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5/27/09- hike in to horn fork basin, set up camp
5/28/09 – climb Harvard via couloir on south face
5/29/09 – climb Columbia via west couloir (separate trip report), hike out
My buddy Shawn and I decided we were going on an adventure, but had not yet made up our minds what that was going to be. So we made the obvious decision; load up the car with everything we could possibly need and/or want, start driving, and make up our minds from there. In went the mountain bikes, rock climbing gear, snowboard/ski gear, hiking gear, backpacking gear, car camping gear, and as fishing rod. Shawn's climbing gear was in Silverthorne, and as we drove up there we decided that we would base our adventure out of Buena Vista, so we started heading in that direction. We decided that we would start the morning by doing some mountain biking, and then head to the N. Cottonwood creek trailhead to repack our gear and hike in to camp. The road to the trailhead was, for the most part, a slightly rough dirt road that, save for one spot, any 2wd car could handle. There was one spot about halfway up the road where the downhill side of a culvert had washed out, which could pose a problem for low clearance vehicles. I made spotted a good line and made it up no problem with my Forester, and I would guess with careful driving you could get most passenger cars past this point, but it just depends how much you value your car.
Digging through our gear at the trailhead took quite some time, as we had quite the pile of crap in the car
We hit the trail at 3:00 and felt like a couple of pack mules with the absurd amount of gear we were carrying.
The trail was dry for approximately the first 2 miles, and then there was spotty snow for around the next half mile. After this most of the trail was snowed in, and there was a maze of bootpacks leading through the woods. The snow was soft on the way in and we did quite a bit of post-holing, but it froze while we were up there and we stayed on top of the snow on the way out. The soft snow and unclear route made for slow going as some of the trails dead-ended, others wandered aimlessly through the woods. We eventually lost the trail entirely and wound up bushwhacking through some pretty thick trees – NOT fun postholing through this crap with a 60+ pound pack with a snowboard sticking out the top grabbing branches whenever possible.
Our progress slowed to nearly a stop as we fought through the dense woods, but we knew we were nearing treeline so we just fought on until we broke out of the thick trees. We once again found the trail and hiked up to around 11,750' before setting up camp for the night at 7:00. Clouds started rolling in, and we were treated to a great sunset while I set up camp and Shawn made dinner.
I was worried that the incoming clouds would prevent a solid freeze, and thus prevent us from snowboarding tomorrow. Fortunately it cleared up around midnight; unfortunately the temperatures plummeted as the clouds left and we froze along with the snow. My alarm was set for 4:30, but it either didn't go off or I didn't hear it, because I awoke to a very bright tent and a watch reading 6:00. I yelled to Shawn that we needed to wake up and get moving, to which he replied, "I feel like a goddamned popsicle!" We ate a few granola bars, got dressed, and finally hit the trail at 7:30. Shawn was struggling a bit at the beginning of the hike due to a lack of sleep and not enough food, so we took a slow, steady pace. Since we were planning a ski/snowboard descent, we picked the couloir that we wanted to ride and broke off the standard route and headed toward our route so we could analyze the snowpack on the way up.
Our route (red) and the standard route (blue)
The snow was frozen about 6" deep at the entrance of the couloir, 10" about halfway up, and a solid foot deep freeze by the top; however, the new snow had not bonded very well. It felt like Styrofoam under our crampons, which made for easy climbing, but when I dug a pit I didn't like what I found. It was bonded well enough that I felt safe climbing it, but I certainly didn't feel safe snowboarding the relatively steep couloir. It held up to 10 hits from the wrist, a 4" slab broke with a perfectly smooth face on the 4th hit from the elbow, and another 6" slab broke clean after 4 more hits from the elbow.
Snow profile at ~13,800'
Black- surface of new snow
Red – first fracture
Blue – second fracture and interface between old snow and new snow
Green – Freeze depth
We topped out on the ridge about 150' below the summit and scrambled up the boulders towards the peak. There was one spot that was a little scary to cross, especially with skis on the pack to throw us off balance. The picture doesn't make it look as exposed as it really was, we were looking at several hundred feet of tumbling if we fell.
Shawn making his "I hope I don't die" face
After that move, it was about 50 steps until we were on the summit. We ate lunch, took a picture, and prepped for our descent.
There wasn't enough snow for a true summit ski. I take that back; I'm sure some people on this site would be able to come up with a creative line off the summit, but my snowboarding skills haven't reached that level and my balls haven't grown to that size (yet? ). We downclimbed a 40-50' section of rock and patchy snow, and then strapped in.
Since the snow hadn't consolidated to our liking, we decided that our ski descent would have to stick to picking our way through the rocks and maybe getting some good turns on the lower angle sections down lower.
Our ski route taken from Columbia the next day:
The snow made for some really fun (but cautious) turns down the mountain.
Shawn ripping down the lower portion of the mountain
We had to take carry our boards over about 100 yards of rock to connect to the next snowfield, which then required about another 100 yards of hiking to get back on the trail. Once we hit the trail, we cruised down the trail for 15 minutes and we were back at camp.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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