Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  06/30/2008
Date Climbed:   06/29/2008
Author:  James Scott

 Harvard & Columbia Traverse  

13.5 Miles
5900 Feet Gained
Start Time: 3:30 AM
Harvard Summit: 7:40 AM
Columbia Summit: 11:45 AM
Back to Car: 3:15 PM

Janelle and I drove to the trailhead the night before, and got a pretty good start at 3:30. The first section into Horn Fork Basin flew by (Talus Monkey called this a "highway" and he was right on), and daylight was breaking right when we got to timberline. Unfortunately, the basin was swimming in dense fog, so we didn't get to see Harvard across the basin, or much else for that matter.
The ridgeline of Columbia barely visible through the fog:

Just before 6AM, the sun started to cut a hole in the fog, and we were able to see Harvard for the first time.
The ground was mushy and wet, then snowy and wet, so we got near the ridgeline with cold feet. Unfortunately, in the fog, we were unable to clearly make out the summit, so we stayed below the ridge too long, and overshot Harvard. We had to double back and summit, costing us probably 20 minutes. It was windy and cold, so we only stayed about 10 minutes.

I had read as much as I could in trip reports and books about the traverse, and unless you brave the class 4/5 ridge, the best I could learn is that most people are pretty unclear how far to drop down or when to drop down, and that it takes far more time than most people expect. I took tons of pictures to document where we went, hoping that someone would be able to tell me where we went wrong. We felt that we did pretty well, but I would do some things differently.

First, we stayed on the Harvard ridge for several hundred feet. There is a decent foot trail that emerges on the ridge, which we followed to what looked like a saddle- not the Harvard/ Columbia saddle, but we thought this is where the difficulties of the ridge would begin. Here we turned left, even though the footpath continued on the ridge, and we found a decent gully leading down.
Looking down on the saddle from the trail:
Looking left from the saddle over a bit of a plateau:
The gully leading down from the edge of the plateau:

We tried to find a line we could take without losing any more elevation than we had to. We aimed for the larger rock in the center of this picture:
These pictures show the kind of scrambling we had to do:
We aimed for the top of this outcropping, hoping to keep as much elevation as we could.
The whole thing went pretty quickly, and it spilled us out above this grassy field:

Here we had some confusion. First, there was a ridgeline leading to another mountain directly to the left. For someone who had dropped all the way down just after the Harvard summit, they would have to climb out of that drainage, I'm guessing 800 feet or so, to gain the ridge we were overlooking. I was under the impression that there was only one drainage between Harvard and Columbia on that side (West). It would have been a lot of extra climbing to have to climb out of the first one.

Second, the main ridge between Harvard and Columbia is seen in this picture, to the right, so if we'd stayed on that footpath it would have left us to the right of the picture on the grassy field. Question: are there any real difficulties on the ridge to that point? Should we have stayed high on the ridge? I think this was our first mistake, but it only took us an hour to get here, so we still felt good.

The next step was planning from here. In this closer picture, you can see a rocky point just across the grassy field (the far left of the picture) with a snow field against it.
This seems to be the crux of the "how far do we drop down?" question. We aimed just below the snowfield. We came around the other side and saw Columbia looking pretty close, but we had aimed too high, and it cliffed out, so we had to go several hundred feet down this ridge:
This was our second mistake.

From the bottom we saw this view:
If you had dropped too far (or fell into the first drainage and had to climb out) you were probably far to the left, which would have added a lot of time to the climb. We identified the rock outcropping directly in the middle of the picture, and aimed just above it. Thankfully, the snow was solid, so we walked across the snowfield without postholing, and reached the ground above the rock.
A closer look:
From there, it's a pretty simple exercise of hoofing it up these faces to the ridge, and on up to the top. There was no trail that we could see, so we switchbacked our own social trail.
Here's Janelle and I on the summit of Columbia, Harvard in the backround:
The summit was one of my best- blue skies, calm, no threatening clouds, cheese, crackers, and summer sausage. We met some nice people and stayed for about 30 minutes, eating and solving the world's problems.
Going down the "ridge" of the standard Columbia route was painful- even though we found the correct trail, it was like walking on marbles most of the way.
Not only did we summit two peaks, but I drank 132 oz of water along the way, and only had to pee three times. That's a personal record I can be proud of!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Good trip report
08/25/2008 00:48
I wish I would of read this before doing this hike yesterday. Unfortunately, I didn‘t read up much on the traverse and ended up going too low several times. A lot of elevation gain and loss.

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