Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mt. Harvard

Mt. Harvard (14,420')

miles hiked: 14.0
elevation gained: 5,341 feet

Pizza, beer, and showers are a nice luxury, but nothing beats the calm sigh of the wilderness: the gasp of wind in the pines, the rustle of snowmelt trickling through boulders, the conversations of birds. This is what we are up here for. This is the wild.

The Horn Fork Basin, nestled in the heart of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, is one of Colorado's special places. Though prone to crowds, the Horn Fork is still a beautiful, rugged cirque festooned with crystalline streams, high-alpine lakes, and, of course, dramatic peaks. Mt. Yale, Mt. Columbia, and Mt. Harvard protect this amazing place like tall, gray sentinels. They watch over everything with dignity and power.

Mt. Harvard is the third tallest point in Colorado behind only Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert. But it is also a bashful mountain not visible from roads or towns. Mt. Harvard's prize is reserved only for us that bother to hike into one of the dramatic basins that line its base.
We began our planned three-day backpack on Tuesday. The goal was to hike into the Horn Fork Basin and set-up a base camp the first day, climb Harvard and move basecamp to Kroenke Lake on Wednesday, and climb Mt. Yale on Thursday. Although we struggled with heavy packs on the difficult approach, we executed the first portion of our plan and established a gorgeous basecamp at 11,300'. It was easily one of the most beautiful camps we've seen yet.

The next morning we began our hike toward Harvard. The incessant trail wound its way past treeline, through the scree around Bear Lake, and onto the south slopes of massive Mt. Harvard. It was a clear, flawless morning, and the breathtaking views of the surrounding cirque was sufficent distraction from the exhausting climb.

Moonset over an unnamed thirteener in the Horn Fork Basin:

Rock formations on Harvard and Columbia's connecting ridge:

As the slopes of Harvard steepened, beautiful views of the Horn Fork Basin opened below us. The familiar shapes of other Sawatch fourteeners rose in their usual posts: nearby Yale and its sister Princeton, sharp Antero, and the distant blue outlines of Shavano and Tabeguache. It is difficult sometimes while struggling to climb in the thin air to take a moment to appreciate the drama of a Colorado skyline, but this is why we live here. And this is why we climb here.

Ella reflecting on Bear Lake with Mt. Yale in the background:

unnamed lake at the base of Mt. Harvard (Mt. Columbia in background):

Capping Mt. Harvard was a surprising summit block of angular granite slabs. The guidebook rates this mountain as class II, the same as Belford, Huron, La Plata, Elbert, etc. There might be a class II line through the boulders here, but we didn't find it. The last fifty feet were hand-and-foot scrambling that required care and technique. I could see this surprising crux catching many-a-casual climber unaware. Quite a distinction from the soft, easy trail leading to Belford's summit.

Ella picking her way through the crux:

the same photo with arrow to show Ella's position:

Me on the summit block:
the obligatory summit photos:

the view from the summit back towards the Horn Fork Basin:

Back at the tent we napped as a light rainstorm rolled by. We intended to relocate our basecamp from the Horn Fork Basin to Kroenke Lake, a move that would require over a thousand feet of elevation loss to where the two trails intersected and a thousand feet of gain back to Kroenke Lake. We realized now, with protesting weather and protesting quadriceps, that this may have been over-ambitious. We made the prudent decision instead to retreat and treat ourselves to a night in a cheap hotel (with wi-fi, hence the blogpost): the first night in a bed for over a week. Though because of this decision we may have to forfeit another summit, we agreed we could use the respite to prepare for the second half of our Sawatch adventure.

Many mountains still to come...

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