike from the Northwood Cottonwood Creek Trailhead at about 5:35 AM. The first four miles or so through the woods was straightforward and the sun gradually rose. Contrary to the standard route named on this website, I decided to hike Mt. Columbia first to avoid the notorious descent off the mountain. It was not terrible to go up Mt. Columbia, and even though there was plenty of lose rock and dirt, I quickly felt vindicated by my decision. Follow the website directions by turning right about halfway up for a better approach to the summit. I reached the summit of Mt. Columbia at 8:25 AM, got a few photos taken, and started off for Mt. Harvard, wanting to allow plenty of time for the traverse.

As expected, the traverse was tedious and unmarked. I scaled down the ridge off Mt. Columbia and entered the tundra. I think I went too far to the east (or right, if coming from Columbia), placing me well below the ridge and the intended pass closer to the ridge, but perhaps not low enough to avoid some lose talus. If I were to do it again, I would either stay at a higher elevation nearer the ridge, or go even further east/right. After carefully getting down some loose sections, I made my way through the tundra and then rejoined the rudimentary trail to get back onto the ridge for the approach to Harvard. Getting out of the tundra was particularly tiring, and I never saw any trail markings during the traverse. A lot of elevation had to be regained and it was demanding, particularly having already summitted Mt. Columbia. One disadvantage of going from Mt. Columbia to Mt. Harvard may be that there is more blind hiking, as Mt. Columbia is typically visible when going the standard direction.

Once regaining the ridge, the way to Harvard was mostly straightforward but still challenging on tiring legs. There were a few false summits and some fun patches, but overall this part was enjoyable with good views. I made it to the summit of Mt. Harvard at 11:35 AM, a little over three hours after departing Mt. Columbia, but I would recommend allowing four hours for this traverse, and maybe more if you're not moving quickly. The descent from Harvard was simple after all that preceded it, and I felt even more convinced this direction was the best, as going down Mt. Columbia on tired legs would have been painful. I had a quick lunch but hiked straight through otherwise, reaching the car just before 2:30 PM for a total hike time of 8 hours and 48 minutes. (Note: Allow a few more hours unless you are a fast hiker; I run marathons and hiked quickly most of the way). The ride back to Denver was tiring at times, but I had more coffee and made it through. The return trip is definitely the riskiest part about doing a day trip.

Overall, the weather was excellent and there was very little snow. I fully recommend going to Mt. Columbia first and then Mt. Harvard if you plan to do both. Going up Mt. Columbia was not much fun, but going down would have been awful, whereas going down Mt. Harvard was relatively relaxing and had good views. Also, if you have limited time and don't mind the early wake up time and long day, consider doing this hike as a day trip from Denver.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

Great report!
04/07/2018 11:42
Good to hear that route worked! Looking to do these two this summer over a weekend, undecided if I'll do both in one day or one Sat, one Sun

Good Report
06/26/2018 09:40
Well written and helpful. A buddy and I are planning to hike both this upcoming weekend. Was planning to go standard direction until I read in Gerry Roach's 14ers book to go Columbia first. Thanks for your report - it's helpful!

Thank You!
09/05/2018 15:00
I'm contemplating these two this weekend and have heard about coming down Columbia. It makes so much more sense to do Columbia first when you have energy instead of after a long day of elevation gain and loss and THEN dealing with the descent from Columbia. I won't have your times, but it will be a satisfying accomplishment nonetheless!

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