Sunday, July 13, 2014

Harvard and Columbia w/Derek

Derek getting run off the ridge between Harvard and Columbia

I've now climbed Mt. Harvard, Colorado's third highest peak, three times and Mt. Columbia four times. The first time I did both peaks, I ran Harvard and then made the low traverse to Columbia while Sheri ran Harvard only. That was probably a decade ago and I made the summit of Harvard in 1h58m. I won't be besting that time in this life. I climbed Columbia again with Sheri, taking a very pleasant route from the east side. Last year I climbed both with Danny and Sheri while Derek was off rafting in the Grand Canyon. Actually, I only climbed Harvard with these two and did most of the high traverse, along the ridge crest, solo, in an effort to meet up with them after an aborted attempt to help a friend ascend Harvard. I was back with Derek, with a short rope and harnesses to complete the entire high traverse.

The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. but I was moving slow. Derek was moving slower but when I offered up 30 more minutes of sleep he didn't borrow deeper into his bag. Instead he sat up and started getting dressed. We were hiking by 5:15 a.m. We took small packs and just two 20-ounce bottles each. We'd refill one of these directly from the stream 90 minutes later, as we passed our last water source.
High on the Mt. Harvard trail
We pushed the pace a bit on the ascent, though the altitude took its toll on both of us once we got to about 13,000 feet. On Harvard you still have a long way to go even about 14,000 feet, as this peak is the third highest in the state at 14,423 and the fourth highest in the lower 48 states. We topped out after 3h2m and took about ten minutes to rest, eat, and drink before starting the traverse.

We found a nice path for the first 45 minutes of the traverse, but then the path headed down off the ridge into a giant talus field and we stuck to the very edge of the now knife-edged ridge. Derek is a solid, confident scrambler and we continued unroped until a hundred feet before the crux downclimb. We roped up here for what I previously thought was a somewhat scary slab traverse. Today it felt trivial and Derek would have been very comfortable without the rope.
Derek on the airy traverse before the crux

There is a sling at the top of the crux, 5.7 downclimb and I belayed Derek as he climbed down to the notch. The 5.7 climbing here is probably five feet long. I could have downclimbed it and spotted Derek and we could have left the rope behind. With the anchor and the rope right there, I rappelled this section. Derek led the last 4th/low 5th class section and we stowed the gear.

We still had a lot of physical work to traverse third class rock and steep, talus-covered slopes to the grassy ridge on the far side of the final gendarmes. Just as I topped out this last steep section, I saw a big mountain goat walking along the ridge directly toward us. 

Being a mountain guy I have an innate ability to telepathically communicate with the alpine beasts. I've debated Kant with marmots and discussed what actually the Fox says with pikas (spoiler: Fox says "Pikas are yummy!") So, when the burly mountain goat approached Derek and I, cornered as we were at the end of the precipitous ridge, I calmly stared it down, discerning its intentions. Derek, still learning the ways of the high country, said, "I hope you have a rock picked out." At the time I thought he meant for me to pick up a rock in which to hurl at the beast in case it charged. Later I'd find out he meant to use the rock he had picked out as a shield to ward off the formidable horns. This might indeed have blocked the horns, but Derek would still have been pushed over the edge. No, I didn't search for a rock. I was busy talking to the goat. I made him aware that any aggression would be dealt with severely. If he charged I would wrestle him to the ground and tickle his belly until he cried "Uncle!" Goats hate that!
Downclimbing the crux
Then, so that the goat could maintain his pride and position if any females were looking on from afar, I stepped down, slightly off the ridge, giving him passage. The goat passed within four or five feet of me towards Derek, who followed my lead. And the goat and I went our separate ways.

Once by the goat it was very pleasant tundra walking to the final 600-foot climb to the summit of Mt. Columbia. This last bump worked us over considerably and we were forced to take short breaks every fifty vertical feet. Eventually summit fever overtook us and we topped out. We barely paused on top before starting down.
Taking a break on the final climb to the summit of Mt. Columbia
We alternated some trotting and running with careful hiking on the loose trail down the west slopes. We dropped two thousand feet in an hour and rejoined the main Harvard Trail for the last three miles back to the car. We trotted some of the trail but were both a bit tired for that. Derek forced a break when his legs ached. On the last mile Derek was rejuvenated and ran most of it. I lumbered along in his wake, trying not to fall too far behind. Minutes after we arrived back at the car, the first raindrops fell and I was glad Derek didn't take me up on extra 30 minutes of sleep.

No comments: