Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  07/12/2009
Date Climbed:   07/11/2009
Author:  emcee smith
 The traverse from hell, and the armpit of 14ers (Columbia)  

Harvard and Columbia

Hike in approximately 3 miles
Start from camp: 5:40am
Harvard summit: 8:30am
Left Harvard: 9:00am
Columbia: 12:36pm
Return to Camp: 3:25pm (including about 1 hour of rest)
Packed camp: 3:59pm
Return to car: 5:24pm


This hike was brutal. We did well up to Harvard, but the traverse was a huge undertaking. Although I heard the advice to drop lower than you think, we stayed high and traversed across a talus field. Once we could see the high traverse, we elected to drop very low into the basin and come up the grass slopes to Columbia. If I had paid more attention to trip reports (and stayed on the grass the whole time), I think we could have saved approximately 1 hr on the traverse by going way low. Since we had a dog with us, the higher traverse would have been difficult for us, but I think that either route would take about the same time.

The other guy in our group wasn't feeling well on the traverse. It is a horrible feeling to be on the wrong side of a peak from the tent/car. Very fortunately for us, the weather never came in above us, although we could see dark clouds all around. I was pushing as hard as I could, and by the time we got back to the summit of Columbia, we were beat.

The hike down from Columbia was steep, loose, and long. It seems that a lot of folks dropped off early into gullies. Here the research helped, as we stayed on the ridge to the point where it turns east, then saw the trail coming down the ridge. I thought that the trail was predictable. There were solid rocks, loose dirt, and scree, and it seemed that I was never surprised by what I put my feet on.

My take is that one needs to be very fit for this traverse, and unless you are a speed demon, need to be on your way by 9am with a confident step and a sure route. I think that we dropped down and had to regain about 1,700' to regain Columbia. Perspective, that is about 3 times the elevation regain from Grays to Torreys. I would not recommend this as a first (or second, or third) 2 peak traverse.

I didn't have good photos on the traverse, but this maps shows our route in orange, where we should have gone in green, and approximately the higher traverse


Coming up the basin from camp, below treeline. The trail was wide and fairly gentle to here

Climbing up and over the first rise, obviously the trail is rocky here, but still a good trail.

Top of the rise is the saddle in top center. Up through the snow, and now we are on the final slope up to the summit

Looking up toward the ridge, a hiker (Steve) in the saddle

Near the top, about the only real snow to cross

The final pitch. These are people size rocks that provide very good scrambling. Steve is in there somewhere

Close up shot of hiker near the top

After a brief rest on the summit, starting down the ridge toward Columbia

Looking down the ridge

Coming off the hump

Down a dirt gully

And traversing slightly below the ridge

Our point of wrong turn. We should have gone down left out of the picture on the grass, but rather traversed just below the snowfield. This choice cost us about 1 hr.

After coming down ridge on the right (from quite high up) and then down the grassy area into the snowfield

After coming around on the grass just below the rocks, and starting up the slopes to Columbia. Fatigue definitely kicking in.

Looking back from part way up Columbia. Our route in orange. We should have stayed more on the green route. The 1hr mistake for us

Coming up the slopes to Columbia. Not difficult, other than the fatigue.

Pausing below the summit. From this point, we traversed over to the east ridge, then came up

Near the summit, about noon, keeping a close eye on the weather. Again, extremely lucky with the weather

Nearing the summit of Columbia

From the summit, looking back into the Harvard trail. Pictures don't do it justice how steep it is, and how demoralizing knowing that you are about to go (nearly) straight down to get back

Relaxing on top. We were dog tired; the dog was just tired.

Starting to come down. Good trail that will lead down a ridge and not into a gully. Traverses a few gullies, but look for a traverse exit (it is always there)

Looking up from the bottom. Again, the photos don't do it justice

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Your Title is....
07/12/2009 14:27
PERFECT! I used munirider‘s and Aubrey‘s TR to help guide us down Harvard over to Columbia because it was hard to see down to the drainage from so high. I am glad we dropped so low, but then again the elevation gain to the 2nd summit was HELL, perfect description!


Thanks for posting
07/12/2009 17:44
This one definitely needs more beta for first-timers. Having done this one twice, I certainly agree with you on all substantive points. Fatigue (unexpected) is your worst enemy approaching Columbia, but the absolute worst is the descent off of Columbia, especially if you bail too soon. Congrats on the hardest duo central Colorado has to offer!


07/13/2009 21:41
We did that earlier this year and I was afraid to bring the dog. How did your dog do overall?

emcee smith

07/13/2009 22:17
The dog was my neighbor‘s, so my advice is a bit 3rd party (Note that she is 7 years old). She did well enough on the hike, but her pads were raw by the time we were done. Booties, or much trail experience would be needed. She needed a few boosts to get up to the summit of Harvard and off the very top onto the traverse. Coming off Columbia seemed to bother her for some reason, probably the same as us, tired legs and knees. Once we got back below tree line, although still tired, she seemed better, probably due to the lack of rocks on the trail.


07/14/2009 19:26
Planning to take this little trip on Thursday. Debating whether to do both peaks. If I do both of them, your report will be very helpful.


Second that
07/27/2009 16:40
I will stress over and over again - if you‘re doing to drop, you better feel you‘re going WAY out of your way initially, otherwise you haven‘t kicked out enough. Just look for grass!

Good work on a tough day!

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