Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,420 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,073 feet
Date Posted:  08/09/2010
Modified:  12/03/2010
Date Climbed:   07/29/2010
Author:  Markwise
 Chicagoans on Harvard/Columbia Traverse  

Spent a lot of time reading routes and TR's for the Harvard and Columbia combo, so we were pretty sure we knew what to expect. We set out for the TH at 3pm from Frisco, it was my friend Matt and I, plus my father and 5-year old son. We grabbed some Subway in Leadville and ate it at the trailhead. We spent about an hour and a half hiking in 2 miles or so to about 11000 feet and found a nice established campsite just off to the left (south) of the trail. Had a nice fire that night despite the wet ground conditions.

Matt and I set out at 4am that morning for Harvard. As we ascended through Horn Fork Basin we had moments of disappointment that we couldn't see this beautiful basin in the sunlight. That disappointment quickly left as we were treated to a sunrise over the eastern slopes of Harvard.


It looked like the sky had been lit on fire. The hike up Harvard went easily on the well-established trail and we summited at 7:46am, just under 4 hours from camp. The last 50 feet or so getting onto the summit block posed a few challenging moves, but it went well.

The traverse I'll describe in greater detail through my photos below. We tried to take a thorough account of our trip to Columbia. We hiked at a contour of 12900 after descending from Harvard. The traverse took nearly 5 hours, mostly due to our slow pace through the talus.


Clouds were surprisingly kind to us on Harvard and for most of the traverse over to Columbia. We'd read the dangers of being on the east side of the Harvard-Columbia ridge and this is so true. You have no warning of the storms coming while you're on the "dark side of the moon" as it would seem. We had darker clouds finally rolling in as we were about 500 feet from the summit of Columbia. We had no thunder or lightning signs yet so we made a push to Columbia's summit, made it, spent about 10 seconds up there, and quickly descended as we finally heard thunder in the area. Got rained on for a good 30 minutes on the descent from Columbia.


Saw only one other group doing the traverse to Columbia. Ran into a group of 15 on their way up from Frenchman's Creek to Harvard. Ran into another pair of hikers on their way up to Columbia (in the storms!?!?!) as we descended.


Trail up Harvard and through Horn Fork Basin is very well established and easy to follow. There is one trail intersection along the North Cottonwood Creek approach to be aware of. The descent from Harvard is well-marked to about 13450. This is at a point where your options are to ascend on or over the 13500 point or to descend the grassy slopes way around it which is what we did. After this point there is no trail to speak of until the summit of Columbia. The descent down Columbia is somewhat clear. As many TR's have pointed out, DON'T DESCEND TOO EARLY. Follow Columbia's south ridge until a clear descent trail is found following a western arm that takes you more gradually down into the Horn Fork.


3:53 from camp to Harvard's summit
5 hrs Harvard to Columbia
2:50 from Columbia to camp


I used my Nokia N800 tablet with Maemo Mapper to put together a GPX file. Please feel free to download it and use it as you see best. At the least, it can give someone an approximation of the route we decided upon for traversing up to Columbia.
Download here:

This shot is a Google Terrain map of the track file, gives you an idea of what's included:

This shot is from Google Earth and gives you a view looking to the east from above Harvard's summit. This shows the area where we hit the grassy meadows on Harvard's East Slope. It also shows where we decided to traverse around Point 13500 sticking to the grass, rather than bouldering on or up and over the Point.

This shot is from Google Earth and shows the challenging traverse area that leads you up to Columbia. We mostly stuck to the contour around 12900 feet. The route-finding was easy once you hit the area along the Rabbit Ears ridge.


Early morning shot of Mt. Yale from the Horn Fork Basin

A shot of the great trail around 13,000 in the upper Horn Fork Basin

Great look at the early morning light over Mount Columbia

Early morning light hitting the Horn Fork Basin, Yale, and Princeton

A slight glimpse of some of the more difficult rock near the summit of Harvard. This pic by no means sums it all up, but hopefully it does at least show that this isn't just a class 1 trail to the summit.

Myself (markwise) on the summit of Harvard at 7:50am. Great time for photos.

Yale and Princeton and the southern Sawatch Range from Harvard's summit.

