Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  09/10/2009
Date Climbed:   09/04/2009
Author:  mspalding
 Harvard traverse to Columbia  

It was 2 hours from Denver to Buena Vista and another 1hr and 10 minutes to the trailhead. The road is not passable by two wheel cars and low clearance 4wd will have trouble. At the trail head there were 10 cars, but I only saw one group camping.

So much for my easy hanglider return plan.

The sign at the 1.5 mile point has been replaced and is easy to read.

The hike is mostly flat and always beautiful.

After an hour and a half of hiking I camped out at the Columbia/Hartford trail junction at one of many great camping areas. It was wonderful with the roaring stream and the full moon. Although critters rustled the sides of my tent several times, none were able to get into my bear bag.

The next morning I left at 6:30 am and was at the top of Harvard by 9a.

My first look at Harvard.

The sign for the Bear Lake turn off.

A picture of Bear Lake from the top of Harvard.

Even after 8am the frost was still evident.

Mountain goat hair and a mom with her baby.

At the top of Harvard.

Fortunately I met up with Ryan, Pete and Joel at the top. (Hi guys!) Each of us was uncertain of attempting the traverse to Columbia solo, but the four of us figured we could do it. Yes some big fluffy clouds had recently popped up but it didn't look that far...

Although there isn't a trail at first, you head along the ridge at the top of Harvard towards Columbia for a while. When the ridge drops away, the trail is clear and leads you around to the north side of Point 13,516.

Then the trail disappears and you are left with a dilemma. If you stay close to the ridge and follow the Roach route, you'll be picking your way through boulders. Also it is difficult to see the route from the Harvard side. This picture from the shoulder of Columbia shows the first half of the rock route.

After trying to cross to the rocks too high, we avoided a nasty chute and decided to retreat and use the grass route. It may be a mile longer but you can see the route and you can go faster. Just follow the edge from the Point down till you can turn south and head across the right hand side of the marsh to Columbia.

After the marsh you head up on the grass south to the top of the ridge then follow it west up a boulder pile to the top of Columbia.

During the whole traverse we were fearing the weather. We watched darker clouds coming, enjoyed some brief hailstorms and wondered what was next. The ridge east of Columbia blocked our view of the coming weather. After debating a bail out via Frenchman's Creek from part way up the ridge, we decided to bail out over the top of Columbia. The subsequent 1/2 hr snowstorm convinced us we'd made the right choice (it can't lightning in a snowstorm can it?).

I would never drink alcohol on a summit (okay, I don't drink at all), but here's a picture of some of my crazy compatriots. (note the shirt) Even with our breaks while we judged the weather, we made the entire traverse in 3 1/2 hours. This route would have been much more difficult without the cooperation among the four of us.

Scary clouds and thunder from across the Horn Fork Basin, convinced us it was time to go.

On your way across from the summit be sure to skip the first path down. It looks like a good trail at the top, but it becomes very steep and full of ankle biters further down. The second trail isn't great, but it is better and it is the official trail.

The route down convinced me never to try to climb Columbia via the Horn Fork Basin route. It is steep and treacherous. I fell and did a half roll once and took it slower after that. My polls were essential for safety.

Even with camping at the 3.7 mile point, doing both peaks is a long day. But it is much better than doing them separately.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

 Comments or Questions

car access
09/11/2009 13:25
That mom and her baby goat were in the same place last weekend.

Also, on the access, my two cents are that cars can get to the trailhead fine, with exception to being careful at the exposed drainage pipe. If someone was to bring a sledge, they could flatten it out and then, no problem since the rest is just a standard washboardy road. I do not think a 4x4 is necessary nor high clearance. Anyway, just my 0.02.

Car Access
09/11/2009 13:38
You may be able to get a 2wd up the road. But I didn‘t see any at the trailhead and I talked to a person who ended up parking their Subaru Legacy below.

Maybe the mom and baby goat are stuffed ones placed there for tourists...

09/12/2009 02:01
I don‘t know if that was just a rhetorical question, but yes, it can lightning during a snow storm.


A great venture!
10/03/2009 16:21
Great pics! Glad to have you and the others for the traverse, especially for my beer summit pic. 8) Good luck with getting them all!

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