.:Getting to the trailhead:.
From Denver, drive SW down the 285 corridor through the expansive South Park area of Colorado and all the way to Johnson's Corner and the intersection with US 24. Turn north on US24 to Buena Vista. Measure from the ONE stoplight in town, and go north from the light 0.4 miles and turn left (west) on Chaffee County 350. Follow 350 for 2 miles until you hit a "T", and then turn right (north) on Chaffee County 361. Drive 0.9 miles and take a sharp left onto Chaffee County 365, which is where the pavement ends. Follow 365 as is swings west and into the San Isabel National Forest. Go about 5.1 miles or so, until the road ends. It gets a little bumpy, but most vehicles should have no problems. There's a big turnaround at the end of the road and tons of parking.
Nothing like spending a beautiful summer day at altitude, trekking between two Sawatch fourteeners. The route I took to climb Harvard and Columbia in one day is a long, arduous, grueling route, and if I'd known what I was in for, I might have changed my plans and made this a 2-day affair. Quite possibly the longest day for a 2-peak trek that you can make in the Colorado 14ers.
On this warm July morning, the parking lot was suprisingly packed! I knew that Horn Fork Basin was popular for camping, but there were probably a good 40 cars here. I circled around and improvised a parking spot between a pine tree and a Volkswagon. On my drive in, I noticed that most of the surrounding mountains were barren of snow, and the forecast was for warm with a possibility of afternoon showers. As I loaded my pack, I decided to go ahead and leave the cold weather gear and ice axe in the truck, which turned out to be a good idea.
So, at about 6:15 I took off from the parking area. The trail starts at the west end of the parking lot, and winds for a couple hundred yards before crossing North Cottonwood Creek. The register is right after the bridge over the creek. After signing in, I took off on the very well maintained trail, which meanders through the undergrowth, paralleling the creek. At about 1.3 miles, the trail crosses back over the creek on a solid bridge, and shortly after comes a fork in the trail. All you peak baggers out there will need to bear right, as the left fork heads west to Kroenke Lake. The right fork takes you to the Horn Fork basin after a couple more miles of meandering. Again, the trail through here is just fabulous! It's never too steep or very rough, and makes for pleasant hiking. With the gentle trail, I made pretty good time, and was at treeline at 8:30 or so.
From treeline, the trail continues to run generally north through the basin. Mt. Columbia is the highest point directly east, and Harvard is the highest bump just to the left of the north end of the basin. Also, you can't help but notice Rabbit Ridge, which runs between the two. The high spires about 2/3 the way to Columbia are the rabbits. Continuing through the basin, watch out for cold, wet willows and the occasional mud bog. The trail gradually turns west. At the point where the willows and other shrubs peter out, you'll come across a fork in the trail. Make sure you angle right (north). Going straight will land you at Bear Lake. It's a beautiful sight, but takes you out of the way by about 20 minutes or so. For those of you hiking in 1999, you'll also probably come across what I did at this point - a Colorado 14er Initiative trail crew! There were about 16 of them, working on the trail, doing erosion control and so forth. Turns out they're up there for a week or so (this is the end of July '99), working and camping out. That explained the traffic at the trailhead. As I passed by these fine, hardworking volunteers, one of them called my name! I didn't recognize the voice or the person, so I asked how they knew who I was. Turned out that the ol' website here is followed by a few of them, and they knew I'd be up there today. I got a real big kick out of that!
Anyways, here's where the first really steep bits of the hike hit you. Follow the trail as it switchbacks into the large cirque below Harvard's summit. Go west and north as you angle up the south shoulder of Harvard. The last little push is over some large steep boulders. The route up the boulders generally runs to the right and then up to the top!
I hit the summit at 10:15, making it a 4-hour trek from the trailhead, and about 6½ miles altogether. Although low clouds had been building during the morning and scooting to the east, it was calm and pleasant at the 3rd highest point in the state. To the south, Yale, Priceton, Antero, Shavano, and Tabagauche were all lined up as if for a family portrait. Oxford, Belford, and Missouri were just to the north, and Huron to the northwest. Most of the rest of the scenery was obscured by clouds. I met about 4 others on the summit, including one lady who'd managed to get her 3 dogs up that last boulder scramble. I was pretty impressed. Two of the other guys were also planning to head to Columbia, bypassing Rabbit Ridge to the east. Since there's always safely in numbers (to a point), I decided to accept an invitation to join them. So, after signing the register, snapping a few photos, and partaking of a bagel with peanut butter, we were off to Columbia!
(...continued on the Mt. Columbia trip report...)