Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Date Posted:  07/12/2019
Date Climbed:   07/11/2019
Author:  Bradenkerrco
 Harvard-Columbia Traverse   

I'm going to break this review down into three main parts. The ascent to Harvard by the south slopes, the traverse, and the descent from Columbia by the western slopes.

Left from trailhead at 0445. Summer conditions all the way until you get the Horn Fork Basin. However, you will encounter muddy patches frequently. These are small and easy to deal with but you encounter enough it is notable.

Entering the basin, that is where you first encounter any snow. With an early enough start it's mostly still going to be ice by the time you get there. For reference, we entered the basin at around 0615. In the willows of the basin you encounter more substantial mud patches. The trail itself has running water on it for most of the basin, but it's only a trickle and with trail shoes I never got my feet wet.

The river crossing at the North end of the basin is very high right now. The rocks meant for crossing are completely submerged by the heavy runoff. It looks as if some people have walked through the willows slightly north to avoid it, but also keep in mind this takes you off trail and reinforces unwanted trails. We took off shoes and socks to wade through the very cold water.

Above the basin the snow fields become much larger and substantial. The rock-coated switch backs to reach the plateau above the basin are free of snow and easy to follow, but as soon as you enter the plateau at around 12,600. On the flat, the snow covers large sections of the trail. Spikes are not required for this part as enough people have crossed that it's very solid and easy to follow.

The one snow field that is not solid is right below where it becomes steep. Water is running below it, and my friend and I learned the hard way it was much softer than the other piles by lunching through to the muddy water below.

As you leave the flat, the snow becomes much harder and steeper. We were able to ascend this with only poles, and you should be okay to not put on spikes yet since you'll alternate between snow and trail often until the ridge.

The ridge itself is covered in snow and the trail is somewhat hard to find in spots. We picked up the trail around 13200.

At this elevation you start to encounter steep, icy snowfields you can't really avoid. For these, spikes and poles are recommended. You'll cross 2-3 of these fields up to the summit of Harvard. We summited at 0830. That completes the Harvard report. As I didn't descend the same route I don't know snow conditions for midday.

The traverse:
Starting the traverse is very easy, as following the east ridge until the notch is straightforward. The first snow is around the "Sharp point" mentioned on the route description. It forces you to stay high and drop to the right of the point a little later than the route description.

Once past this the trail until near Point 13516 is dry. The next big snowfields blocks the trail on the Eastern slope of Point 13516. The snow by about 0945 was soft enough you'll want to avoid crossing it because you can break through and hit the rocks below. This puts you higher than the intended route but finding the east ridge to descend is still easy. You'll have to descend the ridge almost to the basin because the snow makes crossing any higher incredibly dangerous over talus.

Once in the basin, you have a choice of routes. By going left and to the lowest point you can then ascend a snow-free grassy route that's faster but is longer.
If you go left youll deal with lots of talus and deep snow fields between. The snow is packed enough to walk on BUT not right at the edges of the fields. We literally crawled the first few feet off of the talus until the snow was strong enough to stand on. Ascending the snow is fast if you have spikes and poles. You can climb up to beneath the rabbit or can cut across more directly toward the peak.

At around 13400 the snow disappears and it's a scramble to the top. The traverse was incredibly slow due to the snow and while starting it at 0915 we summited Columbia at around 1300 (1pm).

Columbia West Slopes Descent:
The descent starts fine but as soon as you turn left off the ridge and start rapidly descending, the sand starts. The descent is awful due to the state of the trail (which is currently being improved thank you 14ers initiative) being sandy gravel. Once you hit treeline, it's following karens back to the trailhead.

The main part of this report is about the current conditions of the traverse, I DO NOT recommend doing this direction right now. Climbing columbia first allows you to glissade down and climb the more established trail up to Harvard. Hope this helps, comment any questions.

Comments or Questions
Finding new trail sooner
07/12/2019 06:44
Thanks for the info! Some may find it helpful to know that the new trail is fairly established all the way up to about 13,700 or so. However, finding the new trail on the descent can be tricky. I actually ascended the new trail and still ended up on the old trail going down, by accident. Best advice I can give is to stay on the summit ridge basically to the end before turning to the west and the steeper descent. Look carefully for cairns and/or the trail markers that CFI put in (these are little spikes in the ground that have orange markers showing, but they are small, like 4 inches of light orange string on the ground). Just know that the new trail is to the south of the old trail, this means to your left as you descend. It stays fairly close to the ridge most of the way down and gets fairly close to the big couloir that has the wicked looking avalanche debris field at tree line. You can also look for CFI folks if they are working (THANK YOU CFI) or if they aren't there look for their tools that they stash, if you see that the trail is there. The old trail is like a horrible sandy funnel that pulls you in, when you hit the end of the summit ridge as you turn west to descend just go slow and look carefully to the left.

Braden, I looked for karen but I didn't see her, plenty of cairns though :-)


New trail
07/12/2019 15:57
I'm not sure CFI wants you to find the new trail yet. They will have trams, equipment and teams there this summer so I think they are still trying to keep people off of the new trail sections until they're finished.

New trail
07/12/2019 17:31
They were actually working on the new trail as we were descending and the new trail is not done yet. A hiker in front actually asked if they wanted him to take the new trail down once he got below them and they said no. Just more info.

Public Heel
New Trail
08/10/2019 12:51
Bill, when you find out the new trail is ready, could you somehow disseminate that info? Thanks!

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