Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mount Harvard

For the fifth year in a row, the third with both of my sons, I traveled to Colorado to do some fourteeners. Andrew was unable to take as much time off of work, so he came a little later. Sam and I flew into Denver late on a Tuesday evening. My flight arrived at 11:20 p.m. I got about an hour of sleep on the plane, my only sleep of the night. I hooked up with Sam and we took a shuttle to get our off-airport rental car. By the time I got my checked bag, caught the shuttle and did the car paperwork, it was after 1:00 a.m. Then we discovered that one of the tires had a slow leak, resulting in low pressure and it had to be filled up several times, before we finally got a can of leak plugger which we sprayed into the tire outside Buena Vista about 4:00 a.m. After following a confusing set of small county roads, difficult to see in the dark, we arrived at the Mount Harvard trailhead (North Cottonwood Creek) and started hiking about 5:35 a.m. The trailhead elevation is 9,900 feet and it gains 4,600 feet over the next 6.75 miles to the summit of Mount Harvard. The trail is very nicely engineered, taking a relatively straight, 
gently elevated course, up through the glaciated valley of Horn Fork Basin, remaining in trees and brush for about 3.4 miles 
until reaching treeline 
at about 11,500 feet. To the right, a view up the Mount Columbia massive we would come down later in the afternoon.
The ground was moist and covered in lots of downed trees and rotting vegetation, which proved a fertile laboratory for producing mushrooms. Sam, with Andrew in mind, was on the lookout for mushrooms and spied many different kinds. In particular, he found a number of mushrooms with red tops and white spots which Andrew later expressed great excitement about. 
After reaching treeline, the trail climbs another 1,100 feet over the next 1.5 miles (below, Sam with Mount Yale to his far right and Mount Princeton barely visible just above him to the right)
until a trail junction is reached for Bear Lake at about 12,600 feet. 
We found that a number of people we met at the summit had camped that night at Bear Lake (visible from much higher up, to the right, below). 
As is often the case with the fourteeners, and the distorting impact of many high surrounding mountains, we weren't sure which peak was Mount Harvard until we got relatively close. Once we determined which peak was Harvard, it was still hard to determine which part of the peak was the high point. After climbing another 300 feet of trail through talus, 
we reached a saddle, at 12,900 feet, between a 13,588 foot peak to the right and another higher peak to the left. 
Mount Harvard was very deceiving. From the Horn Fork Basin it looked like a mild, gentle nub on the horizon. As later pictures will attest, from a different angle it has a very impressive and imposing face. 
There the trail crosses a basin 
and starts up toward Harvard's south ridge. Then we angled north following the south side of the ridge, 

past a distinctive bump on the ridge which looks like the nose on a face. 
The slope eventually turns into larger and larger rocks, 
the last 45 or 50 feet being a class 3 to class 2 climb, 
depending on the route, over large boulders to the summit at 14,420 feet.  
Mount Harvard is the third tallest mountain in Colorado and the fourth tallest mountain in the contiguous United States (after Mount Whitney in California and Mounts Elbert and Massive in Colorado). Harvard is part of the Collegiate Peaks Range. Last year we climbed Mounts Belford (to the left) and Oxford (to the right), visible from the summit, also part of this range. 
Below is a picture of Mount Harvard (the peak in the center of the picture) taken last year from Mount Belford.
Mount Princeton and Mount Yale, also part of the Collegiate Peaks, are visible from Harvard. On the summit of Harvard we found a Princeton banner. 
Apparently some Princeton grads must want the name of their school on the higher summit. The hard part of our hike was about to begin. This time to another Collegiate Peak: Mount Columbia, below and center right, 2.75 miles away, across and below a rugged ridge that would tax our endurance, the subject of a later post.  
As we hiked down the ridge from Harvard, we took several backward looking shots at the rocky peak (note the people standing on top).
Note Sam walking across the side of a smaller sub-peak below, with Harvard to the back-left.
Finally, several views from the vicinity of Mount Columbia. The first picture, taken by Sam, shows me going up the summit block of Columbia with Harvard in the background. It no longer looks like a nobby little hill, but an impressive massif.
Next, as we went down the talus on the side of Columbia later in the day. Note that the relative height of the various rocks on the summit look much different than they did from the hike earlier in the day through Horn Fork Basin. 
Harvard turned out to be one of the my favorite hikes in Colorado, distinguished from Columbia, a later post, which was not as fun. The trail in is beautiful, gentle and to the point, the mountain itself has a commanding presence and offers fantastic views on all sides and the climb to the summit itself was a rock scramble, nicer than a dirt trail. 


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  2. Good luck on the advertising gig. Anyhow, those pictures look awesome! Did you rename the mountain Mt. U?

    1. I think the U deserves a mountain in its own state. Perhaps King's Peak would suffice, the tallest mountain, as the U is the King of the the state.

  3. That rocky talus stuff looks awful--toe-killer and muscle-cramper material for sure. I love the Princeton flag. Nice to know those academic types appreciate a good hike.

  4. I can't believe you did this difficult hike on such a small amount of sleep!