Mount Harvard (14,423′) & Mount Columbia (14,078′)

Adventures2 Comments

Distance 15.9 miles
Moving Time 8 hr 33 min
Summit Elevation 14,423 & 14,078 feet
Elevation Gain 5,988 feet
Route Cottonwood TH
GPS Analysis Strava

I just needed these two in order to round out the Collegiate Peaks. I had been putting them off because of the negative reviews of Columbia. Seemed like the mountain was a big piece of shit. And I wasn’t getting good beta about the traverse and whether it sucked or really sucked. But whatever. The dogs and I had a good weather day so we opted to just get after it. A couple miles in, we see Harvard poke out ahead in the distance.  The summit is to the left of center.  High point on the ridge.  Harvard is the 3rd highest in Colorado.  Already have the other two higher.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

I decided to hit Harvard then traverse to Columbia. Roach says go the opposite order. I still don’t know if that is the best route after completing it. Depends on how you want to deal with Columbia’s south slope I guess. More on that later.  As I started reaching the base of Harvard, I turned back to see where I came from.  All the way back down the center of this valley and back to the left around the curve.  You can also see Bear Lake to the right in this picture.  It was the only real left turn option up this whole route you could get confused on.

Mount Harvard & ColumbiaBack to business.  Nearing Harvard again.  The route goes up the left shoulder there.  Dogs were having a great time and enjoying the scenery.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

Until the nasty mountain goat showed up!  I saw him before they saw him so I hitched the dogs up to avoid any confrontation from either party.  He just kind of moved along the ridge watching us.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

“But Dad we would be nice and surely make friends!”

Mount Harvard & Columbia

There is a final little pitch up to the top of Harvard and we were done.  With one peak at least!  Cute little embossed rock there for my summit selfie.

Mount Harvard & ColumbiaBig views from all around.  Could see up to Leadville and down to Salida.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

Ozzy was happy to nail down another 14er.  I may have to go back and retrace some old 14ers that I have and he doesn’t so we can share the count together.  Maybe.

Mount Harvard & ColumbiaLizzy loves it to.  I guess I always think my boy is the mountain man but this girl doesn’t stop either.  She actually broke off a nail on the next section of the route and was bleeding everywhere.  Those dog nails do not stop.  So her paw was bloody but didn’t see to hurt her.  She was leaving a blood trail wherever she went.  I was more worried that she would lose some interesting amount of blood after a while and get weak.  She ended up moving well on it all day.  I was fortunate not to have to attempt to carry a dog off the mountain.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

Ozzy finds snow on every mountain.  This snow was super soft and Ozzy fell straight down into it.  So it was kind of like he “high centered” himself in 4WD terms.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

The start of the path over to Columbia was awesome.  It is great just to hike up high and follow some singletrack.  But that was where the fun ended.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

I had done my reading and thought I knew where I was supposed to go.  Unfortunately, my GPS elevation was off and I didn’t find the part of the route that said “don’t go lower than 13,600 ft”.  We dropped far below that.  Then I got worried I was too far off, so we climbed all the way back up to the ridge.  Only to find some shit that I couldn’t traverse.  Spent a lot of effort there.  Finally saw some folks and dropped all the way back down to nearly where I was before to link up with them.  They didn’t know the route well enough either but they were staying low and had found a few cairns which is always a good sign.

Mount Harvard & ColumbiaOnce we had cleared the gully, I decided to make for the high line again.  Ended up going up to the ridge again and finding that I couldn’t proceed without equipment.  Fuck me.  I just did it again.  That was one of those dumb mistakes that you shouldn’t repeat in the same hour but I did.  I was bonking.  I needed a clear minded pacer.  Finally, we gave up and dropped back down again only to find that same group meandering along.  I stayed with them for 20 minutes out to get my senses back then left them once I finally cleared all the obstacles and saw a straight path to the summit of Columbia.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

After wasting probably 90-120 minutes on that crossing, I was at the top of Columbia.  I felt pretty spent.  Like ultra race tired and bonky.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

Looking back at Harvard, I felt some accomplishment.  I was happy to have that checked off the list so that I don’t have to repeat that one.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

Lizzy didn’t care.  I know she was tired and hungry by this point.  These dogs follow you through your mistakes and don’t complain one bit.  The best partners you can have.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

We stopped at K’s back in Buena Vista for refueling.  The dogs ate some hot dogs and got their complementary doggie cones to help them bounce back from their own bonk.  They were starving.  I misjudged the timing and amount of food I brought for them.  Sorry guys.

Mount Harvard & Columbia

I have no pictures of the descent down Columbia because my phone was about dead and it was raining.  We had seen the clouds coming for us and they delivered.  But there wasn’t any thunder or lightening attached so we just made due and took our time down the steep slope.  If you have been on the Leadville-side of Sherman, this is worse.  Like straight dirt down a 50 foot section with no rock to break on.  Then repeat. It sucked.  And you can see the bottom and it is way the hell down there.  We just kept moving, falling, laughing, and maybe cursing.  You can see some of it in my video below.

All in all, it wasn’t my best day in the mountains. Made a few mistakes on that traverse. But we made it and I will be wiser for that. Glad to get this monster off my back. Nearly out of peaks nearby. Gotta start heading further west to continue the mission of getting all 55!

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  • mtnrunner2

    Great photos, nice day. I love that trail and the alpine basin, but the slippery slopes coming down Columbia could use some stairs and a railing.

    If you like going off-course, try South and North Arapaho. The footing gets *worse* the lower you go off the ridge. Exciting!

    • I need someone to take me to Arapaho sometime. Never been.