From Horn Fork Basin via Mt Harvard summit
Saturday August 27, 2005
My “marathon” continued as I made my way all the way down to tree line from the summit of Mt Harvard with lots of people heading up and I couldn’t help but think that with all these people on their way to that small summit that there would have to be a bit of “put and take” in order for all to achieve the top. I was way glad that I had started early (4:40AM) and gotten there and back without having to negotiate the trail near the summit with all these people heading for the same exact spot.
Anyway………while hiking up I had seen a thinner trail heading off to the right just as I was nearing the opening at tree line and just as the sun was coming up so I took note of it as it looked to be the trail heading to Mt Columbia. Now going back down it was to my left and I kept going ‘til I found it again and started off through the trees where many empty campsites were located. I tried to pick the trail that appeared to be “most traveled” and my approach was correct as after a few minutes of hiking the trail came upon a large rock outcrop to the left and exited the forest. Here was a small rock field and I was then able to see cairns and began to climb up out of the woods and onto the mountain itself.
At first the climb isn’t real steep………however, it then became quite steep and once out of the rock field I found myself on a scree-filled ascent going straight up the slope as I couldn’t see any other way to go. There was a group of about eight people in front of me here with about five people now coming up from the woods as well. I soon began to make my way around these eight people and was on all fours clawing my way up to what I thought would be a grassy ridge to my right………….wrong!!
Although the trail leveled-out a little at a small grassy area, I now saw that the trail continued right up the face of the slope and there would be no ridge going this way. I was now with the last person from the eight person group I had passed (Joanne) and we hiked together briefly as she was obviously more driven than the others to summit this mountain, as was I.
The weather was now becoming a factor as dark clouds moved in from both the east and the west and the sun went away with the temperatures dropping. Looking to the west the peaks behind Mt Harvard were now completely obscured with obvious heavy precipitation, lightning, and thunder too. Looking to the east; Mt Princeton was completely consumed in a large dark storm cloud with all of the same. We were becoming surrounded by these looming storms and I knew I had to decide to either stop and head back down or drive on and chance that the storm would miss us entirely……..I chose the latter.
The trail proceeded upward and the scree gave way to a much more solid rock trail and I continued to follow the cairns as well as these red, bushy, plastic markers that had been driven into the ground leading the way. I'm not a very religious person but I openly prayed to the good Lord above to keep me safe to and from this mountain as I was now very much exposed and alone as Joanne was farther back down where I could not see her any longer. The storms continued all around but Mt Columbia remained clear as I continued to the upper most section where I finally came upon the ridge leading to the summit.
The temperature was dropping fast and now snow flakes began to fall from out of the west in a rather stiff, cold breeze. I was still in my short sleeves & shorts and now stopped and added my leggings, a long top, rain gear, gloves, and my fleece hat as well in preparation to move on to the summit ahead. The snow clouds had formed a semi-circle from southeasterly all-around Mt Princeton, all the way back around northeasterly and northwesterly and due west to Mt Harvard. But Mt Columbia remained clear and off to the southwest it was also clear and I pressed-on across the ridge.
I found myself somewhat rejuvenated and quickly made it along the ridge heading northwest and on to the empty summit at 12:41PM. As I stood on top, for just that brief moment I saw my shadow appear at my feet and I somehow knew that I would be OK, and a rush of relief ran all through me………a most welcome feeling. I now took some photos, ate some food, drank some water, and thanked the Lord above for watching over me and keeping the storm away. I stayed about 15 mins as I was rather exhausted but yet completely filled with this continuing rush of relief and well being……..a bit hard to explain I guess.
I started back down and to my surprise on the ridge heading towards me was Joanne. I was so glad she had made it as the rest of her party had turned-back on the slope below. We exchanged pleasantries and I assured her that the summit was directly ahead and that she was just about there. We bid our a dues and I headed down as she headed up and I now knew that she too was safe and my prayers had been answered.
The way back down was difficult in the scree area and I literally slid down on my butt in a couple of spots as it seemed the easiest way. The weather was improving by the minute and I was soon peeling off the layers as the sun came through and warmed things up fast. I could see where new accumulations of snow had collected on the peaks to the west of Mt Harvard and Mt Princeton was now also clear as everything moved-off to the northeast.
I made my way back to the Cottonwood Creek Trail and completed the final 3.5 miles down through the forest in about an hour and ten minutes getting back to the TH at 3:22. I saw Joanne’s party and told them she had made the summit and should be along soon.
My marathon was over after nearly 11 hours on the two mountains and my 19th and 20th 14’ers climbed. Way sweet!! Now off to The Coyote Cantina for a cold cervesa and some nachos……..what an awesome day on these two beautiful Colorado mountains!