My love for hiking Colorado's 14ers began when I was a sophomore in high school. I was a member of the cross country team and for summer training we would have the opportunity to join a week long trip to the Leadville area. We would run and hike at altitude in hope it would help our performance. My first 14er was Huron Peak. I remember wandering if it would be worth it the whole way up. When I reached the top it all made sense. As I looked out at the beautiful mountains around me and down below to how far I had come, I felt a sense of belonging. I felt on top of the world, and although I was barely above 14,000 feet, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I would go on to summit La Plata Peak later that week. In my remaining time in high school I would go on to summit Mt. Princeton (my personal most hated 14er), Mt. Evans, and attempt Grays and Torreys (we ran into some late summer snow without proper gear). After graduating in 2020 (I know, lucky me, right?) I was ready for my next adventure.
In July of this year I hiked all 486.4 miles of the Colorado Trail. In addition, I summited Mt. Massive, Mt. Elbert, and San Luis Peak and had plans to do Mt. Harvard, Mt. Yale, Mt. Shavano, and Tabeguache Peak. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the North Cottonwood Creek road crossing the physical toll of the trail and the significant lack of calories finally caught up with me. I decided to pass on Harvard and Yale for the time being and continue with the miles I had to cover. After finishing the trail and returning the hot, humid (and flat) Missouri, I was itching to get back to Colorado. With Labor Day weekend coming up, I made some last minute plans and convinced my boyfriend (Evan) to come with me.
Our adventure began with a long drive across Kansas. We were then met with a wonderful storm upon entering Colorado (as if I didn't get enough of those in July). We stayed the night at a hotel in Denver and then headed to Buena Vista the following morning. I took a detour through Leadville and Twin Lakes to take Evan back to all of the spots I walked though on the Colorado Trail. We finally arrived in Buena Vista and had lunch before heading to the Harvard trail. I want to give a huge shoutout to Biggies! I don't know if we were just starving or if it is just that good, but both Evan and I have done nothing but talk about Biggies since then.
It was finally time to head to the trail. I had read the the North Cottonwood Creek road was doable for a 2WD low clearance vehicle. About three miles into the road we came upon huge ruts that I didn't want to attempt in my Chevy Cruze. As I backed up to let another car by, my front passenger side tire got buried in some loose dirt. We needed help getting out, but luckily there were plenty of people coming by. We parked on a pull off and walked the rest of the way to the trailhead. There were several other 2WD low clearance vehicles further up but they all had Texas plates so I think that had something to do with it?
The Harvard trail is very wide and beautifully maintained. It is relatively gradual in elevation gain and once you reach Horn Fork Basin it is absolutely stunning. We reached a wonderful camp spot about 3.3 miles into the hike next to a huge rock. We set up camp, checked out the views, and had a little campfire before going to bed. Evan was feeling pretty good which was a good sign. I would say that I am in pretty good shape, and after being in Colorado for all of July, I readjusted to the altitude pretty quickly. Evan on the other hand only had about 24 hours to acclimate.
We woke up at 5:30am and got started on the trail by 5:57am. I remember hiking at this time on the Colorado Trail every morning. There would be deer in front of my stunned by my headlamp. The trail would be quiet. The sun would still be down. It was always a peaceful time. We made it slowly through the basin and I made sure to frequently check in on Evan to see how he was doing. I was so happy to see how positive he was staying despite the continuous upward hiking. I made sure to point out to him how far we had already made it every time we stopped
The weather was absolutely beautiful. Although it was a little windy until the sun came up, sky was clear and the air was warm. We slowed down after reaching 13.500 feet or so. The trail becomes more rock scrambly and a little more technical (at least compared to the rest of the trail in the trees). Once Evan saw how close he was to the summit, nothing could stop him. When we finally made it to the top he threw his hands up in celebration. Three of the mountains I have climbed stand out to me the most. Huron Peak stands out since it was my first, Mt. Massive stands out because it was the first one I did solo, and now Mt. Harvard stand out because this one was about getting Evan to the top. I was so proud of him. We took some pictures and sat at the top for a few minutes having some snacks. It was finally time to head down.
Evan cheered on other hikers the whole way down. I could see the same feeling in him that I had after my first summit. It was so amazing to be able to share that with somebody I love. About the time we reached 11,700 feet Evan got extremely quiet. We hadn't really stopped for a break on the way down (which is on me for not checking in on him). I guess I just assumed since we were going down he wouldn't have any issues. He started having some chest pain and had a pretty bad headache. When we got back to camp he laid down and I began packing some of our gear up. I was worried about him, but I hoped with a nap and some more food he might feel better. Luckily he just needed a little break and was ready to go! We talked about food all the way to the trailhead. poor guy was starving.
Once we reached the trailhead we still had to walk to my car, which was three miles down the road. We hoped we could hitch a ride but weren't having any luck. Finally, a family drove by and picked us up to take us the rest of the way. We must have both been exhausted because the drive felt a lot longer than we had remembered walking the day before. Once getting back to my car at 3:30 it was time to go get some food. After I hiked my first 14er I had dinner at Quincy's in Leadville. My cross country coach did the same after his first 14er and then took all of us there too. It had sort of become a little tradition. Evan and I arrived at Quincy's tired and stinky. The poor guy could barely keep his eyes open at the table and was ready for bed before 6pm. We drove back to Buena Vista and had some ice cream and then decided to look for a place to camp for the night before heading back to Missouri in the morning.
On the Colorado Trail I had camped near the Clear Creek Reservoir campground along Clear Creek. I remembered this being a fairly easy spot to get to so we headed that way. The campground was full but just past it about 100 yards on the Colorado Trail were some great camping spots. We packed in our gear for the night and set up camp. There were several other hikers doing the Collegiate Loop and I enjoyed talking to them about the trail. Evan fell asleep pretty quickly and then we were up again at 5:30am. We picked up some burritos and coffee in Buena Vista and then headed east. The mountains quickly faded behind us. Unfortunately, this would be my last trip to Colorado this year. It would be a long drive across Kansas and then back to school and work the following week. I was still so proud of Evan and ready to plan our next adventure.