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Harvard Routes: South Slopes - ascent, South slopes variation - descent Columbia Route: Southwest Couloir Total Mileage: 22.55 Elevation Gain: 9,251' Vertical Ski: ~9,251' (some dry spots on road to summer TH) Ivy League Ski Team:Carl (Wesley), Mark, Eric (lost sheep), Prakash (Maverick_manley) and me (Otina, bergsteigen) with John and Ian making guest appearances on Columbia's SW couloir Honorary skier on descent from camp: globreal Snowshoe friends: Kelly (moon stalker), fepic1, Greg (summit lounger), Kiefer, Stephanie (Ridge runner), globreal, Kevin (Papillion), Sarah (Wooderson), Steve Gladback, Bobby & Katie Finn.... And the list goes on for a while!
When Steve and Kiefer organized this trip, I thought it would be a great way to meet more skiers and other winter 14er enthusiasts. That, and I really wanted a ski of Columbia, after getting Harvard last year. Of course, with some peer pressure from friends new and old, I changed my plans from 1 overnight to 2, as well as another ski of Harvard (yes, a glutton for punishment).
Day 1 - March 18:
With Kelly driving, we managed to get past the 2WD winter trailhead (Harvard Lakes), but couldn't make it up a snow-laden slope. After 4 tries, and deep ruts later, we parked just below, as Kiefer (with a birthday balloon), Stephanie and John caught up to us again. On the way out we would notice that a bunch of vehicles had gotten past this obstacle on Saturday with more melting. Beyond that there were a couple dry patches on the road, so skis remained on the back until the area near the outhouses. From there I think there were only two short dry patches to carefully across.
Kelly decided to pull a sled with some of her heavier gear (with my sausages and bacon). On the road, it seemed to work pretty well. That was until we arrived at the summer trail head. Then it seemed to be a comedy of errors with the sled falling into post-holes and falling off slopes, and rolling downhill. After some adjustments and strapping down the load, the sled worked better, but was still a pain.
The lovely trench put in by those before us allowed for fairly easy skinning up to camp. Last May the bare spots on the trail were annoying, but this early in the season, and they weren't melted out yet. We were both quite happy to find that camp was established next to the first stream crossing in the basin. That was quite the distance to cover, and we were glad we started in the late morning.
Stephanie had prepared a birthday party with cookies, cake and wine! Someone else brought sparklers. With a fire maintained by Prakash, it made for quite the evenings entertainment! More in Kiefer's report
Day 2 - March 19:
It was decided that Saturday would be for Harvard and Columbia on Sunday, as we wanted the shorter day for the pack out. So Kelly and I decided to get up a bit earlier than the group to get a head start on the long slog to Harvard. There was a trail through the woods up to the upper meadow already, so the beginning was easy. But once out in the open, and tracks were obscured by the winds overnight.
Photo Credit: Kelly
Greg caught up to us and proceeded to put in a snowshoe track straight up and directly at Harvard. It was the shortest distance, but it involved steeper slopes to get up. I had to constantly adjust my heel risers to the variable terrain. Soon after Eric and Prakash caught up to us as well, and they took off in front of us and followed Greg's tracks. Here is where it got pretty silly, as skiers can't exactly follow snowshoe tracks that contour up a steep slope with hardpan snow underneath. Eric spent more time on the ground than on his skis! I decided to contour lower, on better snow to a more forgiving slope. The next hill was no different, with skiers struggling to get up Greg's direct path.
Early on, after the sun hit Harvard's South Face, I noticed that my ski descent from last year had slid. I was immensely disappointed that I wouldn't be able to ski the same line this year. The crown of the avalanche looked impressive from a distance, so that whole face was a no-go.
Now with the approach over, and only the ascent on the peak to go, the snowshoe track and the ski track finally separated, thanks to Carl who with Mark put in a lovely switcback track up the slope. Eric remained over on the snowshoe track and looked like a lost sheep, floundering in the snow (with and without his skis on). Once the tracks converged again, I tried to give him some pointers on how to do a kick turn, as going straight up a slope doesn't always work, as skins don't always stick! This year, I wasn't able to skin within 200' of the summit, so we had to put the skis on our backs, and my ability to keep up with the group diminished. Fast on skis, slow on AT boots. Plus the wind now picked up, so the going was slow.
Photo Credit: Kelly
The last couple feet up Harvard are challenging, add in AT boots and unwieldy skis on the pack, and the difficulty increases. I had to be careful to not get the skis trapped on rocks above.
