Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Date Posted:  09/11/2017
Modified:  09/12/2017
Date Climbed:   09/10/2017
Author:  M_Dundee
 Mount Harvard via Frenchman Creek   

This past weekend (9/9 - 9/10) our family climbed Mount Harvard via Frenchman Creek by backpacking from the 2WD TH. To plan this trip we used two Frenchman Creek trip reports from 3-4 years ago. For the route up to our camp site we used "Columbia - Frenchman Creek" from 9/17/14: We camped in the exact same spot and used the same log at 11,600 ft as in their trip photos. For the route from the camp site up to Mt Harvard we used the trip report and gpx track of "Harvard: A Renewal (Frenchman Creek)" of 7/23/13: Our route was south of this trips gpx track because we avoided Harvard's east ridge and instead used the Harvard - Columbia traverse route.

To get to the TH we used Roach's 3rd edition. The FS doesn't provide directions on their web site, instead they list the North Cottonwood TH on their Frenchman Creek trail page. There are only a few signs along the road and 1 along the trail. There is a Frenchman Creek sign on the county road a third-mile off US-24 and a 386 sign at the 2WD TH. At the Colorado Trail crossing there is a wood sign for Frenchman Creek, but the arrow only points uphill; there is no arrow pointing downhill towards the TH. To get to the TH go 7.5 miles north on US-24 from the stoplight in Buena Vista. Turn left / west at Chaffee County 386. The 2WD TH is 1.5 miles from this point. After taking a right at the Frenchman Creek sign the road enters the San Isabel NF. The road becomes rougher beyond this point and a regular 2WD vehicle may have problems; my Outback spun the tires a few times climbing the loose gravel and rocks. The 2WD TH is just before a steep hill at a T intersection. The road to the right currently has a sign for firewood cutting and the 4WD road straight ahead has the 386 sign. There is a parking and camping area on the left side of the road.

Our hike times need a little context. My wife and I have less than 20 of the most difficult 14ers to complete, but our teenager wants to finish the 14ers by the end of high school. So we have started all over climbing the 14ers once again for him and he is now at 27 completed. Due to 'life happens' we had not done a 14er as a family for almost 2 yrs with our last climb being Mt Antero via Little Brown's Creek in 12 hours. Over 20 years ago we had climbed Mt Harvard from the north via a Pine Creek backpack. This Labor Day weekend my son finished the Front Range peaks when he and I climbed Long's Peak via the Keyhole in 16 hours. So we are slower than many others climbing the 14ers, but we start early enough to climb safely. Mt Harvard was the last Collegiate/Sawatch peak for our son.

The 2WD TH backpack starts at 9,300 ft with a 1.6 mile and 1,000 ft climb along the 4WD road. Like many east approaches of the Sawatch/Collegiate peaks this route is a hot, dusty ridge until just before the 4WD TH where it drops into a aspen lined valley. From the 4WD TH it is about 2.6 miles and 1,300 feet to the 11,600 ft camp site. We started from the TH at 10:50 AM and reached the camp site at 3:20 PM. It was raining when we arrived at the camp site so before setting up camp we explored the obscure part of the trail as mentioned in the previous trip reports. There is a cairned route just south of the camp site at a pile of logs, but we decided it would be easier and safer to hike fairly close to the creek in the early morning twilight. After hiking along the creek almost through this grove of trees the trail angles over towards the creek and is very obvious continuing uphill. On our return we were able to easily follow the trail all the way back to our tent. We were asleep soon after 7 PM and never saw the hikers who climbed Mt Columbia; based on the their trip report they arrived and camped somewhere on the other side of the meadow later that evening.

