Mt. Harvard - 14,420 feet
Mt. Harvard - 14,420 feet
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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