PrologueMountains: Mt. Harvard (14,420'), Mt. Columbia (14,073’)
Route: From ~8500’ on 4WD road to N. Cottonwood Creek TH (9880') » Horn Fork Basin camp @ ~11,000’ » Harvard Summit (Day 1) and Columbia Summit (Day 2)
Elevation Gain ~ 2500 backpack + 6550 climb over two days ~9050' (total)
Roundtrip Mileage ~ 22 miles (approx)
Ski Crew – Otina, Eric, Carl, Marc, Prakash. John and Ian joined us on Columbia on Day 2
The winter 14er gathering organized by Keifer, Steph and Steve presented an opportunity to meet tons of great people and add two more mountains to this winter’s list. I met Keifer, Steph, Brian, Chris and Denali at Buena Vista and we all drove together to roughly 8700’ on the road to N. Cottonwood Ck TH… we met John where we parked… six humans and dog constituted the trail breaking party. After a mini-celebration for Keifer’s birthday, we tied a helium balloon to his pack and began skinning / snowshoeing up the trail… can you spot the balloon?
Up the road to N. Cottonwood Ck TH
We made quick progress up the patchy road and were soon at the summer TH.
At N. Cottonwood Ck TH
The trail breaking above the summer TH was not very tough and we were soon at a flat spot at ~11000’ with access to the creek. We decided to establish our campsite there.
We milled around picked ourselves some nice flat spots, stamped down and set up camp. I made sure (1) my legs would be lower than my head, (2) I had a nice depression for my hip/butt and (3) my door faced the trail and the other tents. I'd also learned from a previous winter camping experience to secure my sleeping bag and thermarest air pad together into a bivy sack so the bivy sack held them together. The last time I had rolled off the air pad onto snow and woken up freezing in the middle of the night. This time though I slept like a baby both nights… almost like I do in my bed at home. I stayed really warm except at my heel which slipped off the airpad and contacted the snow through the tent footprint. I fixed that after a night-time visit to the loo. Here's a picture of my abode for those next 3 days and 2 nights… right after I scavenged for firewood for the first night’s campfire.
My home for the weekend and wood for the campfire
Mmm… KFC tastes good over a warm campfire…
KFC over a campfire
We found out that Steph had hiked up to camp with a gallon bag of wine… there were also tons of cookies, cake, marshmallows, and sparklers! Happy birthday, Keifer.
Sparklers, Cake, Cookies, Marshmallows, Wine and other random treats came with us for Keifer's birthday party at Horn Fork Basin camp
The crowd slowly dwindled and I put out the fire… it had come dangerously close to my tent… different location tomorrow night would be a good idea. We all turned in between 8:30 – 9PM with plans to climb Harvard the next morning. We figured it was better to get the longer, tougher mountain out of the way on day #1 so we could pack out quicker on Sunday.
A 7AM start time seemed like the consensus. I woke up at 6:30AM and ate my infamous cold raisin toast sandwiches with tomato jam all by myself... I chuckled greedily as any evil person would do, knowing what my compadres were missing. I felt rather like greedy Mr. Squeers out of the Nicholas Nickelby novel by Charles Dickens. Had they known, I am sure my compadres would have battled me royally with venom tipped arrows for a sample of my fantastic sandwiches.
A couple of the skiers (Eric and Otina) left a little before 7AM. I finished getting ready and reluctantly left my warm sleeping bag and camp at ~7:15AM. I caught up to Eric a little past the trees and Otina and Kelly a little later. There was still a long way to go to Harvard…
A long way to the top of Harvard
Before ascending the shoulder to the upper basin, the winds picked up and blew the crap out of us. We took a break to gear up, eat some food and drink. Carl and Marc caught up to us here.
Looking back at Eric and Otina
Past the shoulder the winds only got worse… Columbia in the background…
Looking back at Carl and Marc
We began skinning / snowshoeing up towards the South Ridge. We were able to keep skinning and took turns switchbacking up to the ridge, breaking trail through snow varying from slush to hardpack. Some snowshoers caught up and passed the skiers through this area but it was draining on everyone’s resources.
Looking over at Sarah and Kevin
We took a short break at a rock patch above the snow slope and waited for all the skiers to unite.
Pitstop where skis went on our backs
We took a short food / drinks break at the rock patch and continued on up with skis on our backs. Steph (blue) and Keifer (yellow) are seen returning while some of us are laboring on up… Kelly, Carl and Eric are seen below on their way up.
Turning to look back down at the final push to summit. Keifer and Steph are returning
John and Carl heading up for the summit
The wind was a regular old gale on the summit ridge blowing up gusts of ~45-50 mph. Scrambling over the boulders of the summit ridge with skis was a blast. When we finally made summit it was tough to get skins off, mittens off and on, etc. without risking having everything blow away. Jim on summit… Marc takes evasive action from the wind...
