The Internet does work! In this case it helped three separate people meet for a great day of hiking and climbing! Tom Vervaeke and I had met way back in Jan and had since climbed some 20+ peaks together and on this occasion, we hooked with fellow rec.backcountry guy, Steve Helle. Steve and I had traded emails on a climbing issue way back in July and at that time we had suggested we do the duo of Harvard and Columbia together. Then in mid-August we had firmed our plans for the 10th of Sep. Along with us on the trip was Denise Snow and Connie. Tom and I had met Connie on the top of Mt Sherman in early May and she had run into Tom again just last week so she was invited along for the climb. We all met in Buena Vista at 4:00am.
I parked my Saab there as Steve had offered to do the 4wd bit with his Explorer. Denise had spoken to some climbers the week before who recommended Frenchman’s Creek for the approach over the Horn Basin standard route. I am sure in a few years there will be more people doing this approach than Horn Basin. In a word, beautiful! It is however a narrow and steep 4WD road to the trailhead. One 50′ section rivals the South Colony Road to the Crestones. With Steve’s expert driving and Connie driving behind in her 4wd we all made it to the trailhead to begin hiking by 5:00am with headlamps.
We took the first hour to get acquainted in the dark as we hiked past the Colorado Trail and up along Frenchman’s Creek. Just as we were getting near timberline, the sun was coming up so we took a snack break near the ruins of a log cabin. As we broke from timberline, a wind greeted us from the west which seemed to replace the clear skies with a gray overcast, hmmm. The trail continues up the basin to the NE side of Harvard where it disappears. But from here it is grassy, but steep walk to the saddle. From here the view of the ridge we were going to cross to Columbia was awe inspiring.
By this time, it had gotten colder, not warmer, and we all donned gloves, hats and shell jackets. Connie’s dog was doing remarkable considering about a mile back he had met a porcupine and lost. Connie used some pliers from my swiss army knife to pull about 15 quills from his face. None the worse for the wear, the dog was ahead of us up the ridge. Steve was in great condition and led up the final long ridge to the summit. And it was long!
All class 2+ fun scrambling, but the cold and the wind was starting to take a toll. I think Denise was the most worried as she had already climbed Harvard once and was headed to Columbia when a thunderstorm made her bail off to Horn basin. She did not relish the weather getting worse and not making Columbia again. I assured her the skies would be sunny soon; so of course they just got darker. Tom arrived at the summit and announced he was headed to Columbia via the ridge. Later he had said he was not feeling strong and just wanted to get a head start. He left and we finished our food/water break and departed Harvard’s summit at about 8:30am.
On the way down we had decided to definitely go to the right of a very large tower on the ridge. We saw Tom going left and say, “oh well, we will meet in on the other side” Then we did not see Tom, then we heard some faint calls, then we saw Tom in between two very large rocks. We asked him if he is ok and he responds that he has fallen…..
My first thought is helicopter, the local news, hospital and $ somewhat in that order. Then an overriding thought comes to mind — Denise/Columbia! She is going to miss the summit again to help with the rescue. We all head down to Tom and Connie reaches him first and indicates nothing is broken. I get there last to see blood dribbling down his leg from a couple of gashes on his knee and lower leg. We apply some gauze and Tom put his knee brace on over it to keep it in place. Throughout the day as the dried blood streaked his leg we all agree he will get big time sympathy from his spouse upon his return; whether he deserved it or not. 🙂
Now that we were all back together we descended down to the ridge (unnamed) that connects Harvard to Columbia. Denise led the first section that was class 3 scrambling, but new to a member of our party. It was a lot slower than descending into the basin but a lot more fun. Along the way the sun came out and it started to warm up finally. The danger from loose rock on the ridge should be considered. Near the end of the ridge past the rabbit ears we did not know whether to traverse or head directly up. Denise scouted up and gained extra credit for climbing Point 13,497′. The rest traversed and we took a break on the final West ridge. Steeling ourselves for the final 900′ ascent of the day we headed up with Steve again pulling lead duty. I got up to the summit at 12:30pm showing the fact that we had spent nearly 2 hours crossing the ridge. On top the sun was out and it was glorious.
We rested and finished our food and departed at 1:00pm. Now the great part about this route; rather than dealing with the terrible descent off Columbia into Horn Fork basin we were able to walk down grassy slopes to a short scree of 800′ down to some more grassy slopes to Frenchman’s Creek. Connie and Denise flew down the slopes, Tom and I behind with Steve in the middle. The walk down the trail through the woods is a pleasant hike even if we had almost 6,000′ elevation gain and 13 miles in our legs. We reached the cars and started down the road coming again to tough downhill section. Steve made it through, and then Connie came through.
Well, almost… see this one little tree… really it was only a small scratch… and the tree is still standing anyway. We bid our goodbyes to Steve and Connie and the Dairy Delight and each enjoyed an Oreo freeze as celebration of a long day. During the climb we had made tentative plans to climb with Steve on the more dangerous mountains in the Elks range (Maroon Bells, Capital) next summer. And with the power of the Internet for communication I am sure we will follow through with those plans also. The drive back to Colorado Springs went slow due to the lack of sleep and fatigue. But the bottom line was a successful trip for all members of the party to two of more challenging summits in the Sawatch!
Beta: Mt Harvard and Mt Columbia Frenchman’s Creek Approach Approx. 13 miles, 6,000′ elevation gain, one class 3 ridge 10 hours