Mount Columbia (14,073ft.) is a 14er mountain located in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, within the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and the greater San Isabel National Forest. Adjacent to Mount Harvard (14,420ft.), the third tallest peak in the state of Colorado, Mount Columbia’s summit offers expansive views of the Horn Fork Basin and beautiful vistas of neighboring Sawatch Range mountains such as Mount Yale (14,200ft.).
The standard Mount Columbia route is via the Class 2 West Slopes, which is easily accessed at the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead. The West Slopes route is a moderately long 10.5 miles out-and-back roundtrip, though considerably steep with about 4,100ft. of elevation gain. Moderate scrambling on loose scree and talus rock is required to reach the summit. We consider this route a challenging day hike, but achievable with proper preparation and training.
Hike Review Series: Mount Columbia
Mount Columbia is part of the impressively beautiful Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, which includes a number of other mountains named after prestigious universities such as Mount Harvard, Mount Yale, and Mount Oxford. Congress officially designated the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area in 1980, encompassing approximately 168,000 acres and some of Colorado’s most breathtaking mountains.
More specifically, Mount Columbia is named in honor of Roger Toll’s alma mater, Columbia University. Toll has an incredibly rich Colorado history and owns the distinction of the first recorded ascent of Mount Columbia in 1916. Notably, Toll was one of the founding members of the Colorado Mountain Club and became superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1921, after a brief tenure as superintendent at Mount Rainier National Park. In addition, Toll left a lasting legacy on area guidebooks, authoring publications such as The Mountain Peaks of Colorado and Mountaineering in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
As with nearly every Colorado 14er mountain, Mount Columbia is extremely popular. Because Mount Columbia is directly adjacent to Mount Harvard (14,420ft.), a compelling opportunity exists to reach two 14er summits in one outing. Thus, due to this popularity, plan to hike on a weekday or arrive early in the morning for less trail traffic.
The Class 2 West Slopes route to Mount Columbia begins at about 9,900ft. at the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead on the Horn Fork Basin Trail. In about 500ft., cross a footbridge over North Cottonwood Creek and begin a gradual ascent through the forest entering into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. The ascent continues to another bridge crossing at about 1.5 miles into the trek. Here the trail starts to steepen and reaches a junction with a trail leading to Kroenke Lake/Brown’s Pass to the left; stay right on the Horn Fork Basin Trail to continue ascending.
At about 3.5 miles into the climb, reach another junction sign noting Mount Harvard/Bear Lake straight and Mount Columbia to the right. Take a right in an eastward direction and in a few hundred feet notice another junction to the left that heads north into the Horn Fork Basin. Continue straight until reaching a clearing with great views of Mount Yale to the south. Begin an ascent through loose talus and eventually into switchbacks of more defined trail with impressive views north toward Mount Harvard and even better views of Mount Yale to the south. Atop the long ridgeline, you’ll have good visibility of the summit goal, along with a great vista of Bear Lake to the west below. Keep ascending the ridgeline, reaching a flat patch of tundra. From here, the trail leads to more substantial boulders to work around and up to the summit of 14,073ft.
Atop Mount Columbia, notice the connection to Mount Harvard and enjoy the views below into the Horn Fork Basin and beyond. Descend by doubling back, scrambling down from the summit and retracing steps back to the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead.
Recommended Hiking Apparel and Gear
We recommend bringing along a topographical map of the area, such as the “Outdoor Trail Maps 14er Series: Columbia, Harvard, Belford, Huron, Missouri, and Oxford.” A good topographical map is always nice to have in addition to a GPS device, if you’re using one. In addition, we included a couple of our favorite field guides for plant and bird identification to aid in the enjoyment of your outdoor adventure. Lastly, we included Gerry Roach’s “Colorado’s Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs” guidebook, which is the best print guide available for hiking Colorado’s 14ers. It provides an amazing amount of information on Mount Columbia and other 14er hikes in Colorado that may be of interest.
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