Jim, Marc and Carl on the windy summit of Harvard
John feeling strong…
John on the summit of Harvard
Marc and Carl scouted their descent route off the summit…
Marc heading over to Carl who's scoping out the descent line
I discovered that I had broken the brakes on my skis during the hike up and decided to hike down a hundred feet and ski from there. I did not want to risk losing a ski at 14,400’ and posthole down from there carrying one ski. Soon Eric and Otina were on summit as well and the group was reunited. The other four headed off for the summit descent while I carried my skis down the top ~100 feet with John and Kelly. Couldn’t get any ski pics on the descent mainly because we were trying to hurry out of the wind. The ski was great and we were back at camp at ~3PM after some tough work down lower through soft snow over flat and gentle uphill terrain.
The second night Terry and Jim stopped by our campsite and joined the continuing festivities. I said hello to Steve Gladbach… As I approached my tent I found that Keifer and Steph had already piled a small bundle of firewood near my tent… this was some kind of hint…? I ran about collecting more firewood to add to the pile. This time the fire was built in a common area. Carl and Marc grilled brats on it. Everyone stood around and had a blast. Terry shared a ton of his food and booze with the group which was awesome. The bite out of the burrito he offered me was heaven itself after having eaten ramen noodles, raw carrots and raisin toast since my last morsel of cous cous 24 hours ago. A group photo was taken.
Group Shot after Harvard - Photo (c) Britt
My friend John and his friend Ian showed up shortly before dark and looked surprised and pleased to see a huge fire and close to 30 people camped up there. Their plan was to join us on a ski descent of Columbia. We hung around the fire until 9PM and went to bed with plans for a 6AM start. My feet in their down booties in my small, but comfortable (for someone my size) one person REI ultralight tent.
Curling into my tent
At 6AM Eric, and Otina set off with Carl and Marc on their heels. I followed 15 minutes later with John and Ian. We caught up to the Group at the base of the couloir and began skinning up the lower part of it... Carl, John, Ian and Otina are seen below with Birthday Peak in the background.
Carl, John, Ian and Otina following skin tracks up the gully on Columbia
When the skinning got tough we shouldered our skis. Setting the booter was tiring and time-consuming with the sugary snow and I didn’t do it for long before hopping on rock. At this point Eric was off to my left where he’d decided to head left and climb snow to the ridge. Marc and I headed right and joined the snowshoers on their way up the right of the couloir we’d skinned up.
The face offered easier travel than the gully
Eric is the tiny shadow on the snowfield in the right of this picture…
Eric found a more direct route saving quite a bit of distance
While our path was towards the ridge up the talus… rumor had it that Columbia was still a distant ridge walk away from the top of this couloir.
The ridge seems far
The ridge walk was an absolute blast with 55-60mph gusts threatening to carry us miles, skis and all. No pictures on the way up since I was pretty intent on fighting the wind and staying put on the ridge. Britt provided this image of me approaching the summit on Columbia… Marc and Eric had arrived shortly before me and Carl was a little behind me. There was no sight of Otina yet but we’d heard from other snowshoers that she was still trucking along doggedly on her way up to the ridge. John and Ian had decided to wait at the top of the couloir and join us on our way back down.
Prakash approaches Columbia Summit - Photo (c) Britt
Greg got this one of me clicking in on the summit of Columbia… Harvard in the background…
Clicking in on the summit of Columbia - Photo (c) Greg
And Britt had a couple more of me taking off on my descent…
PM off Columbia Summit 1 - Photo (c) Britt
PM off Columbia Summit 2 - Photo (c) Britt
I followed the others for a little while and fell behind fixing the makeshift leash I’d whipped up with some cord Greg had given me the previous night. I didn’t worry too much about it… what with all the other people on the mountain that day. I resumed my progress down the ridge with the wind remaining about the same as before. A while later I ran into a determined looking Otina who’d made it to the ridge and was heading for summit. I dropped down a short distance and found John and Ian waiting with Steve and Dan who were evaluating the conditions for a glissade. Eric was also there, just above Carl and Marc. Eric headed off across the couloirs to a safe zone. I communicated a plan to John and Ian and headed off behind Eric. Eric then skied off towards Carl and Marc while I waited for John and Ian to join me. Carl and Marc needed to get back early to Denver to run some errands and it made sense to split into groups of three. We skied the couloir going from safe zone to safe zone… some pics of John and Ian in the lower part of the couloir… John…
John skis the gully 1
John skis the gully 2
Ian skis the gully 1
Ian skis the gully 2
Ian skis the gully 3
We were back in camp by 1PM. John sprained his knee and had to snowshoe out. Everyone from our group helped out and carried out his stuff and loaned him some snowshoes to walk out on… it was heart-warming to witness such willingness to help a wounded fellow hiker in the backcountry. Ian and I skied slowly alongside him while Britt skied out on his skis. Others packed out pieces of his equipment. We were back down fairly quick with John keeping a steady pace and headed off to Johnson Village to replenish for the drive back home. A fine trip to end the ups and downs of Calendar Winter 2011. Harvard was my 100th ascent of a Colorado 14er... Columbia was #101. I didn't realize that until after I got down to camp so there was no celebration on the summit... plus the wind would've blown out the sparklers :)).