Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,424 feet
Date Posted:  01/16/2021
Modified:  01/18/2021
Date Climbed:   01/04/2021
Author:  CaptainSuburbia
Additional Members:   PeakSixTD
 Winter Harvard from Frenchman Creek   

Winter Harvard from Frenchman Creek


I've had my eye on a winter Harvard from Frenchman Creek for several years now. It looked like a great route and a different way for my second climb of Harvard. With a good forecast and perfect snow conditions, I finally had my chance.

So, I left Fort Collins in the early afternoon a day before the scheduled climbed. My plan was to arrive at the trailhead early to put in a trench for about 3 miles up the road for a running start the next morning. A group of my friends were planning on meeting me later that night and the next morning. From highway 24 south of Leadville, I turned on 386 and parked at the Frenchman Creek sign 1/2 mile up the road. Surprisingly, there was a car parked there and several snowshoe tracks leading up the snow covered road. I was hoping for this or snowmobile tracks, but wasn't expecting either.

I geared up and followed the tracks to see how far they went up our intended route. I was assuming they wouldn't last long but hoping for the best. Not long after starting I passed through a closed gate, and as the snow deepened the tracks converged to form a solid trench. I followed it in my snowshoes to the junction with 387 1.2 miles up the road. Satisfied that the tracks continued past this and looked to keep going for awhile, I turned back towards my truck, happy with my good fortune. I had not been looking forward to trenching all evening, especially with the long day ahead. I now had time to get some dinner in Buena Vista and some much needed rest for an early start the next morning.

Day of Climb: January 4th 2021

Trailhead: Frenchman Creek

Peak: Mt. Harvard

Route: East Ridge

Mileage/Elevation Gain: 18.25 miles and 5907 feet of gain

After a delayed start, myself and 4 others were snowshoeing up the trench by about 4 in the morning. FS 386 was a nice wide 4wd road that seemed well maintained. We made good time and reached the end of the road after about 3 miles. The Frenchman Creek trail continued from here, and like the road, was well maintained with a moderate incline that only occasionally kicked up. Another ~1.5 miles and we crossed the creek on a nice log bridge and continued towards Harvard following the still wonderful trench. At about the 5 mile mark we passed the Colorado trail junction and soon after the sun was up.

Nice trench
Our first view of the peaks with Harvard in the distance and Unnamed 13,374 to the right

As we neared treeline we passed through a terrain trap with an avy slope on the left. Luckily, It was mostly windblown and not a concern today, so we continued unimpeded into the basin at near 12,000 feet. This led us right into a giant batch of willows. The trench was gone and we were now on our own. There didn't appear to be a way around the willows, so we just plunged into them and worked our way through the best we could. We definitely did some deep postholing, but it wasn't too bad for the most part.

Entering the terrain trap with the obvious avy slope on the left
Successfully past the willows
The upper basin and the Harvard-Columbia traverse

Shortly after getting through the willows, we took a hard right up the steep slopes of Unnamed 13,374. We then made a beeline towards it's saddle with Harvard over mostly windblown terrain. I kept my snowshoes on as the extra traction and heel lifts were helpful. There was one snow filled gully which we avoided by climbing around. Finally, after about a 1,000 feet of climbing we reached the saddle at 13,000 feet and the lower ridge of Harvard.

Straight up and to the left is the Harvard-13,374 saddle
Angling towards the saddle (windblown ridge on right) with Harvard beyond

From the saddle we began climbing towards Harvards east ridge. This lower ridge section had steep drops to the right and wide open terrain on the left with easy class 2 climbing. We still had a lot of ground to cover before reaching the upper ridge. As we got higher the ridge steepened considerably, and we crossed over to the our left and joined the standard Harvard-Columbia traverse route. The crossover was to avoid potential avy slopes on the north side of the ridge. We then continued up easy terrain to the base of Harvards upper ridge at 14,000 feet.

Heading up the east ridge
Looking back at the slopes of 13,374 in the distance
Went low on ridge here for easier terrain on solid snow
Still a long way to go to Harvards upper ridge
First good look at Mt Columbia
Another look down ridge. 13,374 is on the left
The high point in this pic is the beginning of Harvards upper ridge
The south side of the ridge after crossing over
Harvard-Columbia traverse
Final approach to Harvards upper ridge (top, middle of pic)

As we got closer to the ridge, we could see there was still a long way to go and over 400 feet of elevation gain. At this point, we had 2 choices to reach the summit of Harvard. The first was to stay low under the ridge and follow the standard route. We opted against this as there appeared to be some suspicious looking snow gullies with slide potential that would have to be crossed. Instead, we chose the second option which was to go high above the avy danger and follow the ridge direct to Harvards summit.

Approaching the upper ridge and it looked long

Once at the base of the ridge, we easily ascended the headwall to reach the ridge proper. We were both a little surprised at how far the summit looked and how many ups and downs there were. Most of the ridge was class 2 with a sprinkling of class 3 sections including a couple sketchy downclimbs. The ridge had plenty of snow which added to the difficulty.

Climbing the headwall to reach the upper ridge
First ridge section with summit still a long ways off
One of many low points on the ridge
Another ridge low point

The ridge seemed to keep going on and on. Eventually we came to a large flat, or saddle like area, and we could now see the summit over a couple more bumps

Upper saddle
Climbing to summit

The final push to the summit was steep with good snow through a mix of talus. It was a huge relief to see the summit as I topped out on this last ridge section. The winds were really blowing us around now, so we quickly covered the short distance to the true summit, took a couple photos and then began our descent. We chose not to take the direct ridge route on the return, instead, we stayed mostly low under the ridge. This required carefully negotiating around a few snow slopes, but it was much easier, quicker and less stressful then taking the upper ridge. The rest of the descent was long but uneventful (except me leaving my snowshoes behind which have since been recovered). We finished just after dark, and all and all it was another great day in the mountains.

Last few steps to summit
Harvard-Columbia traverse
Summit view
Going low under upper ridge on descent
Almost back to beginning of upper ridge

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33

Comments or Questions
01/16/2021 20:56
Great pics, should bring Gramps along sometime, I miss seeing him!

01/17/2021 20:07
I dare say Harvard is a classic in winter! And I agree with what Will said, more pics of Leo because he rocks!

Fun times!
01/18/2021 12:10
Glad we were able to bang this one out in good conditions!

Way to go
01/20/2021 21:17
Frenchman makes a nice approach right? I loved the feel and the scenery in there

nice report
01/22/2021 14:53
Nice report with wonderful photographs.

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