Photo Credit: Kelly
With the added slowness of skis on my back, I arrived on the summit, just as the ski team wants to go down. So I spend the absolute shortest time on a summit with skis as was humanly possible. Of course I forgot a few things, like buckling my boots down. So I ended up skiing down the peak with my boots in tour mode. Fun!
For those hoping for a nice perfect summit ski... it's still out right now. The snow isn't exactly continuous, and involved some rock hopping. To get down off the summit rocky area, some class 3 down climb moves. Being stubborn, I did this with my skis on! The look on Carl's face told me this was a bit odd to do. Oh well, I like a challenge. Amazingly Kelly captured this in a photo, but I may need to use Photoshop to make the black blur visible.
Photo Credit: Kelly - Carl watching me do crazy class 3 down climb with skis on
Photo Credit: Kelly - Carl dropping in
Photo Credit: Kelly - Me dropping in
Photo Credit: Kelly - Me trying to make turns in flat light
Once on the snow, Carl and Mark led the way from safe spot to safe spot, as we contoured back to the south slopes trail we took on the way up. We then diverted from the skin up to go into the eastern valley and ski back to camp. We beat some of the snowshoers back to camp, but not all. The flat lighting really hindered the skiers ability to read the terrain, and we ended up getting stuck in flat areas since we couldn't keep the speed up.
Out of a desire to hit some sweet powder in the lower trees, I diverted from the other skiers and angled back toward the summer trail. So some sweet tree skiing turned into untracked meadows and contouring in deep snow back to camp. Oh well, after the yucky wind scraped snow and flat lighting, I needed a good ski for the day.
Back in camp, more people had shown up and Bill and Caroline gave beta for Columbia. We had another lovely bonfire and a chance to get to know people I had only known online. I'll let Kiefer expound on this evening in his report.
Day 3 - March 20:
The last day of winter! It started off calm and seemed pleasant enough. Oh how that would change and turn into a wrestling match fighting all of us who wanted that last winter summit.
The approach from camp to the base of the Southwest Couloir, was short and sweet. Not much time to let my lungs warm up to the exertions of the day, but a little way up the couloir and I had caught up with the other skiers and was ready to go! Of course, this was where skis came off our feet and went onto our packs. Darn! There went my advantage of keeping up. Eric had been doing some good kick turns with the rest of the skiers.
Eric went up the left side of the couloir and up that ridge, and the remainder of us struggled up an unconsolidated talus slope on the right. In ski boots, this was even more annoying, and I quickly lost distance below the first group of skiers.
John and Ian were behind me until the top of the couloir, where they decided to turn around and ski down. So I was on my own to struggle against the 55mph winds battering me and my windsails (skis). The straps holding my skis to my pack were coming loose with the oppressive wind, and so my skis were flopping around and hitting the back of my arms. On the high ridge Kevin and Sarah said the winds would get worse near the low point of the ridge, then get better. They were bad now! I couldn't imagine worse! Kevin thankfully tightened the straps of my skis, as I hadn't been near anyone else for at least an hour.
As I got to the top of the ridge, after contouring up for so long (I figured being lower than ridge top would be less windy), I saw how far away the summit was. Looking back on John and Ian, I didn't know if they were still coming. Further behind them were two guys on foot, so there was no one else, except those coming down. I firmed my resolve, and put my head into the wind and fought on.
At the saddle the winds were so intense, I had to drop to my knees to stay on the ridge top. Steve G gives my some words of encouragement, and tells me the summit has no wind. This sounds great, as I just bruised my knee hitting a rock on the way down to the "safe" ground. He asks after those behind me, and I tell him what I can. Though at that moment, the winds die, and I take the opportunity to sprint up the hill.
Carl and Mark and the rest of the skiers are coming down now, and they didn't look too effected by the wind as they past by, giving words of encouragement. Too windy for photos, unfortunately. Higher up on the ridge I beg Kiefer and globreal to tighten my ski straps, as my they had come loose again. I feared one coming completely loose and sending a ski into the Three Elk Basin! The backs of my arms would be purple after this trip from my skis hitting them!
The closer to the summit, the more the winds died down, until I arrived on the frightfully calm summit. After that wind battle, it was amazing to find respite in the war. I snap a few photos and eat what I can.
Just as I'm about to depart, the two guys on foot arrive (SurfNTurf). But as the sun was out and warming my ski descent snow, I couldn't stay long. With the dry spots, and not daring to put skis on my pack anymore, I decide to leave my skins on and ford the dry spots with skis on my feet. The wind is still strong, but I no longer feel like I need to dig my whippet into the snow and drop to the ground to hold onto the ridge. I wish I would have put my skis on for the way up! It would have been faster!
