Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  06/10/2008
Date Climbed:   06/08/2008
Author:  KirkT
 Snow, Wind, Sunshine and 14 Hours on Harvard!  

MT. HARVARD (14420) & MT. COLUMBIA (14073)
June 8, 2008
Route: Harvard, South Slopes-Traverse to Columbia, Descend West Slope
Round Trip: 14.5 miles, 14 hours
Elevation Gain: 6250ft. with Traverse
Hikers: KirkT

These two peaks that have been on my radar for a long time. Once already this year, I was neglected from Columbia's summit due to snow and high winds. With a promising forecast of 40's and mild wind I thought I would give them a shot. The recent trip reports of the area had some great beta on the conditions (thanks for those by the way.) Not able to hook up with a partner, I set off for the trailhead Saturday night to car camp. After settling in I set the alarm for 3:30.

After several nice snoozes I was finally up and going around 4am. On the trailhead by 4:15, I was off. It appeared to be mostly cloudy...hhmmm where are the stars?? After about 45 minutes it started to snow lightly..... another 30 minutes a little harder and after about 1 1/2 hours I felt like I was in full winter here. It was snowing like crazy...did I read the right forecast...partly cloudy and breezy?? I eventually arrived up into Horn Fork basin in full winter conditions. Heavy snow, strong winds and very little visibility. I met a hiker coming down from Bear Lake who mentioned it had been snowing really hard up there and he was calling it a day. HHHMMM what to do... continue... heck yeah!!! It's gotta get alot worse than this to turn me back, besides, I did read the least I thought I did.

I reached the base of Harvard and the clouds beagn to clear and for the first time of the day I finally saw the summit of Harvard. Yeah I figured there was a mountain in there somewhere.. 8) I should let everyone know that the trail up till 11000 ft. is almost totally clear of snow. After that its all snow, anywhere from 2-5 feet. I put my snowshoes on when I reached the basin as I was beginning to posthole pretty bad. After seeing that the clouds were lifting, I dedcided to foregoe the standard route and crampon straight up the South Face. There were several ski tracks from the past several days so I picked one and went straight up. I reached the summit at 11am. The wind was blowing around 30 mph with higher gusts. I could see to the West and the skies were clearing and by now I could see all the way behind me up through Horn Fork Basin. Columbia was now totally clear and the traverse looked ok. It was at this time I decided to commit to the traverse. Oh boy, what had I committed myself to... I had a snack, took some pictures and started the traverse around 11:30.

The first 1/2 or so of the traverse was pretty straight forward. It is cairned and there was a faint trail to follow. I obviously came to a point where I would have to make a decision. Stay high on the class 4-5+ ridge or traverse North down into the French Creek drainage. I spent quite awhile studying the route up close. There was quite abit of snow up on the high side of the ridge. After alot of deliberation (not really) I decided to descend down into French Creek. To cut out on a long story, I came to the foregone conclusion there was no short cutting this traverse. My ultimate goal, or so I thought, was to try and stay as high in elevation as possible. After going into the drainage, there simply was no way to go but down, believe me I studied every angle. After a few glissades and down hiking I was in the French Creek basin. According to my topo map, the elevation was around 12500-12700ft. Are you kidding me??? I had lost almost 1700 ft!!!! I had not eaten very much (I never do at elevation) so I took about a 30 minute break to change gear again and eat a bite. The climb back up to Columbia was extremely long, taxing and arduous. I had to put my snowshoes on again because of the soft snow. I eventually made it to the summit at 4pm. Man, am I good or what!!!Total time of 4 1/2 hours for the traverse. The lack of food, elevation loss, snow conditions, wind etc. made it very difficult for me to get on top of that freakin summit. I snapped a few pictures had some water and gatorade and started down. I had hopes of being back at the car around 8!

The descent down Columbia's West slope was a freaking joke. That was the worst scree fest I can remember since Little Bear. That mountain is seriously falling aprt on that West slope's section. It was a combination of sitting down and skiing on rocks and sliding all the way back into Horn Fork basin. Crappy way to end your very long day. After returning back into the basin, I again donned my snowshoes and started back down the trail. I moved at a pretty good pace. Amazing how fast you can go downhill when you know there's cold refreshments waiting fer ya. I eventually reached the truck at 8:15. Thank God! 16 hours total, 6250 ft. elevation and two summits. I was very glad this hike was over. I will say that the hike up to Harvard through Horn Fork basin is amazing. It is one of the most beautiful, secluded places I have yet to visit.

Hindsight and food for thought. The traverse between those 2 peaks looks pretty easy. Give it snow, wind and such and it becomes a bear! I could of made life easier and hiked these when the snow was totally melted out, but again nothing in life comes easy sometimes! 8) That's a serious traverse in Winter/Spring conditions. Plan carefully and take lots of water. I also realized after yesterday... I need to get into better shape and force myself to eat at altitude. Thanks for reading and have fun out there!

Snow falling up through the forest.
Snowy Horn Fork Basin.
First views of Harvard through snow storm.
Summit shot on Harvard.
Terrible shot of Belford and Oxford obscured by wind and snow.
Traverse from Harvard to Columbia.
Looking up at the traverse from the North side of Columbia, my 1700 ft. elevation regain.. ugh!!
Mt. Harvard in the now very bright sun.
Southern Sawatch, Princeton, Antero and Shavano etc.
Summit shot on Coulmbia after 12 hours of slog fest, Mt. Yale in background.
Town of Buena Vista from Columbia's summit.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

06/11/2008 01:33
Yes, Kirk that traverse does beckon doesn‘t it. It would be nice if someone did it with a GPS because I am sure it felt like 1,700 ft also!! I thought I would never get to the summit of Columbia, every little rise I came to on that slope did not seem to bring the summit all that much closer.

Anyways now you have had the initiation, welcome to the club. I am sure the siren of the Harvard Columbia traverse will capture others.


06/11/2008 01:48
What a difference a year makes. I did these peaks June 23 & 24 last year and dealt with no snow whatsoever. As for the peaks, I completely agree. Harvard is a great hike, Horn Fork is a beautiful basin, and Columbia is, well, you know what it is. Nice work on what seems to have been an exhausting day.


06/11/2008 01:54
I‘m glad I am not the only one who had to question the forecast. I think that is now three for June 8th. Very good reports as always.


well done!
06/11/2008 14:06
That traverse was one of the tougher climbing days I‘ve experienced ... I can‘t imagine doing it in snow, with wind, etc.! Some of your experiences paralleled mine and brought back memories, especially your descent off Columbia.


that darn scree
06/12/2008 01:21
Glad to hear someone else comment on the crap that is that west slope on columbia. Just not fun times!


06/13/2008 23:21
Fantastic job getting this done solo! I still would like to do that traverse. I hope you have a good weekend if you hit the San Juans! GREAT write up!

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