MT. HARVARD 14,420' AND MT. COLUMBIA 14,073'
28 July 2012
So on Saturday, I got paid to hike. Well, I suppose “scout” is a more appropriate term. But call it what you want; I’m living the dream. I got my latest start so far this season, hitting the trail at 530a. I was up on time, but a breakfast stop and detour put me behind schedule. Still, 530a isn’t too shabby.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating. I summited Harvard under a dark, cloudy sky. On the way up, I had been mentally preparing myself to cut the day short and turn back without bagging Mt. Columbia, as I had planned. By the time I reached the Harvard summit, I was fully prepared to do just that, but only if the situation really warranted such a decision. Fortunately, I was on the highest point around, so I had a great view in all directions of what may be in store. After evaluating the existing conditions and the prevailing wind, I made an informed decision to continue on to Columbia rather than retreat directly to the trailhead. The traverse would only add an extra two and a half miles to my hike but progress would be uncharacteristically slow. The wind was out of the west and seemed to be bringing lighter, non-threatening clouds, at least in the short term. I went for it, but not out of so-called “summit fever.” I stopped and evaluated my situation, figuring I could always retreat to treeline on the east-facing slopes as a last resort.
The most direct route to Columbia included some pseudo-technical scrambling on an exposed ridge, which has recently become just my cup of tea. Normally I would’ve taken the time to explore this option a little bit, but with light weather a near certainty, I wasn’t interested in being caught halfway through a class III scramble over slick, wet rock on an exposed ridge. I took the more scenic route, which dropped sharply into a talus field and added over a thousand feet of elevation gain to my trek. Small price to pay for piece of mind. Gotta know your limits.
Columbia was cool, but Harvard was the highlight. I’m glad I tagged ’em both, but I could’ve done without the choppy descent on Columbia’s south-facing slopes. It was unpleasant: nearly 40% grade, extensive braiding, loose rock, and few structures. I can’t even imagine trying to climb that route. My descent was both physically and mentally exhausting. I mostly surfed the loose talus on the last few hundred feet. To be fair, that was actually fun…sorta.
Even after that experience, I’d say my biggest complaint today was the poor light, especially since the weather never materialized over me (though I could see rain over Harvard during my descent). I did manage to snap a good shot or two, the best of which is featured above.
There is definitely plenty of work to be done up there, but I found one high priority section. I’m pretty psyched to get up there and work it. The section runs about 200 feet, and it’s characterized by steep terrain, deep cupping, wide tread, few existing structures, and a good rock source. Let’s do this!