This summer we’re attempting to summit as many 14,000+ ft mountains in CO as possible, and we’re reaching the trailheads by bike! Join us on our Summer of Summits.
After Mount Sherman, we headed south to our next group of summits in the Collegiate Peaks. The ride was sunny and pleasant with incredible views the entire way. Highway 24 between Leadville and Highway 82 has basically no shoulder. I was glad it was a weekday as I’m sure the weekend would have brought more traffic. Most cars were patient and passed safely, but we still had a few trucks pulling fifth wheels willing to gamble with our lives while they impatiently, unsafely passed us. Thankfully, south of Highway 82 there was a wide shoulder, and our ride became that much sweeter.
Our final 5 miles to North Cottonwood Creek trailhead was, as usual, unpaved and steep. The rough road wore me out quickly, and I had to push more than I’d like to admit. Though, Sean (as always), effortlessly led the way. After about an hour of struggling, I made it to camp. We ate an early dinner and got inside the tent just as the rain started for the night.
With rain and storms in the forecast, we woke up at 1:30 am for a 2:00 am start. We had a big day ahead of us as we were trying to tackle two summits and get back below treeline before the weather turned sour. We began our hike by the light of our headlamps and soon were in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area. After 4 miles, we came to a fork in the trail – the left trail heading towards Mount Harvard summit and the right to Mount Columbia. We decided to head for Mount Harvard first.
Not long after the split, we were above treeline heading up an invisible mountain while clouds came and went overhead. Most of the trail was pretty nice, but the final mile to the summit was considerably steeper with some boulder climbing and challenging way finding in the dark. During the final half hour, the sun shown its light just enough to illuminate our path to the summit. The homestretch involved busting a few creative moves over large boulders.
Just before 6:00 as I joined Sean at the top, the sunrise exploded in color, and I audibly “wowed” my final few steps. With an uncertain forecast, my sense of urgency competed with my sense of awe as I was witnessing one of the most surreal sunrises of my life.
Eventually, we pulled ourselves away from the summit and headed down nearly 3000 ft over 3 miles to get back down to the Mount Columbia spur trail. All Trails lists a route connecting the ridge between the two mountains, but commitment and exposure were two things we didn’t want to gamble with so we took the longer route. At 7:30, we started our second big climb of the day.
The trail immediately tore up the side of the mountain in a series of switchbacks and stair steps. The first third boasted a wide, beautifully crafted trail that we were able to cruise through quickly. The second third turned much steeper with loose dirt and rock which took considerably more caution to traverse.
The last section was walking ridgeline to the summit – or what turned out to be a series of about five false summits before the actual summit appeared. As we neared the actual summit of Mount Columbia, clouds started to surround us. Just passed 9:00 we made it to summit #2 of the day about 3 hours after we had left Mount Harvard summit. Our time at the top was very brief before we turned around and bolted for treeline.
After descending the ridgeline, we were back below the clouds. The remaining walk was pretty quick, and at about 10:40 we made it back to safety in the trees. Clouds filled the sky, but no rain, thunder, or lightning had started. We walked the 4 miles of approach trail through the woods back to our campsite at the trailhead pleased with our day’s accomplishments. And ready for lunch!!
At 12:15, we returned to camp 10 hours and 15 minutes after we started. Our hardest day of hiking so far was done. No more than a half hour had passed at camp before we heard thunder crack, and the rain began. Thankfully, all we had to do was rest for tomorrow’s 14er, Mount Yale.
The alarm rang at 2:00. I rejoiced when Sean hit the snooze. A few minutes later, snooze again. Neither of us were getting up. Sean turned the alarm off. I was so stoked! We slept until 5:30 and finally pulled ourselves out of the tent. It was actually really nice to be able to see without our headlights. We packed up the bikes and left North Cottonwood Trailhead and headed for Silver Creek Trailhead a mile and a half down the road. This trailhead gives access to the Colorado Trail (Collegiate East route). We locked up the bikes and headed southbound on the CT to the spur trail to Mt Yale.
We enjoyed the pleasant, but steep trail up the saddle and reminisced on our 2017 Colorado Trail thruhike. After 3 miles on the CT meandering through the wilderness, we went west on the spur trail up Mt Yale’s east ridge. This route is a less traveled way to summit the mountain, but made the most sense to our route since the trailhead was so close to Mt Harvard and Mt Columbia.
After we left the CT, we headed above treeline and got a spectacular view of the mountain ahead. As we approached Mt Yale, it became obvious that our route would be tearing straight up the ridge.
The two miles and 2300 ft of elevation gain from the spur trail was an adventure following a faint trail through boulder fields and up loose rock and dirt.
We had amazing weather on the way up and enjoyed the spectacular views noting Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton and could even pick out Pike’s Peak far on the eastern horizon.
We didn’t spend much time at the summit before we headed back down. As we picked our way from rock to rock, clouds moved in on the surrounding peaks. We were happy to make it back to the CT where the hike became much easier and our pace considerably quicker. We returned to the bikes just as a light rain began. We waited it out for a few minutes, then made the ride into Buena Vista for resupply. 17 summits done! On to the next…
If you’re keeping track…
530 Miles by Bike / +46,200 ft elevation gain
117 Miles Hiking / +48,200 ft elevation gain
17 – 14,000+ ft Summits
We are Bekah and Sean, out on an adventure to summit as many CO 14ers as possible this summer and reaching them via bicycle! Follow along here or on Instagram as we complete our Summer of Summits.