Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Date Posted:  08/17/2019
Date Climbed:   08/14/2019
Author:  ColoGary
 Cottonwood Creek route   

Harvard Trip Report

Aug. 13-14, 2019

The mountain was the easy part!

Colorado's third-highest peak, Mount Harvard, as seen from my camp along the Cottonwood Creek trail.

Well inasmuch as summiting anything 14, 420 feet above sea level can be easy. But the trail up Mount Harvard -- Colorado’s third-highest peak -- though steep as you’d expect, was easy to follow. Even in rocky sections, high above treeline, there were plenty of cairns and almost always an obvious route, until the last few feet before the summit. There you have to use your arms to haul yourself up a smooth diagonal stretch of granite. That was really the only thing past Class 2 on the hike, and by only a fraction.

The Cottonwood Creek route up Harvard featured plenty of cairns to keep you going the right way.

Harvard definitely has its brutal uphills, but the difficulties are about stamina and endurance, not skill and expertise. Beautiful weather, all blue skies and fluffy white clouds certainly helped.

No, what had me fleeing the mountain, tail between my legs (after summiting, natch) -- mosquitoes!

I arrived at the Cottonwood Creek trailhead, late morning Tuesday Aug. 13. Plan was to hike up near treeline and camp. Did that. Then summit the next day -- Aug. 14. Did that. Then, muck about in the mountains -- perhaps explore the lower route to nearby Mount Columbia -- Aug. 15. Leisurely descent and back home to Lawrence, Kan. -- Aug. 16.

Didn't do those -- at least not as planned.

Starting from the trailhead, I shlepped that damn pack with the standard 50-pound/3-day load up, up and up. About three miles in, I passed a likely looking campsite. Level ground, great fire-ring, tree trunk benches, easy access to Cottonwood Creek. But I wanted to camp further in and higher up. So I kept going, past Horn Fork Basin, and the Harvard/Columbia junction where I’d heard there was great camping -- but I didn’t see any.

About 4 miles in, close to tree line, I spotted what looked like another good campsite. Not as nice as the first one, and the water was only a tiny stream trickling into a little pool. But good enough. And there was a great view of Harvard, also Columbia, Yale and Princeton! So I plopped the pack down, set up tent, tarp and hammock, and proceeded to fall into the hammock. Bliss.

How sweet it was for about 30 seconds until the mosquitoes arrived.
Tent and tarp.
Mount Yale, to the east, from my campsite.
South slope of Columbia, from my camp.

Then I swatted a mosquito on my arm. Got it! Then another. Then another and another and another, and buzzing ‘round my head, and one flew in my right eye. Up and pawing through the pack for the Deet -- which, I might add, I’ve never had to use on a Rocky Mountain expedition. Not in the pack. No bug spray. It was back in the truck, along with my toothbrush and binoculars.

Arrghh, as they say in the comics.

Toothbrush was an easy fix. I took a green twig off one of the ever-present evergreens -- not sure if Spruce or Fir. With my pocket knife, I sliced up one end of the twig, until it looked vaguely like a tiny feather duster. Put a drop of water on the splayed out end, and a drop of Dr. Bronner’s, and worked it around on my teeth. Not as good as a regular toothbrush, but better than you might think.

Mosquitoes not so easy. Put on long pants and long-sleeved shirt. Tied bandana around neck. Gathered tinder and some green twigs from recently fallen branches for a small smudge fire. Normally I hate a smoky fire, but this was my only chance to not be eaten alive.

While setting it up in a cross-hatch pattern, and lighting it with wooden matches, the mosquitoes continued dive-bombing me, landing even on the hands at work. Fortunately, the twigs were dry, but still had some sap, so they lit, and more importantly, smoked. Twigs that still had needles on them were the best smokers.

With the first whiff of smoke came some relief from the hungry blood-seeking little things. I didn’t want a big fire, for safety, which meant I had to continually feed the little fire. Had to stay by it anyway to take advantage of the protection of the smoke. You know how you normally try to avoid the smoke of a campfire, but it follows you? Here, I kept following the smoke, which seemed to want to avoid me.

Had to set up my stove and boil the water for mac and cheese and hot chocolate, while simultaneously feeding the fire and swatting away mosquitoes that dove in when the smoke changed direction.

As night fell and the temps dropped, the beastly little things retired. I washed my pot, and set in the hammock unmolested. I even played my ukulele to the surrounding peaks, clouds and sky. They seemed okay with it -- at least they didn’t complain. Soon it was too dark and chilly, so I hit the sleeping bag.

Mosquitoes were still abed when I emerged from the tent in the a.m. darkness. Got all the morning biz done, and was heading for the summit, about another 3 or 4 miles off, and thousands of feet up, by 7:30 a.m. Hiked much of the way with David and Sarah (sp?), from Fort Collins, and their 20-pound Aussie Shepherd-looking mixed breed Cole.

