It’s 14er season here in Colorado! Michael and I decided to bag our first one of the summer together on the 4th of July. Mount Harvard was our target.
For those that are not familiar, a 14er is a mountain peak that is above 14,000 feet. Colorado has 58 of them. The peaks range from easy to very difficult, but even the “easy” ones are a challenge. Gaining at least 2,500 feet of elevation and hiking above 10,000 feet where the air is nice and thin isn’t necessarily a breeze.
I hiked four 14ers last year (Grays, Torreys, Quandary, and Bierstadt) and hiked Evans a month ago. I’m still not sure if I can officially count Evans, because I started at Summit Lake and only gained 2,000 feet of elevation. The general rule of thumb is that you need to gain 3,000 feet for it to be legit. The jury is still out for debate on it.
( I think I’m going to count it.)
Mount Harvard is in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness near the town of Buena Vista. It’s the third highest peak in Colorado, sitting at 14,420 feet. This 14-mile round-trip hike had 4,600 feet of elevation gain (and loss), so there is no need to debate this one. It was a doozy and I had an absolute blast.
To avoid waking up at 2:00 am and driving almost 3 hours to the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead, Michael and I drove up the night before and camped at the trailhead. Not only did we get to “sleep in” until almost 5:00am, we also got to camp and start to acclimate to the altitude. Triple bonus.
There was an abundance of great campsites right off of the trailhead. The sun was already starting to set by the time got there, so we immediately started setting up the tent.
Actually, I lie. Michael set up the tent while I was busy making 14er signs. Because does climbing a 14er even count if you don’t take a picture with the sign at the top!? I’m not sure…
So anyways, Michael set up the tent while I made a sign. We each have our duties. Then we cooked/ate dinner and enjoyed a little fire before crawling into the tent for bed.
The 4:40am alarm felt really early, but I eventually dragged myself out of bed and started getting ready. Somehow I’m really slow in the morning and despite waking up 10 minutes before Michael, he was still ready before I was. I think I need to do a time analysis. There are definitely some process improvement opportunities here.
We hit the trailhead (9,900 feet) just before 5:30am following this route to the summit. The first few miles were mildly rolling hills through the trees, which was a nice warm up and a great way to settle into our “all day” pace. I’ve been dealing with some heart issues recently, so a gradual warm up (and a lot of water!!) really helps set me up for success.
Our first stop was at about mile 4 just below tree level for a quick bathroom and snack break. From here we started walking into some willow bushes, mountain run-off, and beautiful views of Harvard, Columbia, and the surrounding peaks. It was turning into a gorgeous morning with bright blue skies.
After crossing a stream the trail leveled out a little bit. We had a clear view of the peak of Mount Harvard, but still had quite a way to climb! At this point we started looking for marmots and mountain goats and Michael proposed a bet: Whoever saw the first marmot got to pick what we were eating dinner and whoever saw the first goat got to have dinner paid for them.
I lost both bets :/
From here we began to climb up a sort of stone staircase with switchbacks that led us up to a base of a nice, little snow field that basically went straight up. Yikes. The snow was covering the trail so it was difficult to know where to go. We took a quick break to put on our microspikes, eat some Sour Patch Kids, and figure out what route to take up. There was a guy in shorts and a t-shirt trying to climb straight up and it was very clear that he was struggling, so we free-formed switchbacks to the top of the snow field. Microspikes and trekking poles were a lifesaver here.
Once we got through the snow we ditched our microspikes and found the actual trail. There was a little bit more switchbacking (<- real word?) to a ridge and then it was the final push to the summit. And all of a sudden (7 miles and 3.5 hours later) we were at the peak of Mount Harvard at 14,420 feet!
Can you tell we are big fans of Feral Mountain Co?
Look at the gorgeous view!
We hung out at the summit for almost an hour – taking pictures, eating snacks, chatting with other hikers, watching marmots, and debating if we wanted to tack on Mount Columbia as well. In the end we decided not to. The trail up to the summit looked pretty snowy and the trail down is very steep and still being partially built. We’ll save Columbia for another time.
Once we got our fill of pictures, snacks, chatting, and marmots we turned back to head down to the trailhead the way we came. Another 7 miles and 3.5 hours later we were back at our car where we immediately put on sandals, chugged electrolytes, and headed back to Denver.
Overall, I loved the Mount Harvard hike! At 14 miles it was long, but it was also very gradual until, of course, the last mile to the summit. The views were beautiful both along the trail and at the summit. We also lucked out with beautiful weather. I highly recommend it!
Mount Harvard Stats: