Mountaineering – Mt. Columbia (14,073′) and Mt. Harvard (14,420′)

Mt. Harvard (14,420 ft) Summit Nice Group Shot
On August 10th, I met with Kris and Brian to attempt Mt. Columbia and Mt. Harvard (14,073′ and 14,420′, respectively) the following day. The plan was to drive up to Buena Vista, have dinner, and then bivy until o-dark-thirty, and head for the high points.

Before I get into the details about Harvard & Columbia, I must rewind to ealier on Saturday.

Dennis & I had so much fun Mountain Biking in Canada, that we decided to give it a whirl locally. As luck would have it, a co-worker of mine, Dan, was happy to show us around. So, on Saturday,we went for a nice little ~10 mile single track bike ride around Bear Creek Lake Park.

After the bike ride, Dennis dropped me off at Kris’ house, so that I could go climb mountains. What a hectic 36 hours, for me!!!

Unfortunately, in all the excitement, I left both my camera & wallet behind…so I was stuck all weekend depending on the kindness of Kris & Brian. (Turns out, it couldn’t have happened with better company-these guys were so gracious!).

The drive to Buena Vista went by fast. Conversation flowed rapidly from topic to topic, and it was great to get to know Brian a little before the hike.

In Buena Vista, we stopped for dinner at a Mexican Restaurant, Coyote Cantina. I had a huge veggie burrito with vegetarian green chile sauce (yum!). It hit the spot. If you go, get the lemonade. It comes in a HUGE mug, and is just delish. Both the guys had burgers, if I recall correctly, and they looked really tasty if you’re into that sort of thing!

The sun was sinking low in the horizon, so we sauntered off to find the trailhead. Using directions from Roach’s book and Mtn Project, we only made a couple wrong turns, and were quickly at the campsite.

We had just the perfect amount of daylight to find the start of the trail for the morning, scope out a good bivy site, and park the car in the most ideal spot. The guys camped out in small tents, while I slept in my one person OR bivy. Needless to say, I had my bed up first!

Clare Campfire Night Before Harvard & Columbia
As soon as I zipped up the bivy, I jumped on the opportunity to construct a fire. One thing I can truly brag about is my ability to build a sturdy fire. Kris brought the wood, so I spent a couple minutes getting it going, and voila! we were all hanging about getting toasty before bed.

I stayed up until around 11pm, babysitting the last little embers, and then headed to the bivy. I managed to fall asleep sometime around midnight, and then the moon peeked her shiny face out from the branches of the pines. I woke up to bright moonlit surrounds, with a slight breeze. What a pleasant sight. But, wait, shouldn’t I be sleeping?

The next thing I knew, Kris’ tent russling sounded in the distant. He was in deconstruct mode. So, I knew it must be 3am. I waited for a good 25 minutes, till I heard him gently call for wake up. At 3:30am, I got up from my cozy bivy and shiverred in the morning air. I couldn’t quite see my breath, so it wasn’t too too cold! Excellent.

I threw a cold coffee down my throat, and grabbed my pack. I shoved the bivy (with all the contents still inside) into the truck, and then we headed off for the summit.

Climbergirl at Four AM
It was 4am! I felt alive, and thrilled to be on this adventure. My brain was a bit foggy, but the exhileration of hiking quickly brought me out of my slumber.

Around 6am or so, the sun started coming up, and by this time, we were nearly at treeline. We had passed many of the walk in campers, and I could hear them starting to stir. I took my apple out and started chomping on breakfast. Yum!

First Glimpse of Mt. Columbia (14,073 ft)
We got to a fork in the path, and we went right…which took us to Mt. Columbia.

We meant to go to Harvard first, but Oh Well! By the time we realized it, we were 15 minutes down the trail. I looked up at the scree, and thought it didn’t look bad. It was steep, but there was a trail, and it seemed totally manageable.

Columbia Scree
The scree field was still in the shade too, so the effort would keep us warm (always looking on the bright side!).

We headed up the scree, and I tried to keep a really even steady pace. Every now and then we’d slip, or knock something down, but I never felt uneasy or scared. I was happy when we reached the ridgeline and we could see Columbia. Or could we?

Mt Harvard Taken From Scree Slope on Columbia
Here’s a picture of Harvard from 3/4 the way up the Columbia Scree.

