14,420 Feet (Ranked 3rd in CO)
East Ridge from Frenchman Creek Trailhead (Approximately 10,500 Feet)
June 28th, 2009
11.3 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: Approximately 4,200 Feet
Greenhouseguy, Derek, Zoomie83 (Todd), and Slow Moving Fun Seeker (Jay)
Harvard professor Josiah D. Whitney and four of his Geology students named Mt. Harvard in the summer of 1869. Nearby Mt. Yale was named for Whitneyís alma mater. Professor Whitney is probably best known for his namesake Mt. Whitney in California, which is the highest mountain in the 48 contiguous states.
Mt. Harvard viewed from Mt. Oxford (image taken on 12 August 2008)
The standard route for Mt. Harvard is a 12.6-mile slog up the scenic Horn Fork Basin. The route attracts hordes of hikers, so I decided to try the less-frequently-traveled Frenchman Creek route. Roach lists it as a 13.6-mile hike with 5,120 feet of elevation gain, but it is considerably shorter if your vehicle can make it up the rough 4WD road (CR 386/FS 386) to the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness boundary at about 10,500 feet. Traveling on this road is an adventure in itself!
GPS track of our route on Mt. Harvard
Derek and Todd camped at one of the many sites along the Forest Service road, but Jay and I met at the Morrison Park-n-Ride at 3:30 a.m. for the long ride out. We hit the trail by 6:45.
Todd and Jay entering the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness on the Frenchman Creek Trail
The Frenchman Creek Trail appears to be an old mining road. Gold, silver, lead, zinc, and copper were once mined in the vicinity, but mining is now illegal in the wilderness area. The remains of at least two old minerís cabins are visible from the trail.
Todd and Derek crossing an unnamed tributary of Frenchman Creek
Gerry Roach wrote that it is 1.8 miles from the wilderness boundary to treeline, but it is probably closer to 2.25 miles. The Frenchman Creek Trail crosses the Colorado Trail at about the 1.1-mile mark.
Sign at the junction of the Frenchman Creek Trail and the Colorado Trail
Several open meadows along the trail give partial views of the surrounding mountains. Mt. Columbiaís East Ridge was visible to the south, and the slopes of Pt. 13,242 (incorrectly labeled as Pt. 12,430 on Trails Illustrated Map #129) were visible to the north.
A bump on Mt. Columbiaís East Ridge, seen from the Frenchman Creek Trail
We took a break when we popped out of the trees at about 11,800 feet. BadgerNick and his hiking partner from Indiana caught up with us, and we chatted for a while. I had met Nick on Mt. Shavano last year. Todd was feeling nauseous, and decided to head back to camp. Jay was also feeling queasy, and had already turned back. We fueled up, hydrated, put on some sun block, and hit the trail again. The wildflowers were not exactly spectacular in the basin. I saw Old Man of the Mountain, Purple Wallflower, Marsh Marigold, Chiming Bells, and Globeflowers.
Looking up at the mouth of the basin from treeline
Old Man of the Mountain (Hymenoxys grandiflora)
The creek was running high, and we had to head upstream from the trail crossing to get across without getting wet. We found a shallow spot just below one of the beaver dams.
BadgerNick crossing Frenchman Creek below one of the beaver dams in the basin
We intended to follow the South Pine Creek Trail up to the saddle between Mt. Harvard and Pt. 13,242, but we stayed on the Frenchman Creek Trail too long. When we realized that the trail was just going to take us farther up the basin, we angled up the slope to see if we could catch the right trail. It soon became apparent that we didnít need to find the trail; we just went directly up the slope to the saddle. I could see cairns along the South Pine Creek Trail as I ascended.
Derek moving towards the saddle on Mt. Harvardís East Ridge. Mt. Harvard is the snowy peak in the background.
Mt. Columbia looked more impressive from the saddle than it did from Horn Fork Basin. The views of Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford were phenomenal. The South Pine Creek Basin looked like an inviting place to visit.
Mt. Columbia, viewed from the saddle on Mt. Harvardís East Ridge
Mt. Belford (left) and Mt. Oxford (right) seen from the saddle on Mt. Harvardís East Ridge. The South Pine Creek Basin is in the lower right hand side of the image.
