While it's still pretty early in the season for 14'er climbing due to all of the snow, I have recently bagged a few. The snow adds an interesting element that I haven't experienced before. I am not, by any means, an expert mountaineer. I was very grateful to have my friend, Anna, an EPCSAR volunteer, on the Mt. Harvard hike as it became a longer day than anticipated.
On Wednesday, I dragged Coach Chris up Mt. Quandary, a short little 14'er outside of Breck. Chris wore running shoes which weren't quite rugged enough for the snow at 12,000 feet. I brought my microspikes which worked just fine. We barely post-holed at all until it started getting warmer on the way down. I got a little glissading action in on the descent and the weather held off until we got into the car. We saw a ptarmigan but no marmots.
I took the day off on Thursday and hung out at camp near N. Cottonwood Creek. The roaring creek combined with the Honey-moon made for a beautiful night but not a lot of sleep. Friday I decided to drive the Korean Saab (my 2WD Hyundai Elantra) up the dirt road to Mount Princeton. Although it is doable if you have ninja driving skills like me, I would not advice taking a low-clearance, 2WD vehicle up this road. It is single lane most of the way up and pretty rugged in spots. I crossed paths with the guys following me up the road in a Pathfinder on the mountain and they said they were cheering me on and waiting for my muffler to fall off. I am happy to say I only bottomed-out slightly once, and my muffler is still intact.
After a pretty sketchy section, I decided to park my car about 300 feet below the radio towers and proceed to the trailhead. As I ascended the dirt road, I had a little trouble finding the trailhead off of the road as it was covered by snow. A lesson I learned during this adventure is that just because there are tracks in the snow from hikers before me, does not mean they knew where they were going. I saw some guys climbing the face above the road and they were kicking down some major boulders so I decided I did not want to follow their route. I yelled at them to warn me if they kick rocks down so I can get out of the way and they pointed me in the direction of the correct trailhead that they missed.
As I was hiking back to the correct, snow-covered trailhead, I met a collegiate cross-country runner who was bagging some peaks as well. Taylor led the way up the mountain and I managed to keep up with him until there was a significant amount of scrambling involved. On Mt. Princeton, this is the case for the majority of the hike after about 12,000 feet. Route finding on the way down was tricky and wobbly boulders freak me out so I had a few moments where I needed to do some major positive self-talk. I'm glad I brought my microspikes as there were a few snow fields where slipping may have had dire consequences.
I was the only chick out there and for you single ladies, it's kind of a cool place to meet guys. I descended slowly and my hiking partner for the ascent bee-lined down the mountain quickly. Let's just say with the drive up to the trailhead, rock-scrambling, and the drive down, I had all the adrenaline I could handle for the day. I made it safely down in a SLOW 6-ish hours unscathed and with no damage to my vehicle.
Saturday was the culmination of my peak-bagging trifecta with Mt. Harvard. I couldn't have asked for a better crew to share the adventure. My friends Anna, Paul, Kristine, and Justin all joined me for what became quite the all-season adventure.
We started the hike a little before 7. I had more gear in my backpack than I've ever taken up a mountain and my back is paying for it today. Anna's pack weighed twice as much as mine did but I'm glad she brought those extra dry mittens. The ascent was beautiful and temps were warm. The marsh on the Horn Fork Basin was filled with willows that we bushwacked through until we got to what appeared to be a trailhead. Again, I was boulder-field scrambling on the face. Where was this "excellent" trail that 14'ers.com described? So, again we were bee-lining to the top on large, scary rocks. I managed to cut up to the ridgeline and hiked across on flat terrain to a snow-field and got to try out my new snowshoes. The snow was a little soft but we managed to get through it ok. Paul and I snowshoed up a pretty steep pitch following someone else's tracks and got up to the ridgeline to the summit. I much prefer snow to sketch boulders.
The summit was beautiful and the Columbia combo would have been a bad idea on that day so I'm glad we didn't attempt it. Coming down was pretty rad. We got some glissading action (adult sledding-see Facebook video). which took a few minutes off the descent. Then we managed finding the "excellent" trail on the way down as described by 14ers.com. We snaked down through a wet gully with a lot of fallen trees as we got off-course a bit since we didn't follow the same route as we took up. We experienced a little grappel, lightning (after we were below tree-line) and some snow. We found the main trail again about 3 miles from the start and we were all very grateful that Justin drove us to the trailhead even though it was less than a quarter mile from our campsite. The pizza at Eddyline that night was heavenly.
Mt. Harvard is probably one of the more difficult hikes I've done as snow-covered trails make route finding a little difficult. My shake-out run today after being above 10,000 feet for the past 6 days felt easy. As I continue to train for the Pikes Peak Ascent, I'm hoping to get as much vert as possible in the beautiful mountains of this state. If those of you training for the Triple Crown are hiking some 14er's to prepare, be safe out there!