It turns out Columbia was another mile or so along this ridgeline, over many false summits. I was in a really happy mood, though, so it didn’t bother me.
Clare Approaching Summit of Columbia (14,073 ft)Clare Columbia Ridge
After every false summit, we came closer and closer, and I just knew we were going to have a great day. The sky was clear and the sun felt wonderful.

Mt. Columbia (14,073 ft) Register Signing
Kris Summit Warrior Columbia
On Columbia, we took a moment for some pictures and to sign the register- FUN! We also scoped out the view to Harvard, and what a view.

The valley below us was FULL of huge boulders, ranging from the size of one’s head to the size of one’s vehicle. To the left and above the steep boulder field, there was a sharp ridge made up of loose blocky potential bombs. I knew right away this would be the crux of the day.

Descent from Columbia

As we descended the steep slope, off Columbia’s northwest side, we headed for a grassy bench marsh. Our plan was to take this grassy spot to it’s far north side, and then meet up with the large boulder field. We would then traverse the boulder field till we met up with the steep grassy slopes midway up Harvard.

As we lost elevation, we made several small field trips, to find the best way around boulders or potentially loose scree areas. It was a time I was very aware of the motion under my footing. I was also very aware of my partners, where they were, and what path ahead would make the most sense for us to travel.

I would scout ahead, meanwhile Kris & Brian would notice alternatives and have feedback when I called back for advice. It worked really well, because as a team we were able to stay safe and well informed at all times. A few times, we would convene and discuss which way was best, and I really enjoyed this part of our journey.

Columbia Backside Rubble

We were all very excited when we exited the boulderfield and started making our way up Harvard. It was difficult work to climb another 1500 feet, when we had just worked so hard descending. However, we tried to keep a solid pace and stay hydrated.

Brian & Clare after the Columbia-Harvard Traverse
Here’s a picture of after the boulder field traverse, as we made our way up the steep grassy slopes of Harvard. We had been standing on the green marshy area above and to the right of Brian’s head, about one hour prior!

Columbia Ridge
A picture of Columbia from one of the false summit’s of Harvard. We came down to the left of the massive ridge in this picture.

Harvard turned into quite a challenge. At several moments along the summit ridge, we were confused about direction (left, right, or over the “summit”)? We couldn’t really tell exactly where the summit was, we just knew it was in front of us.

I think we went over something like 5 false summits, before the final one appeared.

And, the scrambling seemed a little closer to 4th class than 3rd class at times.

I kept reminding Brian and Kris to take their times with the rocks, and be careful not to pull too much with their hands. I took several little stops to munch on nuts & jerky. The energy really helped with the exposed bouldering. A mistake up here would prove deadly, I’m sure! Besides, the rock up on these false summits is pretty loose from the freeze thaw cycles & other weather conditions.

Along the way, I recovered a very new looking knife, alright…gotta love pirate treasure!

When we got up to the last false summit, we saw a dude with a girl. They had been clambering around looking for Harvard, and were confused about which pile of rocks was actually the summit (doh!). We shared the information we had, and they quickly scurried off. This was only the second set of people we had seen all day…

Mt. Harvard (14,420 ft) Summit

At last, we were all three standing on the summit of Harvard, and I was looking down at our route back thinking how far it looked. I fantasized about a ginormous zipline, and how nice it would be to just shoot straight back to the parking lot!

We started down Harvard, and did some 4th class moves, down the face of this huge slab of granite. Fun! Back on the trail, we navigated the last bits of scree, and after about 30 minutes were on solid trail again.

I knew it was going to be a long 6 miles back to the car, and I prepped for it mentally by taking my boots off for a quick break. I just had to get those pesky rocks out, and also tape up my little toes as they were starting to develope blisters. Drats!

Kris & Brian were happy for the break, I think they were a little more worn out than me. But, they were hiking just fine and still cracking jokes and in good spirits.

We played the Food Game for a couple hours, as we hiked, to keep our minds off the pain in our feet/knees.

The sun started sinking lower in the sky and I think we got back to camp around 6pm. A little longer than the 3-4pm estimate, but not too shabby considering!

Climbergirl on Harvard (14,420ft) Summit

The two peaks had taken us 14 hours, but it was a day full of excitement, beauty, and wonderful commraderie. Totally fun! Columbia & Harvard, excellent peaks.

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