After climbing Mount Princeton in the morning, and then splitting a large pizza at the Pizza Hut in Buena Vista, Brent and I drove to the trailhead of Mount Harvard. Our plan was to hike up to timberline, find a place to spend the night, and then make an attempt on Harvard and Columbia in the morning. We arrived at the trailhead parking lot at about four o’clock in the afternoon. As we were getting our packs ready, we began to hear claps of thunder, which were slowly getting louder and more frequent. The sky to the west was getting darker and darker by the minute. We decided to wait and see what the weather would do before we headed up the trail, and it’s a good thing we did because ten minutes later the skies opened up. For a solid ten minutes the clouds pelted us with marble sized hail, and then it turned into a downpour that lasted another fifteen minutes. After that the skies cleared and we set off on our trek.
It took about 2 hours to get to timberline and find a campsite. The trail seemed more like a death march than a hike because Brent and I were so tired from climbing Princeton earlier in the day. After reaching the campsite, we set up our tent next to a pile of snow and then just relaxed for an hour before going to bed. I walked to a stream about 100 yards from the tent and filled up our water bottles. Then I sat on a rock and just pondered for a while the meaning of life and God and beauty. The mountains have a way of renewing your spirit and giving you a peace that is rare in this technological age. It’s the mountaintop experiences that give us the hope and courage needed to get through the valleys of life. Whenever I struggle with doubt and fear, I think back to these experiences, and it gives me strength.
After a cold but otherwise uneventful night, Brent and I awoke at six o’clock to the sound of hikers. It was a surprise because we thought we were going to be the first ones to the summit. After a small breakfast of granola bars and sliced pineapple, we set out on our quest for Harvard. Above timberline there was a cold dense fog that had developed overnight. We knew the temperature was below freezing because we could see that ice had formed over the puddles on the trail. About an hour into the hike, the fog began to clear and we could finally see the summit of Harvard. Shortly thereafter we came to a stream that was going to be difficult to cross. Being about 15 feet across, it was slightly beyond our jumping ability, so we decided to walk upstream to find a better place to cross. Eventually we found a snow bridge to cross. It was a little scary because we heard the water rushing beneath our feet and we weren’t sure if the snow would hold. Luckily the cold temperatures kept the snow pretty solid, and we made it across without incident.
Snow on the trail became somewhat of an inconvenience starting at about 12,000 feet. The uncovered parts of the trail were nice because there were stone steps most of the way to the top. We had some trouble finding the trail in spots because the snow often hid it for several hundred yards at a time. We eventually did reach the summit at about 9:00. We had initially intended to make the traverse to Columbia’s summit, but several factors kept us from making the attempt. First of all the weather conditions were not ideal. The skies were by no means threatening at the time, but anything less than crystal clear skies could mean trouble by noon. Also from the summit of Harvard, we noticed that about half of the traverse would be across snow. The final factor was our energy level. We were both beat, and we really didn’t feel like killing ourselves to get to Columbia. It would have to wait for another day.
On our way down, Brent and I were surprised at how few people we came across. Typically we pass dozens of people on our descents, but today we only passed 4 people that were making their way to the top. Instead of attempting to cross the snow bridge again, we found some large rocks to use as stepping stones to get across the swift flowing stream. We then made our way below timberline, and somehow we went right past our campsite. By the time we realized our error, we were a good quarter mile past the site, and we had to back track. We were exhausted so we decided to rest in the tent for about 20 minutes. After the rest, we packed up the tent and headed back to the trailhead. The hike down seemed like it would never end because we were so exhausted.
We got back to the car and rested for a while. Upon starting the car I noticed that the fuel gauge read empty. This was quite surprising considering I filled the tank the day before. I was sure that someone had come up at night and siphoned the gas out of our tank, but it turned out that it was really just a busted gas gauge. Even though we didn’t manage to bag Columbia, it was still a fun, challenging, and productive day.