Monday, July 12, 2010

Friday, 07/09/10 Mt. Harvard (14,420) and Mt. Columbia (14,073)

Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia
~14 miles/6,600 vertical
From the N. Cottonwood TH
Partner: Sierra

After a quiet night sleeping in the car about ½ mile down the road from the trailhead, I took my time getting ready, waiting for it to warm up a bit and get a little lighter. Again, Rick was already on the trail, the plan being for him to hike directly up Harvard on the standard route, while I go over Columbia and traverse to Harvard, anticipating a close arrival time.

The first few miles are relatively flat and easy going and I was enjoying the warm up, as my legs were feeling the previous day’s effort on La Plata. I took it relatively easy through here, not too anxious to get to the steep slopes that lead to Columbia’s South Ridge and was enjoying Sierra’s steady, yet reasonable pace setting.

After about 40 minutes, I bumped into Rick about ~1/3 of a mile before the Columbia jct. and chatted with him for a bit. Once I got running again, I was a bit surprised by the junction, as I thought it was a bit further up, but just hung a hard right without breaking stride, as it seemed familiar. The trip up the steep West slopes was a bit of a slog on the occasionally loose terrain and the ridge seemed to taunt me, just out of reach for what seemed to be a long time. Once I made it to the ridge, I made much better progress and was only ~10 or so more minutes to the summit, which was shorter than I remembered.

I poked around on the summit, looking for a summit register, but was unable to find one. After a quick assessment of the weather and enjoying the view, I dropped off down the mostly stable talus field to the NE, aiming for the gentle and grassy terrain below. With a little bit of good route finding and a little luck (when in doubt, trend East), I managed to stay on grassy, though sometimes steep terrain. This meant dropping further down into the basin, to about 12,200 feet vs. negotiating a sea of talus and scree if one tried to avoid losing too much elevation. It took me a surprisingly long 30 minutes to drop the nearly 2k vertical into the basin, but I was taking it somewhat mellow since I was by myself, carefully route finding and not on a frequently travelled route.

After letting Sierra gulp down a gallon of water in the swift moving creek, we started up the initially steep and thickly vegetated slopes toward Harvard. The going was pretty easy and before I knew it, Harvard’s sub summits came into view and it seemed as though I would be there in no time. I plodded along up the grass, constantly debating whether or not to trend right or left as I approached the initial crags. I opted to keep right and stay on the crest of the ridge. Before long, I was making some easy 3rd class moves, aware of the exposure on either side. Sierra is always very good about scouting around and finding the path of least resistance in this type of terrain, but needed some enthusiastic encouragement from me to make it through one or two moves. We soon came to a step that was a bit exposed, but easy enough for me to work my way up. I knew Sierra could not do it and we both spent a good bit of time looking for an easier way. I found a weakness that might have worked, but as I down climbed to it, I realized that it was more treacherous and exposed than it looked from above. I was very impressed with her judgment to not attempt it despite my earlier instructions to do so when I viewed it from above. This exposed bit of scampering, combined with the snowy rocks (left over graupel from the previous day) and the nervousness of Sierra got me a bit on edge and I was wondering how we might both safely bypass the tower. If I were not with the dog, I could have continued on and it would have been fun, but I did not want to put her at risk or stress her out any further.

As if on cue, I noticed two climbers descending the ridge above and heading for a traverse to the South, beneath the tower we were on. From my perch on the tower, the talus traverse below did not look all that appealing, but it was now making sense that it is the path of least resistance. We backtracked down the ridge and I was kicking myself for opting for ascenders right vs. left, as I think it would have been more obvious which way to go.

Once we got back on track, the remainder of the hike to the summit was no big deal, just some minor scrambling (fun and optional), then a bunch of awkward boulder hopping, nothing hard, just impossible to go fast on.

Once on top, I could see some hikers below and was hopeful that one of them was Rick, but it quickly became evident that he was not in sight. I figured I would jog down the trail until I met him and decide whether or not to hike back up with him depending on how far down he was. Down and down I went, but still no Rick. I bumped into a couple at around 12,500 and they relayed a message to me that Rick had turned around. I was hoping at that point to run quickly back to the car, but I was getting tired and the trail was too technical in many spots to really cruise, so I just resorted to a casual jog, stopping at all the creek crossings to let Sierra drink. The trail on the way out seemed twice as long as the way in. Even though it was downhill, I was finding myself clocking comparable splits to my morning run up the trail, I was tired and I could not arrive at the car soon enough.


1st Bridge :01
2nd Bridge :17
Kroenke Lake jct. :18
Columbia summit 1:44:02 (avg HR 152)
Harvard summit 3:32:47 (1:48 for the traverse, but at least 20 minutes of that was messing about on the dead end tower (avg HR 143))
Finish 4:55:18 (1:22 Harvard summit to car, 140 avg. HR)

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