Peak(s):  Mt. Harvard  -  14,424 feet
Mt. Columbia  -  14,075 feet
Date Posted:  07/19/2021
Date Climbed:   07/18/2021
Author:  Peaks4Days
 Harvard-Columbia Knife Edge Attempt   

On July 18, 2021, my newly-engaged fiancé, Molly, and I were doing the Harvard-Columbia combo (Harvard first, then South to Columbia) when we came across the craggy section in the middle. I'd seen guides on this generally advising to go around, but seeing as we were still early in the day and the weather was looking good, Molly and I decided to try out the ridgeline traverse to see what the hype was all about.

To quickly summarize the ridgeline - the first half is generally good rock with well defined handholds and ledges. Just past the middle of the traverse there is a sheer granite wall - to get past this one can either:

1) Go on the tops of the rocks, which is likely Class 5,

2) Descend to the base of the granite wall and then re-ascend the ridgeline on the other side,

3) Say "screw it," descend all the way to the "standard" trail and just continue from there.

In the end Molly and I chose the later option, because the ridgeline on the South (closer to Columbia) side of the granite wall looked to be sandy and not as good quality as the North (closer to Harvard) side. As such, this report focuses on the North half of the ridgeline.

Here is a map of our route with annotations of the pictures and features that will be highlighted -

AllTrails map with photos and features noted

To get to the ridgeline, we turned right/west off the main trail, gained a small knob, then started down and across the ridgeline. Here's two photos of the ridgeline taken from the North, one without notes and the other annotated with a description of our route.

For reference, the annotated photos have solid lines and dotted lines. The dotted lines are rough approximations of the route if it crosses on the other side of the rock and wouldn't be visible otherwise.

Ridgeline seen from the North, looking South to Columbia. West face of the ridgeline visible.
Same photo but zoomed to the ridgeline and with annotations.

Descending the knob was not too tough. The route was steep, but the rock was very solid and stepped.

"First Descent." Coming down the knob. Molly is visible just below the crest.

Once down the first steep descent, the ridgeline was actually pretty simple for a bit, with very good rock. For the most part, the route goes on the East side of the ridge but crosses over the West a few times. The first crossover occurs shortly after the initial descent to go around a small fin, but crosses back to the East side pretty quickly.

"Mid-Ridge Looking South." The rock here is very solid and formed nice ridges we could walk along. Class 4 stuff to come noted in orange.

After getting across the first slab, there was a small fin to climb down to stay near the top of the ridgeline.

"Second Descent." Coming down a small fin to stay on top of the ridgeline.

After descending the fin and continuing along the ridgeline for a short bit, we came across an obstacle. Another slab/tower extended from the ridgeline, and we could either go down a sandy gully to avoid it, or go over it and see what was on the other side. Molly chose to descend the sandy gully, while I continued across the tower.

"Mid-Ridge Looking South." Taken just before Molly and I split ways, with her going down the sandy gully and me going high along the towers.

At the top of the tower, I had to cross over the the West side to find a route down it - the next few moves I'd definitely characterize as Class 4. After awkwardly (and carefully) putting a leg over the edge of the tower to get to the West side, I descended for a few meters, then saw a route going up and along the West face. Once on the West face, the route has some serious exposure. From here, the the route skirts up the side before getting to the top of the ridgeline again, requiring another cross over back to the East face.

"West Face Crossover"

Once back on the East face, there is a small "knife-edge" for maybe 15 feet or so. I found the best way to maneuver along this was to hang down, grabbing the top of it with my hands and putting a good amount of weight on my hands since there were only marginal footholds. Once at the end of the knife-edge, another tower rises along the ridgeline. From here, it became apparent that continuing on the top of the ridgeline would require keeping at the tippy-top of the rocks with Class 5 moves, as there were sheer drop-offs on either side. I chose to avoid this option, and instead descended back down the East face to rejoin Molly.

I backtracked a bit at this point to find Molly navigating the sandy gully route. While my route had had Class 4 climbing, it was at least solid rock. To contrast, Molly seemed none-to-happy about the sandy gully. From here, we continued along the side of the ridge, maybe 10 yards or so below the actual top. However, we eventually came to the sheer granite wall that I had noticed from the knife-edge. Since we were not going to do the Class 5 moves on top of the granite wall, we had to descend a bit to the wall's base.

Once at the base of the wall, we could either re-ascend the ridgeline to keep going along it, or continue descending down another gully into a rockfield and rejoin the standard route. Ultimately we chose to descend to the rockfield and continue along the standard route because the rock on the other side of the ridgeline looked very sandy.

"Rockfield Looking Up." Down in the rockfield, looking up at the remaining ridgeline South of the granite wall. Notice the sandy rock.
A look at the West face of the ridgeline. With annotations.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 6 7 8 9 11 12

Comments or Questions
Nice photos!
07/19/2021 22:51
We also climbed this traverse yesterday, possibly just ahead of you. We really enjoyed this and were able to stay at or just below the ridge maybe ~85% of the time. Like you, we dropped below the granite wall because that thing looked insane. But we did re-ascend immediately after and eventually ended up climbing through the nasty gully (i.e., rock chute) just below that last big rock pinnacle. Fun times!

Rock quality?
07/20/2021 09:37
I'm wondering if, in your opinion, this is a worthwhile Class 4 route? I'm always looking to do more fun scrambles!

Well done!
07/20/2021 09:38

I remember seeing two people ahead of us on this route! Glad to hear you made it over the south end of the ridge.

Rock Quality
07/20/2021 09:40

I definitely enjoyed the north half of it that we did, and there are enough variations that would make it interesting. However, going over the top of the granite wall I think would definitely be Class 5, even though it did look like solid rock. You might want to ask pbergmaier for info on the southern half of the ridge since he did that and I didn't.

07/20/2021 18:51
Hoping to get out there soon myself, thanks for the beta!

07/21/2021 01:13
Peaks4Days, we were actually a group of 4, however there was another group of 2 not far behind us so perhaps that is who you saw.

123tqb, south of the granite wall you still have to climb up a loose gully around the final large rock pinnacle, but the most difficult climbing is behind you. I do think it's a worthwhile class 4 route, albeit a bit long (but still fun). Like I said above, we stayed on or just below the ridge about 85-90% of the time and didn't have any major issues keeping the climbing to class 4 or lower.

07/23/2021 15:45
I'll keep all that info in mind!

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