Mount Columbia is a 14,077-foot mountain in the Collegiate Peaks section of the Sawatch Range northwest of Buena Vista. A long ridge joins the bulky peak to neighboring 14,420-foot Mount Harvard. The mountain, named for Columbia University in New York City, earned a bad reputation among climbers for the steep, plodding ascent up loose rock on the standard West Slopes route. Columbia is usually climbed from Horn Fork Basin, an alpine cirque below Harvard and Columbia. Despite the rigors of an ascent, Columbia offers excellent views of the other Collegiate Peaks to the south—Yale and Princeton—as well as a half-dozen other Fourteeners. Mount Columbia is in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area.
- Mount Columbia is usually climbed by the West Slopes route, which gains 4,250 feet from car to summit. This roundtrip, 10.5-mile climb begins by following a trail along North Cottonwood Creek and Horn Fork Creek to Horn Fork Basin. After three miles of hiking, the Columbia trail branches right near treeline. The route ascends a long scree slope to a gully and then angles up right on the Southeast Shoulder. Continue up a steep slope to the south ridge, which heads north to the summit. The route is easier in early summer when snow fills the gullies.
- Four other good routes climb Mount Columbia. The 6-mile East Ridge route climbs through thick forest then follows a long ridge west to the top. The 5.5-mile Southeast Ridge route is a long twisting ridge climb with amazing views and position. The Southwest Couloir, right of the standard West Slopes route, is a fun early-season snow climb up a broad gully. Bring an ice axe.
- Mount Columbia is often climbed with Mount Harvard. Climb Harvard first and then follow a rough trail east of the ridge to avoid a bunch of pinnacles called The Rabbits. Finish by getting back on the ridge and cruise south to Columbia’s summit. A good alternative for rock climbers is the Rabbits traverse, following the rough, spiked ridge between Harvard and Columbia. The hardest section is passing the Rabbits pinnacles. It’s exposed scrambling with a short technical pitch rated 5.7.
- The best months to climb Mount Columbia are July and August. Get an early start to avoid being caught on the high ridges during afternoon lightning storms. Plan to be off the summit by noon if possible. Weekday ascents are less busy than weekends. Check the weather before attempting the 2.2-mile traverse between Harvard and Columbia since most of the route is exposed to bad weather.
Recommended season(s): Year-round.
—Stewart M. Green