February 19, 2017

Mount Columbia – 14,073′

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893' (Mount Harvard - 1.9 mi NW)
Chaffee County
9.2 mi NW of Buena Vista
23.2 mi S of Leadville

Harvard-Columbia Traverse (Class 2)

Google Maps


This is the 30th 14er I've climbed, back in September 2016 with my friend Adam. Mount Columbia is the 12th tallest peak in the Sawatch Range and the 35th tallest in Colorado. It is sometimes climbed together with neighboring Mount Harvard, one of the tallest mountains in Colorado. The summit of Mount Columbia is only ~6 miles from the busy US 24 highway and less than 10 miles from the town of Buena Vista. However, it is often hidden by the mountain's high eastern ridgelines and therefore to difficult to see from many places in the Arkansas River Valley to the east. 

We hiked Mount Columbia from Mount Harvard, via the challenging ridge that connects the two peaks. After first summiting Harvard, the route is fairly straightforward (Class 1 or 2) for the first mile or so. A trail is occasionally visible along the way. Eventually, the trail drops below the ridge to the left (east) to avoid more difficult terrain along the ridgeline itself. The route remains Class 2 if you stay on trail, however you lose - and therefore must regain - about 200' of elevation. Sticking to the ridge proper requires several Class 5 moves and some additional Class 4 climbing.

We chose to leave the trail and find our way through the more difficult (and more fun) terrain closer to the ridgeline. Our goal was to descend as little as possible, while still avoiding Class 5 rock. Thus, we did not follow any documented route description. Instead, we made up our own way, which required almost constant route-finding. We did quite a bit of Class 3 scrambling and negotiated several Class 4 maneuvers. Even so, we kept it at Difficult Class 2 for probably 75% of the traverse. After reaching a flat area at 13,400', the remaining 700' to Mount Columbia's summit is straightforward. 

I highly recommend consulting a detailed guidebook if attempting to traverse the Harvard-Columbia ridge via the more technical routes. Gerry Roach's Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs is a good resource. Otherwise, the 14ers.com route description (linked to above) should suffice if staying on the Class 2 route. Following the Class 2 route, it is 2.4 miles from peak to peak. This usually takes several hours to complete, so do not attempt this traverse in poor weather conditions! 

There are, of course, other routes to Mount Columbia's summit as well, including the standard route that ascends the mountain's steep, loose west slopes. This is also the way down from the summit after doing the Harvard-Columbia traverse. Another option that I have tried (unsuccessfully) is the Southeast Ridge route. This alternative route is long (~12 miles roundtrip) and requires a lot of hiking above 12,000', along Columbia's exposed southeast ridge. 


Trip Reports

Mount Columbia (Sept 2016)