At 6:15 AM Sunday morning we began our hike and continued following the trail description in Roach's 3rd edition until the creek crossing at 11,920 ft. The cairned and obvious trail continued west and we did not see a trail going north past a mine and up to a saddle as described by Roach and shown on the 82 Mount Harvard quad. There was one final cairn at about 12,400 ft as the trail disappeared. Just west of this point the valley opens up to the north. We did an ascending traverse around this bowl, staying above most of the willows. Just west of this bowl is a series of grass benches leading up to the ridge between Harvard-Columbia (N 38 deg 55.391 min / W 106 deg 17.959 min at 12,800 ft). We reached the the trail for the Harvard-Columbia traverse at N 38 deg 55.187 min / W 106 deg 18.430 min / 13,470 ft. At this point instead of agreeing to my son's route finding and taking a right I led us left (wrong-way) to summit the 13,516 ft point along the ridge. After getting back on track we headed north then west for about a mile and 1,000 ft to Mt Harvard.

Near trails end at 12,400 ft; Harvard-Columbia ridge

There are various cairned routes along the traverse route and we seemed to take the more difficult route climbing to the peak. From the point where we joined the traverse trail the route does a climb up two steps along the grass ridge. As the grass ends and the rocks begin the trail splits. The route straight ahead goes directly up to the ridge and a mess of rock blocks. The only worthwhile thing we found up there was a couple of pine martins.

Pine Martin above 14,000 ft

The other trail goes downhill in the grass on the Horn Fork valley side for a short distance before climbing. We used this route on our return and it was much quicker and easier. Much of this route is cut into the tundra and only has some short stretches of rock crossings. Using this route you do an ascending traverse below a prominent false summit and a few knobs. The trail cuts between a prow and the ridge before reaching the first saddle. We went straight at the next false summit by climbing the ledges on the ridge line. On our return we found a vertical climbers trail scar north of the saddle on the Pine Creek valley side of the ridge. Above the climb up from the saddle the cairned trail resumed on the south (Horn Fork) side of the ridge. After traversing along above 14,000 ft and some small false summits the trail drops slightly to a large flat saddle just below the summit block. The route from here we used both ways was through some cracks and along the ledges just north (Pine Creek side) and below the ridge line.

Orange is near CT east of Waverly Mtn above Pine Creek

We reached the summit after about 3.5 miles / 3,000 ft from our camp site at 11:45 AM. The sky had dark clouds so we had a quick snack and took a few photos before leaving at 12:05 PM. There had been 3 other climbers on the summit with us; 2 dropped back down to Horn Fork and the third asked me for directions to Columbia. I gave the guy a description of what we had did along the ridge and that the usual time to Columbia was 3-4 hours. He passed us at the first saddle and we never saw him again. Our return along the ridge was better since we could see the lower trail from above. There was some hail while along the ridge and the heavy rain started as we arrived back at our camp site at 3:20 PM. We packed up inside the tent while waiting out the short storm. By 4:10 PM we were on the trail back to the TH without rain. The backpack out was more pleasant due to cloud cover and the rain settling the dust. We arrived at the 2WD TH at 6:20 PM and were soon on our way to K's to end our weekend. Next up the San Juan's.

Orange is near Bedrock Falls, Pine Creek

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

Just missed you guys
09/12/2017 10:04
We camped Friday night, and climbed Saturday, down to the car by 1:45 or so on Saturday. I remember when I climbed Harvard last year, I was making my way across that ridge, was out of gas and tired, and I saw someone coming up form Frenchman Creek just strolling along, and I thought, WTF.


09/12/2017 10:07
We did pass a family, husband and son sitting on a log, husband reading and son drinking from a water bottle, and wife making her way up a steep little hill shortly behind, right toward the end of our trip. I wonder if that was you guys? Did you see the group of 6-7 young girls in a circle reading?


Re: Also
09/12/2017 15:49
Yes, that was probably us you passed at the end of your trip. At the 4WD TH we met two 70-something guys getting into their Jeep at the end of their hike. When we drove in Sat there was a white passenger van parked all of the way down at the FS boundary. Around 1 PM Sat we passed the young girls as we were going in and then when we returned Sun around 5 PM there was two blue rain flys set up over tarps with stuff piled on tarps in the same area we saw the girls, but no one was around. Also the van was still parked in the same location when we drove out.

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