Download the free ViewRanger app and the following coordinates to gain the summit of one of Colorado’s most enjoyable Fourteeners via the alternate east ridge route.
by CHRIS KASSAR
Higher than Mount Rainier, 14,420-foot Mount Harvard, along with its neighbor 14,078-foot Mount Columbia, form a giant massif hidden deep within the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Mount Harvard ranks third highest in Colorado and fourth in the Lower 48. The summit offers incredible views and the hike up snakes through meadows bursting with wildflowers. We chose to climb Harvard via the oft-overlooked East Ridge route, which makes this simple-yet-challenging ascent even better since you get to explore Frenchman Creek and the lush tundra-filled basin between Harvard and Columbia without having to battle crowds.
Frenchman Creek Trailhead
From Buena Vista, go north for 7.5 miles and turn west on CR 386. Continue for 0.3 miles until you reach FS 386. Turn west onto FS 386 and follow it for 1.4 miles. Park here if you have a two-wheel-drive, low-clearance vehicle. Otherwise, take a left at the fork and head south on a very rugged, rocky four-wheel-drive road for 2.2 miles to reach the upper trailhead and the Collegiate Peaks Boundary at 10,800 feet. Park here. Head south and west on Frenchman Creek Trail, following the creek as it carves a path through lush forest.
Colorado Trail Junction
Continue climbing west through the forest to reach a junction with the Colorado Trail, which bisects the trail in both directions. Continue straight through the intersection to stay on the Frenchman Creek Trail.
Junction with South Pine Creek Trail
The trail climbs steadily as it perseveres west along the creek. Shortly before reaching a junction with the South Pine Creek trail, you’ll break free from tree line and enter a beautiful alpine basin. South Pine Creek Trail comes in from the north (right), but continue straight toward Harvard’s east ridge. From here, the trail becomes fainter and fainter. Be sure to keep north then west to reach a 12,980-foot saddle on the east ridge.
Columbia Trail Intersection
Explore the high country via this ridge, which in mid-summer teems with an array of wildflowers and scurrying marmots. Continue straight and climb west along the rocky ridge to reach the summit of Mount Harvard.
Rejoice! You’ve made it. From your perch at 14,420 feet, breathe in spectacular views of Mount Columbia and the Frenchman Creek drainage from above. When you’ve had enough, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
NOTE: You can make numerous longer loops and backpacking possibilities here via connections with the Colorado Trail and South Pine Creek Trail. Those with summit fever can climb Mount Columbia from upper Frenchman Creek basin, but don’t underestimate what it will take to do both peaks on the same day, especially from this trailhead. The ridge between the two summits is 2.2 miles and has significant amounts of ups and downs—it’s rough, but doable. Or you can save Columbia for another day and try both from the more popular North Cottonwood Trailhead. Climbing this dynamic duo of peaks from the other side also makes an excellent overnight based out of the Horn Fork Basin.
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