Mt. Harvard Winter Ski Descent

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Date: February 28, 2010
Parnter: Matt Kamper
Route: Ascent of South Ridge from 8,900` on the Cottonwood Creek Road, summit ski descent of ascent route
Stats: 5,700` climbed, 5,700` skied, 20.5 miles, 11 hours

I met up with Matt at Bongo Billy`s in Buena Vista early Sunday morning where we consolidated into his truck and headed for the Cottonwood Creek Road.  Both of us were amped about the possibility of another 14er ski, though we certainly had a few reasons to doubt our chances.  Firstly, the weather forecast was less than ideal, sitting at a 60% chance of snow, and secondly and much more importantly, the avy danger was locked in at “considerable” for the Sawatch for all aspects at and above treeline.  Regardless, thanks to our research as well as Fritz`s (Killingcokes) knowledge of the peak, we felt confident an avy safe route could be pieced together through the upper basin and onto the South Ridge.

After digging out a parking spot for the truck, we began skinning at 6:30am from just above the “maintenance” sign at 8,900`.  About half a mile in we were surprised to come across a well plowed road which lends access to the surrounding properties through the winter, a small excursion at the end of our day revealed this road to be accessible via a road system which branches off CR 365 and heads north.  If you`re planning a trip up to Horn Fork Basin any time soon, researching this alternate entrance would be worth your while.  The 3.5 miles to the summer TH has seen a lot of traffic, Matt and I made quick work of it.

Past the summer TH all that remained was a single skin track set by Killingcokes and partner from their attempt on Harvard the previous day.  Talking with him on the phone and learning there was a fresh track set to 11,300` put the icing on the cake for our decision to go after Harvard.  Fritz, we owe you a few beers mate.  After skinning for a long time through the woods we turned right and headed up a gully to treeline.  As we broke out into the basin some weather rolled in and obscured our view of the peak, though we still had enough visibility for safe travel.

Skinning just above treeline. Photo by Matt.

The doughnut hole effect so common to the central Sawatch seemed to be lending us a helping hand.  In a matter of minutes we were treated to sun and blue skies with almost no wind, these conditions held for the rest of the day.  I pulled up alongside Matt and we downed some food and Gatorade, a quick look at the map and surrounding terrain and we decided on a route.  Basically we just stuck to the middle of the basin and used a low angled ramp to gain the moraine below the Harvard/Columbia connecting ridge.

Matt skinning with Harvard’s South Face in view.

Travel through this section was tricky; staying off and out of the way of avy slopes was no simple task as terrain through the upper basin is complex.  After deciding on an acceptable route, we skinned one at a time up and over a large hump to gain a small ridge feature that put us below Harvard`s South Face.

Columbia photo op. Photo by Matt.

Harvard’s South Face and our approximate route.

From our position in the above photo we headed straight for the peak, then cut left and up to a column of boulders which provided safe passage to the South Ridge.  From that point there was ample snow coverage that paved the way for a low-angled route up the ridge to the summit block.  Gaining the ridge was undoubtedly the crux of the entire route from an avalanche standpoint, while we were picking our way through the boulders we heard a whoomp that propagated out across the slope to our left.  The boulder column however provided just enough of a safe zone for us to gain the ridge with confidence.  The whoomp was one of the only hard signs of instability we experienced all day, but we still left with the impression that many slopes up there are hanging on by a thread.

We threw the skis on our backs for the hop up the summit block.

On the summit there was not a breath of wind to be felt, we topped out at 2:30pm, ascent time of 8 hours.

A hard earned summit.

Photo by Matt.

We geared up and skied from the summit at 2:50pm.  This involved a short traverse across the north side of the summit block to the small chute that grants access to the summit snowfields.

Matt off the top, the route to the chute is the strip of snow over his left shoulder.

Down the chute we go.

…then we traversed to the south.

…then back around a corner to our boulder column. Photo by Matt.

From here we decided it best to slalom the boulders, attempting to stray to the left or right as little as possible.

We had good snow through here (our skin track is visible in this photo). Photo by Matt.

Boulder slalom. Photo by Matt.

Tracks, pointed and curved.

Once past the crux, we followed our skin track out through the upper basin.

Heading home.

The ski back to the car was not devoid of difficulties, but skiing out a long approach is always one of the most satisfying parts of the day for me.  We capped off our day at 5:15pm, enough time to watch the sun head down before heading into BV for dinner.  If you`re planning on heading out, know your route intimately and make sure your avy skills are sharp, the snow pack up there is a little spooky right now.  Thanks for reading!

Lastly, here’s a link to our article in the Colorado Mountain Journal.