If it was not apparent before, it cannot be denied now. Fall is here and winter is rapidly approaching. By the sign of the aspens changing colors and shedding leaves, the cold is coming quickly, the snow is falling in the high country, and I am running out of days to climb this season. Fortunately, I still had time for Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia.
Just like most of my hikes, I started at the trail head as the sun was rising and began the gentle hike through the forest gulch towards the base of the mountain. The air nipped at a chilly 38 degrees at the start of the climb, but the buffer the trees created around the trail helped to calm air and keep me feeling a bit warmer.
I reached the point that I do on every peak attempt: the state of awe. No matter how much research I do, I always look at the mountains ahead and think to myself: “how are you going to do that?” Most of the peaks have daunting cliff faces and surrounding trails that look unclimbable. The ones before me were no exception. Yet, step after step, I made my way through the gulch and up to the first of many checkpoints. As I achieved 11,000 feet and the trees started to thin, Mt. Columbia peeked her head around the corner. I spent the last four miles of my trek around it but unable to see it because of the tree coverage. I made my way past the tree line to a small outcropping where an elevated lake sat clear and still. Undisturbed and tranquil, the small lake sat sparkling like a gem waiting to be found.
As I passed the lake, I came upon some patches of snow. Fortunately, this snow was already exposed to the morning sun and calm wind, so it was melting quickly. I passed more pockets of snow on the ascent of Mt. Harvard, but they did not give me any trouble. The trail was pretty straight forward with cairns and warn paths all the way up the ridge.
At 40 degrees, the last thing I wanted to deal with was a sustained 12-15 mph wind blowing over the ridge, nonetheless, that was my fortunate. As I finished the 7 miles from the car to the peak of Mt. Harvard, the wind picked up to a constant 30 mph. After struggling to put a hat on for the and extra sunblock I (and take a photo of course) started to make my way across the 2.5 mile traverse on the ridge line from Mt. Harvard to Mt. Columbia. In the summertime this trail is class 2 and can be full of fantastic views. On this day, however, the trail was full of piercing cold wind, snow covered trails, and unpredictable changes. As the snow got thicker, I was forced to put my phone away and gear up for what was going to become a technical climb. Instead of dredging through 6 inches of snow, I decided it would be better to extend the hike and drop down onto the far hillside where I could more easily pass and then cut back up the mountain face to the trail again. This added an extra mile and a half to my hike, however that added distance was worth it. Remaining safe was more important than the amount of time it took to complete the climb. My ad lib route was a success. The top of Mt. Columbia provided an amazing angle on the lake at the base of Mt. Harvard and thanks to the short ridge line, a fantastic view of the surrounding peaks as well.
At the summit, I was surrounded by 14’ers on every side, some of which I have completed and others on the list to do very soon. I took in the view, amazed that I am able to appreciate this view as much as the very first. And with that, I am nearly half way through my list of 14’ers. I have now completed 24 of the 53 official peaks.