Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,424 feet
Date Posted:  07/28/2012
Date Climbed:   07/27/2012
Author:  DavidLeVan
 We made it up Harvard, but Columbia was not meant to be   

After eating burgers at K's in Buena Vista, my 13-year-old son Will and I (along with Sadie the dog who, unfortunately, did not get a burger at K's) took our 1998 Honda Accord up to the North Cottonwood Trailhead. Our low clearance vehicle made it up very easily, although there is a little washboarding along the road, and we heard a number of rocks clang the underside of the car as we drove the road. We made it to the trailhead in under 30 minutes.

We left the trailhead at 1735 with the intention of camping close to the Harvard/Columbia trail split in hopes of climbing Harvard and then crossing the traverse to summit Columbia the next day. After reading the TR, we knew that it would be a long day even with a campsite 3.5 miles into the camp.


We reached the Great Bridge at 1825, the big stream at 1915 and then found a nice camp site right below the Y at 1955, which was none too soon because it was getting a little dark and rain was threatening.

The next morning we began our ascent at 0500, still very dark so we navigated slowly with our headlamps until they were no longer necessary.


We made it past the willows in the basin to the first big stream above treeline by 0525, and we reached the Bear Lake sign at 0615 with the sun beginning to hit the unnamed peak in the background.


Great morning views looking back at Bear Lake, Yale, and Princeton.


After a quick breakfast, we kept moving, getting past the well-cairned talus field by 0705 and then continued to the ridge above it. The talus field is quite well marked. The cairns and the trail maintenance is very helpful. Morning shadows are cool.


We saw a number of mountain goats on our climb. I'm not sure I would pick 13,000+ as my place of permanent residence, but to each his own.


We reached the ridge between Harvard and the unnamed peak by 0750 and then managed to scramble up the very top to reach the ridge by 0830, 3.5 hours after we started. We thought with our early start that we would be the first to summit, but one hiker was coming down and another group of boy scouts had come up from Pine Creek. Here is a picture of Will and Sadie close to the top. The scramble at the very top was not too bad. We took it slow heading up, found a place to boulder up and made it. I think Sadie had the easiest time making it up the mountain.


Here are the obligatory summit pictures. Of course the views are remarkable. Here is Sadie at the top.


Here are the two of us.


This ascent marks our ninth 14er.


The hike was more challenging than we had expected it to be, and already the sky was full of clouds. Here is Will looking at the traverse to Columbia and all the clouds in the sky at 0830.


Two other groups had already decided to forgo the traverse because of the clouds, and after deliberation, we decided to do the same. The mountain will certainly be there in the future (in fact, in the far and distant future after we are all gone, it will still be here) so we decided to save Columbia for another day. It was disappointing. This is the third time we have turned around on a 14er climb, but it certainly won't be our last. I keep reminding myself that there are no easy fourteeners.

As we descended the clouds broke, and I was quietly kicking myself for our decision, but the blue skies were temporary. The clouds came rolling back in and a steady rain for quite awhile as we were heading down the mountain. I realized that even though there was no lightning, I couldn't imagine how challenging it would be to make that traverse in the rain and then try the Columbia descent with rocks covered in water. Yes, Columbia will have to wait. We would have had a much more challenging day had we attempted that traverse in that weather.

We left the summit at 0930 and cruised back down to our campsite by 1130. We took some time eating a little lunch and then breaking camp as the rain began to fall. We left the camp right below the Harvard Columbia trail split at 1230 and made it down to the TH at 1355.


Even without the traverse and the ascent of Columbia we were pretty spent and ready to be done. Of course, we had to stop again at K's for a little more food and then headed back to the cabin. Looking back at the mountain as we headed south, the entire range was covered in dark threatening clouds. When we do this again, we need a lot of clear blue sky in order to make both peaks.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Image #11
07/28/2012 20:41
Classic. Congrats to you both and here's to many more in the future!

07/28/2012 21:26
Congrats to the two of you on another successful climb. We had to pass on that traverse too a few months ago, so kudos for being smart and safe. Looking forward to more in the future!

Image #10
07/28/2012 21:54
The look on his face says it all. You're lucky to have a son with such enthusiasm for the mountains!

And you've got a gorgeous dog. If I ever run into you guys in the mountains, you better make sure she's leashed up so I don't get any ideas about taking her

I know the feeling!
07/28/2012 22:15
My son and I ended up kicking ourselves for jumping the gun and deciding not to bag Oxford last month because of sketchy looking clouds that ended up burning off and making for a clear day..but Belford was tough enough. Congrats on bagging Harvard though, heading up there next weekend to try and get both summits. Thanks for the report, gives me a good idea of the time frame through each stage of the hike.

Good decision...
07/28/2012 22:16
on turning back. When we climbed Columbia it was misty/rainy but no lightning either. However, when we stepped onto the actual summit, we heard a loud ”electrical” buzz that totally freaked us out and we left in a hurry. You're right, that mountain will still be there.

07/30/2012 14:31
At least now you can do Columbia by a better route.

Good, smart decision
07/31/2012 02:39
I did Harvard/Columbia last weekend, and it was a bitch. It's a very difficult route to Columbia after Harvard, and with wet weather, you certainly made the smart choice. Columbia, as you've probably read, is really hard because of the lack of a trail, and it's a LOT LONGER/FURTHER than it appears. Coming back up (and backpacking for a fresh start) is the better way to do Columbia in my opinion, especially with a younger but amazing mountain climber. Harvard is a great mountain with a fabulous trail; Columbia not so much. Congrats on your accomplishments!

Don't feel bad
07/31/2012 20:57
Harvard & Columbia together is a long day any way you slice it. You're not the first to turn back after Harvard. Congrats especially to Will and Sadie!

Weather up top?
08/02/2012 14:45
My daughter and I are considering Harvard or Yale next week. What was the mmorning temerature up there? IO'm coming from hot & humid S.C. so I want to make sure I have the right gear. We plan to hike in spend the night and summit next day.

Response to khikel about weather on top
08/04/2012 01:46
As you know, the mountains can be cold. We always bring pants, an extra pair of socks, a number of dri-fit under layers, a heavier pullover, rain jacket, gloves, and a stocking cap. At times, we've had to use all the layers, depending on the weather. You never know. Other times we're in short sleeves most of the day.

We began the Harvard hike at 5:00 AM and wore most of our layers until we began walking and got warmed up. I don't know the temperature when we began, but it was cold. I subscribe to the philosophy of ”It's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” Especially when I'm responsible for my son in the mountains.

Hope you have a great time in CO. Both Harvard and Yale are great hikes. Yale is very doable in one day with a child; Harvard is too, but it is quite a bit a longer. They are two of my favorites.

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