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Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,424 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,075 feet
Date Posted:  10/29/2023
Modified:  11/09/2023
Date Climbed:   10/25/2023
Author:  Steep Slabs
 Harvard to Columbia Traverse   

Trip Report

I started the Harvard Columbia Traverse on 10/25/23 at 4 am and finished a little after 3 pm. I maintained a steady pace and only took a few short breaks along the way. It involved 6,200 ft of vertical gain over 16.5 miles. This is a very challenging loop. You need to know exactly where you are and what you are doing at all times. In addition you need to be in excellent physical condition. It would be so easy to sprain an ankle or get lost. I stumbled several times and found myself off course repeatedly. The extreme and varied terrain at this elevation can be disorienting. My recently purchased GPS device with altimeter was very helpful.

I’m glad I did a decent amount of research beforehand. Most of what I studied was the route description on 14ers.com. Thank you, Bill Middlebrook for the fantastic advice and directions. I have enjoyed using 14ers.com as a guide for a while but am just now realizing how special it is. I also read trip reports and watched some videos.

I haven’t done a ton of 14ers (24) but recently got into it more and summited Long’s and Missouri. The Harvard Columbia traverse was more difficult for me than either of those mountains. The exposure wasn’t as bad as it is on Long’s or Missouri but there are plenty of high steep drop offs along the way. Overall exposure is rated as moderate while rockfall, route-finding and commitment are all classified as high.

Ascending the Horn Fork Basin Trail I saw two shooting stars. One was tiny silver sliver and the other was a full on fire ball. The trail all the way up to Harvard is great although it does get kind of wild at the top. There was a cool surprise on the summit. The ridge off of Harvard starting the traverse had the highest chances of a fatal fall. It would be asinine to bring a dog. I thought about turning around a couple of times. This would only make sense early into the traverse.

There was some snow but I wouldn’t say a lot. I was doing an uncomfortable amount of post holing in a few different areas and my feet got soaked. Glad I had extra dry pairs of socks. It was fun following foot prints in the snow which helped me keep my feet dry and stay on track. But unfortunately, there were plenty of snowy areas where I couldn’t find any foot prints. Similarly, cairns were helpful but few and far between. Others have described the talus field as tedious and I would agree. I stuck pretty close to the ridge which involved jumping on boulders and climbing up and down the bigger ones. I was hoping to see spiders in this area but didn't. I did see a busy pika and a large goat way off on a mountain. The "Rabbit" is a good land mark on the ridge to know when to start working your way up. It was a tough push to Columbia's summit as it should be I guess. Above 14,000 ft., near the top, I was pleased to find some foot prints in the snow. I took a couple steps and realized they were actually goat, maybe sheep, hoof prints. “Hmm, should I really be here?” crossed my mind. Who knows what kind of steep drop off those tracks might lead to so I made my own way. The neat part about the top of Columbia is that the trail stays way up there for a long time. On the way down I had a bird’s-eye view of a circling hawk.

The snow was definitely problematic but it might be even more difficult in the summer, worrying about deadly storms and dehydration. I took a loaded daypack and drank a lot of water. Having a partner on this trail would be a good idea, as long as all parties have a full understanding of both the undertaking and their ability. I think Columbia to Harvard would be interesting but if I were to do it again I would repeat the standard route. It’s incredible how beautiful and terrifying nature can be. I am so grateful to have been able to go on this adventure. It’s good thinking of 14ers.com to have the WARNING, Stop! Hold On! Advice for this traverse. You need to really be prepared for this one and also be prepared to call it off if there is any active weather or if you aren't feeling fantastic on the top of Harvard. Stay safe and enjoy!


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Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Proper Equipment
10/29/2023 9:25pm
Boots: check, Parka: check, GPS: check, Plastic Pig: check.

Steep Slabs
Re: Proper Equipment
10/30/2023 8:42am
Haha!! That little fella actually resides up there on top of Mt. Harvard.

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