There were a few obstacles on the East Ridge, but none of them were insurmountable. I decided to cut across the headwall of the basin to the saddle between the East Ridge and Pt. 13,516. Travel on the rocky and grassy tundra was easier than following the ridge, but it probably added a little unnecessary distance. When I reached the saddle, I found the trail that hikers use on the traverse between Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia.
Standing on Mt. Harvardís East Ridge, looking across the basinís headwall toward Pt. 13,516
The trail was strong to about 14,000 feet, but we finally managed to lose it. At this point, we were just below the summit ridge.
Derek following the climberís trail from the saddle between Pt. 13,516 and Mt. Harvardís East Ridge
Gaining the summit ridge seemed objectionable, but traversing the side of the ridge seemed equally bad. We saw a pair of hikers leave the summit and traverse the side of the ridge towards us; it turned out to be Jon Frohlich and Rachel (CSURam). They didnít seem to think that the side of the ridge was too bad, so we decided to give it a try.
The south side of Mt. Harvardís summit ridge
Some parts of the ridge turned out to be a little bit nasty. The talus was wobbly, the scree was loose, and the snow was slick. Nothing really exceeded Class 2, but this was definitely the most intense section of our hike.
Derek contemplating his next move on the side of Mt. Harvardís summit ridge
The exposure on the side of the ridge was more than enough to get my attention. One slip on the snow would have given me a quick ride into the Horn Fork Basin. Fortunately, the exposed portions were relatively short.
Looking down into Horn Fork Basin from the side of the summit ridge
After Iíd had enough of the sidehilling, I followed Derekís lead and just headed straight up to the ridge crest. The relief was immediate.
On top of Mt. Harvardís summit ridge
There were a few bumps along the summit ridge, and we found some fun scrambling opportunities. Hiking on the ridge was pretty enjoyable.
Derek scrambling over a bump on the summit ridge
When we reached the top, there was a marmot sitting on the summit block. He appeared to have been annoyed by our presence.
Marmot, Lord and Master of all he surveys
It was almost noon by the time we summited, which ordinarily would have been fairly late. The clouds were just starting to build up, but there was no thunder or lightning. We didnít want to take any chances with the weather, so we just spent a few minutes on the summit. We wasted little time moving down the ridge.
Doesn't that hurt? (image by Derek Freed)
Derek on Mt. Harvardís summit
The scenic Horn Fork Basin, with Birthday Peak and Mt. Yale in the background
Mt. Columbia, with the nasty Class 5 ridge in the foreground
We decided to avoid the side of the ridge, and stayed on the ridge crest as long as we could. This turned out to be much easier than the route that we used on the ascent. We had to downclimb some talus that may have gone low Class 3, but it was all stable with no significant exposure. When we reached the ďfinĒ on the ridge, we climbed down to get to the climberís trail that we had taken earlier. When we got down to about 14,000 feet, we found BadgerNickís hiking partner relaxing on a patch of grassy tundra. Nick must have been ascending the side of the ridge while we were descending on the ridge crest. His adventure was probably similar to ours. We heard distant thunder at about a quarter past twelve, so we descended into the Frenchman Creek Basin as directly as possible.
Derek descending towards the ďfinĒ on Mt. Harvardís East Ridge. Mt. Columbiaís East Ridge is in the background, and the beaver ponds in Frenchman Creek Basin are visible near the left margin of the image.
Alpine Primrose (Primula angustifolia)
The tundra in the basin was rocky in some places and wet in others, but the descent was quick and easy. Alpine Primrose, Parryís Penstemon, and Sky Pilot were some of the common wildflowers in the upper basin.
Descending into Frenchman Creek Basin
The trail seemed like the most efficient way to move through the basin, so we found it as quickly as we could. There was little thunder and no visible lightning, but rain was becoming a very real threat. It drizzled a little, but not even enough to get us wet. We were completely dry once we reached treeline. The trail below treeline seemed to go on forever, but we had no problems getting back to the trailhead.
Derek following the goat path down the basin
I spent one of the more interesting summers of my life as a horticultural intern at Harvard Universityís Arnold Arboretum. I never could have predicted that Harvard would still be schooling me nearly 20 years later.