Cottonwood Creek trail, heading up.

The trail went by snowfields, beautiful Bear Lake, and more and more boulder fields as it ascended. Being from the flat, I huffed and puffed, but my training for an upcoming ultra, the Javelina Jundred in October, stood me in good stead, just as it had on the hike from the parking lot trailhead. Plus, I was just so excited and thrilled to be there!

After about an hour or more of hiking the view opened up to show Bear Lake, Mount Yale, and in the far background, Mount Princeton.
Closing in on the summit.

There was no cell service at my campsite, but I had signal halfway up the mountain, so I sent Karen a photo. Then I actually called her from the summit, and sent another pic. I’ve seen worse views! There were a few people up there already, including David, Sarah and Cole -- who was handed up that last bit of diagonal granite, from owner to owner -- and a large group on the way. So after snapping a few pics, I said my goodbyes and headed down.

David was kind enough to take my picture on the summit. Clothing, I should add, by Karen. Good gear.
View to the west.
View to the south
View to the north with Sarah and Cole. Cottonwood Creek is a dog-friendly route, though that last bit of sloping granite could be tricky for four-legged friends.

Once I descended the steep rocky part of the trail into relaxed hiking, I slowed down, trying to make the hike last. Breeze was cool and delicious, like the sweetest spring breeze, in surroundings beautiful beyond imagination. The air took me right back to other Rocky Mountain hikes I’d made 30 years ago, with that same indescribable feeling of peace and freedom.

Obligatory wildflower photo taken while dawdling and feeling groovy on the way down. No afternoon thunderstorm to chase me, like on most 14ers.

About a mile from my camp, I caught up with David, Sarah and their dog, and we had a great conversation, that, alas, made the time fly. They had hiked up early in the morning from the parking lot trailhead, so I said goodbye to them at my camp, about 1:30 p.m.

And hello to you-know-who.

I was in the hammock for about one second when the mosquitoes arrived in force. I tried moving the hammock into a sunnier area. That only let me see them better, flitting around by the dozens. They seemed everywhere! Intermittent puffs of wind blew them away, but they returned when the wind ceased.

I made a little smudge fire again, and tried to eat some peanut butter and Wasa crackers, sitting on my bear cannister by the smoke, but was pretty fed up with the circs. So I decided to shift camp down trail about a mile to that first campsite I’d admired on the way up.

Went through the pain of breaking everything down, and packing up, while fighting off the mosquitoes. Poured most of my drinking water on the smoking embers of the little fire to lighten my load, and headed down. Much easier going downhill than up. Soon I arrived at the new camp; just as nice as I remembered.

Unfortunately, it was already occupied, and not by campers.

I had no sooner taken off the pack when the mosquitoes began to gather for their dinner. Arrggh, as they say in the comics. That was enough for me, so back on went the pack, and I headed down the remaining three miles to the trailhead parking lot and my truck. Along the way, I discovered a tick had burrowed into my left wrist by my watch. Another Rocky Mountain expedition first! I pulled it off, and the blood flowed. I had to keep the wrist elevated as I walked to let the bleeding hole coagulate up, so I wasn’t dripping blood from my hand as I walked.

And that dern pack had gotten so heavy, even going downhill! Why couldn’t the manufacturer have weaved some anti-gravity threads into the fabric to make it lighter? Oh yeah, not invented.

Then I saw three Forest Service employees come hiking in from the Kroenke Lake trail -- two men and a woman. They had packs that dwarfed mine, with all kinds of tools and gear dangling from them. One of the guys was carrying a huge two-person loggers’ saw. No chainsaws permitted in the park.

I asked them how much they thought their packs weighed, but they didn’t know -- they told me they were each equipped for three days camping, along with multiple trail-maintenance tools. Seventy pounds each was my guess. I thanked them for their work, thinking about the six or seven pounds I carry into the woods -- loppers, camp saw and hydration pack -- to do trail maintenance at Clinton Lake.

Arrived at the parking lot and truck about 5 p.m. Thought about maybe truck camping and doing one more hike in the morning. Then I hefted the pack into the back and began the drive back to Lawrence. Note for next time: remember the bug mosquito repellent! Or as they say in the comics --- Aaargh!

Clouds sail over the ridge. Despite the mosquitoes helping me to abbreviate my trip, I had a great climb and a great time.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
08/18/2019 09:42
Harvard is on my to do list and I'm planning on backpacking in like you did. I will remember the bug repellent. I think I will try for the upper campground.

08/18/2019 11:34
Thank you for taking the time to upload this report. It was very helpful. Sorry about the skeeters. They are definitely bad this year, but I guess that's the price of a good ski season the previous winter : )

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