Harvard and Columbia Trip Report
August 23, 2015
South Slopes, Class2
Roundtrip Distance: 15 Miles
We made a change in plans the day before because somebody going on the hike (not me) misplaced all their hiking gear! So, the planned trip down to hike in the Sangre de Cristos that required a 5-mile approach the day before was scratched for a more accessible trailhead. So, we decided to stay at my house Saturday night, cookout, and drive up first thing in the morning to Buena Vista and the Sawatch range to climb Harvard and Columbia. The plan was to leave my house at 4 AM, but it was closer to 5 AM before we left. That and about 5 stops on the short drive put us at trailhead around 8:30AM. It was too late to start a hike this long but since the weather forecast was clear, we decided to give it a shot.
We quickly made it to the top of Harvard. Very easy trail, Class 1 most of the way with a little bouldering at the very top. We ran into a new friend, Grzesiek, at the top who was visiting from Philadelphia. Grzesiek is a geologist and also plays drums in a band. They are about to release their 3rd album which will be followed by a US tour. It was his first 14er. Grzesiek decided to join us to across the ridge to Columbia.
It was a lot of fun learning about the granite rocks that we have spent a lot of time climbing on.
The ridge across to Columbia was fairly challenging and it was difficult to maintain the trail. At different points, we lost the trail and it put us into Class 3 situations. Nothing too tough but it slowed us down a bit.
I was starting to run a little low on water and fortunately found a spring coming out of the mountain. Filled up my pack and we were on our way.
As we neared the backside of Columbia, Grzesiek started to feel the effects of altitude and he was having a difficult time moving. Unfortunately, from where we were, we needed to climb over the top of Columbia to get back to our vehicle. Climbing was really difficult for our friend and we were moving extremely slowly. Jenn and I zipped up to the top of Columbia to scout the route and see if there were any alternative ways out. We found a way to skirt the majority of the climb to the summit to catch the ridge on the other side to descent back toward the vehicle. We passed the route to Cristina and GRZESIEK and prepared for a descent in the dark as we were running out of daylight. We scouted the trail as far as we could without breaking the group up so we would know exactly what route to take when we lost daylight.
Just like in the movie the “Hunger Games”, while finding our route out and waiting for the team to make it around the mountain, my guardian angel floated down an extra flashlight. Incredible good fortune to help us safely get off the mountain!
The sunset from the top of Columbia was beautiful and we were mentally ready to make the descent in the dark.
Fortunately I had the Delorme InReach satellite GPS tool so I was able to keep friends and family informed of our progress so they were not worried. The device also gives me the ability to call Search and Rescue any time but I never felt the situation escalated to that level.
Coming back down the face of Columbia in the dark proved to be fairly frustrating with lots of slipping and sliding while trying to keep the trail. Slowly but surely we made it back into the trees. We had lost the trail coming down so when we hit the trees, we had to feel our way through the woods back to the approach trail. This is where the GPS device really came in handy to help ensure confidence that we were always heading in the right direction.
We were running out of food and we were out of water. I carry a LifeStraw so when we hit the first creek, we all took a big drink to hydrate as we worked the final few miles back to the vehicle.
We made it safely back to the car at about 1:30 AM.