Just above 14000 feet on the descent along Harvard's eastern ridge. Several stretches of talus are found as you descended this long ridge.

As you get down near 13600 feet things begin to mellow out on the descent from Harvard. The trail from Harvard follows the ridgeline till the point where you can see the rocks thicken just below Point 13500. That happens to be where the clear trail seemed to end. That is where we decided rather than ascending up and over Point 13500 amongst the rocks we'd walk the easy grass slopes around the point down to near 12900. You can see this maneuver in my GPX file above.

This is the first of several pictures we took around the primary traverse area. This is taken from around 12900 at the point of decision. Here one must decide to either contour below the Rabbit Ears ridge at around 12800-12900 or to descend low into the basin near 12200-12300.

A zoomed in look at the Traverse from the same vantage point as the previous pic (#11).

A look to the right (west) from the previous vantage point. We found the most difficult part of the remaining hike was in deciding how to get from our location there to the ridge itself. If one stayed at 12900 they must traverse across loose dirt and rock in several steep gullies. We ended up descending about 200 feet and then climbing up the talus rock to 12900 again.

One more look from the previous vantage point. This gives a pretty good look at the narrow gullies one must traverse to get to the talus slopes leading around the traverse to Columbia.

This is video I took from the vantage point of the previous pictures, trying to give another look at the terrain ahead.

This is a stich of several photos as well as our approximate route taken along the traverse. Though we moved slowly we were quite pleased with our chosen route. We found it easy to follow (if you move well through talus boulders) and would gladly do it again and quicker with better talus experience.

This is closer up on the dark rock of the first talus slope. This stands out noticeably in pics 12-14. As aforementioned, if you like talus, then this can move quickly. Route-finding was really never an issue through here for us.

This is video from about 15% of the way across the traverse area to Columbia. Gives you an idea of what things look like in there and how we chose our route ahead.

This is farther along now along the 12900 contour. One item of note is that we never experienced any exposure along this traverse. Much of it was on level terrain as we simply hopped from boulder to boulder.

When we reached this point of the traverse we had to decide between trudging straight ahead and up the somewhat steeper rocks directly in front of us .. OR .. head left about 100 feet and ascend this slope via a grassy green arm heading up to the next shelf ahead of us. The latter was our choice and went smoothly.

This is above 13000 now on Columbia's north side. To the east of this spot is a small pond. We headed left of the snow visible in this shot and ascended the grassy slopes.

On the grassy slopes looking up at Columbia. This terrain was easy-going.

This shot skips forward now to the descent on Columbia's south side. Weather forced us to move quickly from Columbia and we missed out on any summit shots. This is one of the gullies one should *NOT* descend from Columbia.

This is another shot of a gully south of Columbia that one should *NOT* descend, despite the presence of a trail here.

This is on the proper trail still. A cairn can be seen ahead in the middle of the photo.

This is video of what the scree trail looks like on Columbia's west side. Not so much fun.

This is halfway down the difficult scree descent of Columbia. From this point the route continues to descent to the right and ends up near the rock outcroppings by the trees below.

This shot is now by the rock outcroppings seen in #23. This is just before the trail enters the trees. At this point you are only 10 minutes or so from rejoining the Harvard trail in an obvious intersection below.

Happy trails and enjoy this long, arduous and beautifully scenic hike!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

excellent report
08/10/2010 21:55
thanks bro for the report... i'll put your gpx file to the test in few weeks... long day huh? 12 hr+


My first time scrambling/bouldering
08/10/2010 23:37
Hi nomadelmundo, I was the other half on this trip (Matt). This was my first time scrambling/bouldering as well as my 2nd and 3rd 14er, so I kept our pace a little slower. If you have done scrambling/bouldering before, you can probably do our traverse path quicker and under 12 hours. It was nothing real technical, just me learning proper foot placement and how to move from boulder to boulder. It was a killer time though!


long day
08/11/2010 13:50
@nomad Hope the route serves you well! Long day indeed. Didn't really feel it until we hit our camp, loaded the big packs, and had to slog the last 2 miles out.


rarely comment on trip reports
08/11/2010 23:52
but this is exactly what I've been looking for. Thank you so much for all the detail you put into this trip report. It will help me greatly on my traverse attempt next week. Well done, sir.

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