Saturday, July 1, 2017

Peak of the Week: Mt. Harvard (14,420')

The 3rd tallest 14er in Colorado
Harvard at the head of the Horn Fork Basin
At 14,420', Mt. Harvard is the third highest peak in Colorado and one of the most beautiful and rugged high peaks in the Sawatch Range. Linked with Columbia Peak via a long, serpentine ridgeline, these two impressive mountains form a commanding and inspiring basin.

While Mt. Harvard is one of the highest peaks in the state, like Elbert and Massive it requires little technical skill to climb other than a sturdy pair of legs and some grit to log the requisite miles. The standard climb on Harvard is a lengthy slog of some 14 miles and gains over 5,000', making it one of the more endurance-dependent 14ers.

Another salient feature on the Harvard-Columbia massif is the rugged connecting ridge between the two peaks. This serrated ridgeline can be skirted down low for those that want to climb both peaks in a day without the necessity of tackling the ridge proper, but taking on the true ridge provides a unique opportunity to experience of the most rugged and technical lines in the Sawatch Range.

From nearby Buena Vista, find Crossman Ave in the heart of town and turn west (towards the mountains. After two miles, turn right onto CR 361 at a T intersection. Follow this for a mile to another T and follow signs onto CR 365 toward North Cottonwood Creek. Follow this for several miles on a dirt road (passable by passenger vehicles) to the trailhead just under 10,000'.

South Slopes (class 2)
Lake in the Horn Fork Basin while climbing Harvard
This classic route is the standard and easiest way to climb Harvard. It is long and scenic and one of the more enjoyable romps in the Sawatch Range. Some people chose to climb the mountain in a day, but at 14 miles turning it into a short backpack can be a great way to extend your time in the beautiful area and break the route down into more manageable lengths. Making a joint trip with Columbia can make the effort required for a backpack more worth it.

This route is fairly straightforward and follows a consistent trail all the way to the summit. There is a bit of a steep summit cap at the very top that may entail very short bits of scrambling. Otherwise this route is mostly class 1.

Harvard-Columbia Traverse (class 2)
The arduous slog is long and includes over 6,000 feet of vertical gain. You can do the climb either way but it seems the preferred route is to climb Harvard first and descend the shorter route off Columbia late in the day. Remember that this complicated ridge takes time and you must descend far below the actual ridgeline to keep the difficulty at class 2, which adds to the effort but minimizes the exposure.

"The Rabbits" traverse (13.5 miles; 5,600' elevation gain; class 5.7)
Pinnacles on the connecting ridge with Harvard
This is the direct traverse between Harvard and Columbia. It requires some hard, exposed scrambling and one short pitch of 5.7 climbing. If you are doing the traverse from Harvard to Columbia you can rappel this pitch. It is described here from Columbia to Harvard. Follow the West Slopes of Columbia route to its summit. Descend northwest along the ridge proper. Climb or traverse around Point 13,497 with some hard scrambling. Reach a notch at the base of the Rabbits and climb the short, crux 5.7 pitch to the ridge's east side. Scramble around  the remaining pinnacles on the east side and arrive at the 13,100' saddle between the two mountains. After climbing Point 13,516 you reach Harvard East Ridge. Follow this route to the summit.

Mt. Harvard lies in the Collegiate Peaks wilderness and wilderness rules and ethics apply. Remember that all routes on Harvard require a bit more effort than many other 14ers and rescues have had to be undertaken on this mountain due to overexertion.

Mountain Profile: Mt. Columbia

Summitpost page on Mt. Harvard on Harvard

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