Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mt Harvard.

One defining aspect of living in Lafayette: restlessness.

After barely a month of living here, I found a group of similar-minded people and booked it out of the state for the long weekend, driving 20 hours westward to the mountains of Colorado.

Six of us shared a car on the way there, trading shifts and driving through the night. The best shift of all was mine: sunrise, just as we were entering Colorado, as the terrain began to change and mountains began to rise up out of the plains of Kentucky.

Getting close to Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs.

I couldn't have hand-picked a better road trip group than this one. Hardly five minutes passed when we weren't talking or bantering; the conversations were so entertaining that I'm surprised any of us got any sleep at all.

Pit stop to take in the view.

Mt Harvard is what they call a '14er', a peak of over 14,000 feet, of which there are 54 in Colorado alone. Harvard is the 3rd highest in the state, and rises out of the small town of Buena Vista. There we met up with 9 others, and made camp near the trailhead. In a feeble attempt to acclimatize to the elevation, we slept at around 10,000 feet.


Talk about an early start; our alarms went off at 2:30am. After breakfast by headlamp in the chilly night air, packed with several liters of water and thousands of calories of trail food, we started the tramp in one big group.


The group broke apart before long. Five of the stronger guys booked it up the mountain, reaching the peak well over an hour before I did. Another 14er, Mt Columbia, is attached to Harvard via a 3-mile ridge, which is exposed, steep, very strenuous, and takes a conservative 3 hours to complete. The group of five who first reached Harvard crossed over to Columbia and thus managed to summit two 14ers in the same day, an awesome accomplishment.

Me, I was happy to take my time. The hiking was fairly straightforward up until we hit treeline at about 12,500 feet. From there, the nasty talus (boulder field) began. Since we were approaching the summit from the west face of the mountain, we couldn't see the actual sunrise, but the peaks behind us turned pink with daylight as we began the final ascent.

Snacks and a nap break at 13,000.
Piles of rock pointing out the trail.

The final kilometer took 2 hours to complete and was quite tiring. Not only was the terrain very steep, but the gusts of 40mph winds kept knocking me around, and the altitude had its effects as well.

My walking buddy behind me, looking very small.
Our walking trail can be seen faintly down the middle. Bear Lake to the right.

It was a tremendous feeling to finally make the summit at 14,420 feet. The top was very exposed, with little flat space to rest and a sheer drop on the other side. Still, I couldn't help dawdling. I found a small space to dodge the high winds, and sat there contentedly for the next hour. The weather could not have been more perfect. Blue skies, white clouds, visibility for hundreds of miles.

Panorama video from the top.
video

The descent was quick. My walking partners and I kept up a driving pace down the talus, back down to treeline, all the way to the trailhead.


After everyone else had arrived back at camp, we promptly packed up and headed home, but not before a much-needed meal of Mexican in Colorado Springs. Another 20 hours later, exhausted but happy (especially, these boys, who climbed both Harvard and Columbia), we arrived back in Lafayette.


I'm already looking forward to the next trip, and am glad to realize that my exploration kick from the past year has not quite ended (and indeed, may never need to).