Though walking on skis was slow on the way down, so slow the two guys on foot caught up to me, and kept pace until I reached my drop in zone. From there I left them in the dust, err snow.
I spied out Carl and the other skiers tracks, and I did my best to follow them on the upper hard pack. I avoided the roll-overs as much as possible and tried to ski from safe spot to safe spot, like they did before me. It was a little unnerving to be solo on the way down. I saw Kelly glissade the lower part and wait a short time for me way below. The two guys behind me, were still high up on the ridge, so I felt quite alone. I skied as quickly and safely as I could, though the snow was softening up and from the skinning and skiing down, the surface snow was quite rough. At least there were a few areas of untracked snow to make turns in!
Once below the constriction in the gully, I breathed a sigh of relief and was able to make some fun turns on the corn snow back to camp.
Back in camp, I find it partially deserted by those who got down before me. I also find out that due to an injury to a skier, globreal has graciously swapped equipment and is going to ski from camp. So after some Dynafit binding instruction, he was on his way.
Kelly and I break down camp, and head down trail. As there was no way a snowshoer can keep up with a skier on a downhill (nor is it safe to be a skier behind a snowshoer), I eventually had to take off down the trail to try and eek out as many of the uphill sections of trail as possible. Thankfully we had left far enough behind the other groups that I only had to pass others while on the wide road. The soft wet snow slowed me down on my passing attempts, but eventually I got passed everyone on snowshoes... until the dry spots in the road. Then we leap frogged until I got continuous snow for a slide almost all the way to Kelly's truck. Only about 1:40 from camp to truck. Not too bad considering the soft snow conditions, bare patches and uphills.
Note: I'll add more skiing photos as they become available. Hint - Prakash and Eric ;)
I was the first of the two guys to share the summit with you. You weren't kidding when you said you left us in the dust. Somewhere in that last photo I'm on the scree cursing everyone I've ever known. Nice work!
It only took you 1 hour 40 minutes from camp to truck and it took me 3 hours 10 minutes! Even if I hadn't had problems with the sled, it still would have taken me about 2 hours 30, or at least that's what I was hoping for. Skis are cheating.
Great report as usual.
I could not imagine battling those winds and climbing that final pitch up Harvard with skis. Both days took a lot of effort .The calm on top of Columbia was a nice reward. Pleasure meeting you and congrats on both your summits . Great report. John F.
”...some class 3 down climb moves. Being stubborn, I did this with my skis on! The look on Carl‘s face told me this was a bit odd to do.”
Carl is most definitely not in the position to judge rock skiing as odd, not after some of the stuff I've seen him ski across to get a true summit descent . To be honest I'm a bit surprised he wasn't leading the way down the class 3 rocks off the summit...
Two peaks that winter didn't want to give up... It was amazing so many people summitted on both days!
Prakash - Yeah, booting up what I did on that snow was annoying, I left it even earlier than you!
Eric - Keep practicing those kick turns, it'll get easier! This weekend I'll be working on a more ”elegant” jump turn. Mine are some combo of kick & jump...
Kelly - Cheating? I would call not having windsails on your back on Columbia, cheating
John/fepic1 - Great to meet you as well! So does being a lady skier make me a ”fnuts diamond”? If so, I like it
benners - Carl may have already done the rock skiing part. I was racing to get ready when they started. I think the look was more for the fact that I already had a nice snow-summit descent, and so I didn't need to do the rock skiing. I figure it's practice for when I have to do it for real on a new peak. Plus I was testing how well whippets replace an ice tool.
Thanks for posting. I'll be out of town until Sunday but will send you my pics then. I've some pics of John and Ian ripping it. We did try to stay on snow up the Columbia couloir but setting the booter was insanely tough. (2” crust + 1.5 foot deep sugar below). I wallowed up the first thirty feet of it and ended up skipping out on to the talus... so much better
EDIT 3/29: Added a few more pics in my report here - http://www.summitpost.org/harvard-and-columbia-winter-ascents-2011/707177
Was a pleasure getting out with everyone. Good to get a ski descent in together Otina. I'll admit I have been known to sacrifice my skis for a true summit descent. Although I usually take them off to make a class 3 downclimb! Well played.
Otina there is no fun without just a couple of sliding backs and falling downs while skinning. God that got miserable on Harvard with the steep and deep but thanks for the pointers on steep skinning, definitely came in handy. Nice write up!
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