Mt. Harvard is the 4th highest summit in the contiguous United States and the highest of the Collegiate Peaks. It’s a beautiful place to spend a three-day weekend with great camping spots in Horn Fork Basin and less crowds than the Front Range.
I knew Memorial Day Weekend would still be snowy, but I was itching to get my first summit of the year and my friend Cole was up for attempting his first ever. We were attempting the South Slopes Route with 4,600 feet of elevation gain and 14 miles round trip. It turned out to be an adventure as always.
We arrived at the trailhead later than we planned on Saturday, May 28, and headed out around 9 p.m. About 2.5 miles in, the trail turned from dirt to about 95 percent snow. We planned to camp at Horn Fork Basin, but 3 miles in we lost the trail in the snow and dark. That wouldn’t be the last time that happened.
Instead of pushing forward, we set up camp close to midnight. We woke up after a chilly restless night, broke camp at 6, and headed out. After strapping on our microspikes, we took off over the hardpacked snow. The trail was much easier to find in the daylight.
The hike through Horn Fork Basin was uneventful but gorgeous. Look out for cairns where the trail bends slightly right at the ridge. The section at the top is quite steep. We were happy to have ice axes with us.
We reached the summit at 11:35 a.m., took the obligatory summit shots, and tried to catch our breath for a few minutes.
It started to hail on us so we headed back down shortly after summiting.
Then we had some of the best, and longest, glissades I’ve ever seen down the side of the mountain. That got us back to the basin just in time for the snow to soften. Even with snowshoes on, it was slow going with plenty of postholing.
When you get back near tree line, be sure to stay right. We got lost for a bit when we followed someone else’s tracks which veered left. That little adventure added an extra half mile to the trip. Once we found the trail, our hike out was quick. We got back to the car around 5:30 p.m. Our summit day ended up being 11 miles in 11.5 hours. Not the best record, but a great day in the mountains!
I was sure to save my lucky 14th 14er summit on Colorado 14ers!