Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Date Posted:  09/17/2006
Date Climbed:   09/16/2006
Author:  chicago transplant
 A Fall (winter?) Gathering on Mt Harvard  

A while back I started a thread in "climbing connection" looking for people interested in a Fall Gathering. The response was huge! Initially over 2 dozen users expressed interest, and we began working out the details for a September climb. After several posts we settled on a date of September 16th to climb Mt Harvard, with some people looking at the traverse to Columbia, and others looking at camping Saturday and giving Columbia a go on Sunday. As the day got closer the excitement level kept picking up, but unfortunately the weather was beginning to look like it wasn't going to hold up its end of the bargain. We lost a few to the forecast, and some others to changes in their plans. A few people planned on going up Friday night and camping, including Scott Patterson and Kessler, cftbq and his daughter (trishapajean) and grandson. The rest of us met up at the trailhead at 6am, we introduced ourselves by 14er name and "real" name at at 6.20 myself, krisp (Chris), Aspen Summit (Knight), jfox8541 (Jeff) and speedpolka (Josh) hit the trail just as the flurries started to fly. We made excellent time up the trail and soon found a small blue backpack hanging from a tree, marking Scott and Kessler's campsite. We met up with them as they were getting ready for their climb. Still no sign of cftbq's party, though we saw their names in the trail register. I quickly set up my tent and tossed a few items I wouldn't need in their to save on weight and we hit the trail, now as a group of 7.

Kessler did a great job of breaking trail for us as the snow continued to fall, now at a more moderate rate. Soon we saw a group of three heading our way, it was cftbq with his daughter and grandson heading back down. They had come up and camped, but couldn't find Scott and Kessler's camp in the dark. They started their climb but the wind and snow above treeline forced them to turn around. We decided to press on and try our luck. As we got above the trees the winds quickly picked up and the swirling blowing snow pelted us from all sides. Lucky for Kessler he was sheltered by the taller willows on the sides of the trail, and as Scott asked him if he wanted to turn around, he enthusiastically said he wanted to try for the top. Inspired by our young friend, we kept on past an icy stream crossing as the willows began to give way to tundra grasses. I guess without the shelter of the willows the wind became too much, and Kessler asked his dad if they could go back. We said goodbye to Scott and Kessler, but I'm sure we will climb with then again sometime soon!

Our group of 5 soon caught up to a solo hiker named Chris from fourteenerworld who joined our group. The weather kept worsening as we neared the first section of talus. The trail got really difficult to follow, especially at the switchbacks, but we managed to stay reasonably on track. We frequently took short breaks for water and to check our elevation as we waited for everyone to catch up. Soon we got up to a flatter section of tundra where large cairns led the way through the increasing snow, as we crossed the tundra we soon reached more talus and once again struggled to follow the trail between the accumulating snow and the low visibility.

Which way do we go?

Ahead of us we frequently saw other hikers coming down, but none had summited. It seemed the weather was locking the door on the summit this day. Still we perservered, and as the trail started to turn back to tundra we were encouraged by an increase in visibilty as we got a glimpse back down the valley.

Our group perserveres:

Soon after we were at a wide col at the base of Harvard's Southwest Ridge. Here the winds were ferocious as they swept through the gap in the ridge, at first I wasn't sure which way to go, but caught a glimpse of the cairns and colored jackets of other climbers above us to our right. The higher we got, the worse conditions got, but for the most part the wind seemed to be coming from behind us. Had it been in our face, I don't think we ever would have gotten this far. We were now getting up into the clouds, and visibilty was to the point where we could just barely make out the next cairn as we struggled to stay on route.

Is that a cairn ahead?

Soon we were close to that magic number we all love, 14000. I remarked that if this was Holy Cross we would have summited by now, but Harvard still had over 400 more feet that needed to be climbed. We took a break to let a very cold looking hiker climb down ahead of us, he too hadn't summited despite being less than 300' from the top. Would we make it? We had to try! As we waited for the remainder of our group we soon started getting too cold to stay any longer, and pressed on towards the summit. We kept climbing, heads down as we tried to keep the increasing snow out of our face. The winds were now sustained and in the realm of hurricane force.

Chris fights the winds:

Just below the summit the crux of the climb finally revealed itself to us through the clouds. It looked daunting covered in ice and snow with howling winds, now easily in the 50mph and up range. We carefully scrambled up and reached the highest point of Mt Harvard at just after 11.30am. We breathed a sign of relief and revelled in our accomplishment. We were the first to summit all day, the wind gusts and blowing snow kept our visit to the top short, and after a few photos we headed back down. The descent was worse, all that wind that was at our back was now in our face. We all were dressed appropriately, and our core was warm but there was little we could do to keep our faces out of the cold and blowing snow. Frequently we stopped to turn our backs to the wind as we carefully made our way back. As we got lower the weather slowly began to improve, we were now out of the falling snow and the sustained winds were becoming much more manageble, although a few gusts did try and knock us over now and again. By now we had come to the conclusion that our other companions had turned around, we hoped maybe we would catch up with them at camp. As we got back to the flat stretch of tundra we looked back and could actually see the summit, as well as the connecting traverse with Columbia.

Harvard from our descent (taken about the same place as Bill‘s route photo #10):
Columbia and Ridge:

As we neared the split to Bear Lake the weather started to break to the point where we actually saw blue skies to the north of Harvard, and by the time we were back at the willows the summit was in the clear. That's Colorado weather for you I guess!

Harvard through the clearing conditions:

We got back to camp and had lunch, at which point I decided to break camp and head home to a nice warm bed rather than give Columbia a try on Sunday. The hike back down the trail was calm and sunny, the views opened up to Yale and I was even able to take off my hat and gloves. We finally reached the trailhead at 4pm, had a quick snack and parted ways. A physically and mentally draining climb for sure.

I hope everyone had fun on the climb despite the conditions. I'm sorry we didn't all get to share in a summit together, I know I enjoyed meeting and hiking with everyone though, and hope to get another opportunity to climb with you all soon. Hopefully some of the others from our climb will post their photos too!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

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