Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  09/28/2008
Date Climbed:   08/10/2008
Author:  Andy_Lyon

 Harvard from Frenchman‘s Creek  

In August, a snowfield may really be an ice field, covered by a small layer of snow. That's my important take away from our trip up Harvard and Columbia from Frenchman's Creek.

There are no massive cairns like the North Cottonwood Creek route, but no crowds either.

We took the 4-wheel drive road to the wilderness boundary. If it's dry, I think a careful driver could take a front-wheel drive quite a ways in but the road looks prone to wash-outs so think twice if you're two-wheeling it. (I've taken an Accord to the North Cottonwood trailhead but admittedly got lucky on the weather and the condition of the road.)

The end of the road is a somewhat boggy and buggy area so if you're planning a car camp you may want to stop a bit shy of it. From there a pleasant hike gets you to a nice campsite at timberline. The trail to Harvard crosses the creek just above this spot. If the water is high there's a spot in the willows just above the main crossing that's narrow enough to jump.

The trail climbs above the valley floor (which is good since the valley is entirely covered by beaver ponds) and is well-marked by (small) cairns. A false summit of Harvard is visible but the actual summit is out of sight. After you gain the saddle on the Harvard Columbia ridge you can see the trail descend to cross a scree field below the false summit. It's well marked. You may be tempted, like me, to say "I'm not giving up the altitude I just gained" and stay on the ridge. For me, this was a mistake. After some backtracking and descending to the aforementioned scree field, the trail gains a small saddle between the false summit and the summit.

It was a gorgeous day and we kicked back on the summit for an hour, considering whether to attempt the ridge to Columbia. One of my 14'er book shows that as the route though people we met suggested it has one or two very difficult spots. If, as others suggest, you are going to drop down into the Frenchman's creek side, rather than do the ridge, study your topo maps and don't drop down any further than you have to. As mentioned above, the valley flood is all beaver ponds and at the head of those is a small waterfall. We saw a couple on top of Harvard and they were just starting to struggle up the Columbia side of the valley a couple hours later when we were going back to camp.

We decided to go up Columbia the next day, following a faint trail on the left hand side of the valley (you don't have to cross the stream though there appears to be a trail fork near the head of the valley). You can see a series of hillocks leading to the summit ridge and we generally followed those, finding cairns here and there but mostly picking our own way. We were on top in less than two hours from our camp.

Now about that snowfield. It looked steep enough to glissade but not too steep. Once again, a misjudgment. After making a single sloppy turn, I discovered that I was on a snow covered ice cube and my feet went out from under me. My trekking pole might have served to arrest the slide, had I shortened it in advance. Instead my ineffectual pole plant glanced off the ice and knocked the pole out of my hand. Sliding faster toward the rocks below I was saved by the tip of a rock sticking out of the snow. I snagged it and avoided the bruising and/or breakage awaiting me at the bottom. A slow and undignified spider walk to the edge of the field left me with a wet butt and a determination not to try skiing without skis, again.

Nature note: perhaps due to the abundance of water in the valley, there was a great variety of wild flowers in this valley – even more so on the Columbia side than the Harvard side.


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