Wasn’t quite physically ready to climb another 14er just one week after Mount Massive, but I didn’t get the days off I wanted and that’s the way the chips fell. I didn’t want to wait until the 20th to climb another one, so I called Ralph to see if he was ready to give another one a go. It doesn’t take a lot of talking to psyche Ralph up for a climb and a few minutes later the plans for a 14,420 foot Mount Harvard summit were in the works 🙂
According to 14ers.com, the Harvard route we wanted is 12.5 miles long so an early start was in order. We decided on a 3:30 rendezvous in Divide at the usual place, so I set my alarm for 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, July 30th. By 3:35 a.m. we were drinking coffee and on the road for Buena Vista. Sunrise came a few minutes later than on our last adventure, so it was still pitch black when we got to BV and we decided on a pit stop at Loaf and Jug for more coffee and power food.. some donuts 🙂 By the time we hit the trail head at about 5:30 there was a hint of light in the eastern sky which illuminated a packed parking lot! We did find a spot however and decided to start the long hike before sunrise.
It wasn’t too long before we were greeted by a beautiful clear Colorado sunrise, and a confused looking guy near a Y in the trail, apparently camping. Friendly fellow though, wanted to know where we were headed. Harvard we responded… and with a slow southern drawl he commented, “Oh, I wasn’t smart enough to get in there.”. As it sank it what he said and occurred to me that he wasn’t joking, I commented to Ralph, “I’m not sure he knows where he’s going?”. Ralph replied, “I’m not sure he knows where he is!”. Well anyway, he wasn’t there on the return trip so he must have figured something out 🙂
As the beautiful morning light began to illuminate the peaks a particularly large monolith came into view on our right. We wondered if that was our summit and after we got tired of discussing it and wondering, Ralph checked the GPS and we determined that one was probably Columbia, which would make it sort of on the way back from Harvard and a candidate for a second 14er in one day, adding only two or three miles to the return trip. Our destination had not yet come into view.
The trail had climbed to about 10,000 feet by the time it was getting light enough for pictures and we found ourselves along a beautiful stream in a high meadow surrounded by rugged peaks. The GPS indicated that Mount Harvard was directly ahead and there was indeed a series of high peaks in the distance, one of which was certainly our summit. We began to encounter other hikers at this point, all hoping to be on right trail to Harvard. We assured them we were hoping for the same 🙂
Finally the summit became obvious and we whiled away the next hour or so mapping out possible routes the trail might take to the summit. Perhaps up a ridge and around back. The face we were looking at looked way to steep and rocky and there was no discernible trail. But soon we could see a couple of hikers heading right towards the south face and Ralph says, “It looks like it goes right up through the rocks!”and I’m like… “Naaaaaa …”. Well as we got closer we could start to make out the trail, going right exactly where earlier I said, “There’s no way the trail goes through there!”.
And for the last two miles or so, up it went, one of the steepest trails I have been on yet! I couldn’t decide what was going to explode first… my knees or my lungs! But we just kept forging ahead walking when we could, resting when we had to. The boulder field was long, but the trail through it was well defined and relatively easy to follow. The difficulty there is the sheer steepness of it. Finally the summit party came into view so that we could see our exact destination. Up until that point there were several high points that were possibilities for a summit. Suddenly we were there, but the people who were writing the trail reviews that indicated a Class I trail all the way to the summit except for a few rocks at the top, were apparently suffering from oxygen deprivation, the Class I trail disappeared into a steep wall of boulders with some cracks in it, and a pile of trekking poles at the bottom. Ralph abandoned his poles there, and I put my camera in my pack and strapped my monopod onto it’s holder on the back.
This was my first summit where there were hikers standing around with ten feet left to climb, wondering if they were going to attempt the last ten feet, and some didn’t. Some were content to almost make summit. Ralph was already on his way up and I didn’t stop to look too long or to even think about it. There was no way I was going to come that far and let a couple of boulders stand in the way of making summit, so I just grabbed a hand hold and hoisted myself up. The route through the cracks was fairly obvious, but the hand and footholds not quite as obvious. My arms were tired, but still able to do the job. My new leather gloves I found at Walmart proved invaluable in the last few feet of this climb. The leather protected my hands from the usual beating and bloodying that the boulder fields offer and I noticed my grip was better too. A pair of Wells Lamont gloves with pigskin palms and some sort of breathable backing. $10 at Walmart, one of the best investments I’ve ever made 🙂
Soon we were both on the small summit area for the usual selfies and picture taking, lunch and coffee. We made summit in record time for that distance, 6.25 miles in six hours. Ralph has a “Jet Brew” or something like that he makes coffee with and got some water boiling for instant coffee. We also sent out the usual summit texts and calls, Facebook posts and ETA’s for the arrival back at the bottom. I of course received back the usual encouraging words, like “Glad you are still breathing, lol!”. Ha, well breathing we were, but dark clouds were approaching from the west and a hoard of people from the south. We decided to have an abbreviated summit party and get back through the cracks before the weather and before the traffic jam.
Getting back down through the rocks wasn’t as hard or scary as I thought… There was one place where I couldn’t actually see if my foot was on a foothold, but the guy behind me said I nailed it. Ralph was like, “lol… good thing that guy wasn’t mad at me for some reason!”. Come to think of it, that is a lot of faith to put in someone you have never seen before in your life! Anyway, we were glad to be on our way back down to the trees when the hail hit… Most of it wasn’t too bad, but it was amusing to hear the occasional “ouch”, as nearby hikers were getting hit by a particularly big hailstone. Many were still headed for the summit, but few showed signs of giving up. We did come upon one party who had given up at the bottom of the approach, before any of the steep climbing. Don’t know where they were from, but they were talking about “sea level”. I can imagine 14,000 feet might be a bit rough for someone acclimated to sea level!
The remainder of the hike proceeded without incident and the storms that were threatening to form never really amounted to much. The “death march” to the bottom when you are worn out and all the rocks are jumping at your feet and bashing your toes was actually not as bad as sometimes, and we were back at the truck by 4 p.m., with plenty of time for me to get home and make it to little Charity’s two year birthday party 🙂 followed by the usual monthly Motown dance at the Crystola Bar and Grill with the band Sugar Bear.
I haven’t checked my work schedule yet, but I think I should have August 20th available for another climb with Ralph. We are thinking Columbia looks like a good 14er to climb next!