Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  07/23/2006
Modified:  07/24/2006
Date Climbed:   07/23/2006
Author:  TalusMonkey
 Harvard/Columbia - N. Cottonwood Cr w/traverse  

Date: Sunday, July 23, 2006
Team: Solo
TH: N. Cottonwood Creek

After spending the afternoon at the Cottonwood Hot Springs, I tried to go to sleep early on Saturday afternoon. However, I agreed to go out with a friend for a drink when she got off at 2300. So, after some margaritas at the Coyote Cantina, I got dropped off at my hotel at 0045... My alarm woke me at 0145 to get down to the business at hand.

The dirt road (Chaffee County 365) was good for the first mile or so, but soon degraded. I thought it was unsuitable for most passenger cars, but I saw several, including a late model Accord at the N. Cottonwood TH. My Dodge Caliber did fine, but there were a few washed out areas with rocks on the final 3.5 miles or so...

On trail at 0235 this morning - not a soul was stirring at the parking lot. Must have been backpackers. I managed to achieve my objective of reaching the open area at 12,600 before dawn. The trail to Harvard is a class 1 highway for the first three and a half miles. Then it becomes singletrack, but is still easy to follow. There are abundant cairns from 12,600 to the summit.

After a short break on the summit, I began the traverse to Columbia. The first mile is obvious and easy - there is even a trail for most of it.

Photo a half mile into the traverse, with Harvard's east ridge behind (Harvard's summit is the lower point on the left of the ridge - perspective effect):


The center half mile of the ridge between Harvard and Columbia is knarly and the standard traverse option is to drop down on the east side of the ridge. I saw no viable high routes that would save time. Once you drop down a loose scree filled gully it is necessary to boulder and talus hop for a half mile to regain the ridge. Then more talus hopping to reach the summit of Columbia.

This traverse requires a significant loss and regain in elevation over what most consider rough terrain. Once you drop down on the east side of the Harvard-Columbia ridge, you are commited to resummit Columbia - a bailout to the east will take you far from your vehicle at the N. Cottonwood Creek TH. Be sure to assess weather and your own travel speed over rough terrain. This traverse is not for the faint of heart (or the slow).

Photo on summit of Columbia, with Harvard behind:


I arrived on Columbia's summit quite tired at 0915. Another short break and then a speedy descent. As I worked my way down Columbia's south ridge I began my descent one gully early. There was a cairn there, but the gully was miserable loose dirt, scree and talus. If you choose this traverse, make sure you go over enough of the small knobs on Columbia's south ridge before taking the CORRECT and improved trail down.

My scree descent cost me 10-15 minutes, but I continued down to intersect the primary trail a little above timberline. Then it was easy trail back to the parking area. Back in the car at 1145.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

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