Peak(s):  Mt. Columbia  -  14,075 feet
Date Posted:  09/21/2020
Modified:  09/22/2020
Date Climbed:   09/21/2020
Author:  scrambling
 Columbia only (not Harvard); and a great big attaboy to CFI!   

I have two primary objectives with this report. One is to describe the route to Columbia with info and photos of the recently-completed Colorado Fourteeners Initiative improvements and, two, to give a shout out to CFI for their fabulous work on the Columbia trail.

Prior to my hike this week, Columbia was the only Sawatch 14er that I had not summited at least twice. And it ranked dead last on my list of favorite 14ers.

Although I had done it only once and only one way (going downhill after the Harvard-Columbia traverse) that was more than enough of Columbia for me. I had no interest in slipping and sliding either up or down the mountain again and resolved not to return for a second Columbia summit until CFI had finished its work.

CFI is now finished with its project on Columbia (they are packing up and leaving this week with no definitive plans to return). So, I climbed Columbia on Sept. 21, 2020 and this is a summary of what I encountered.

This is the infamous ditch/swale on the road to the trailhead. No problem with high clearance but could be an issue with some vehicles. There are a few other rough patches but, for the most part, the road is not too bad.

The approach trail to both Harvard and Columbia is a beautiful and pleasant hike through the woods that seems to have held up well over the years. You’ll hike more than two miles before you gain your first 1,000 feet of elevation. After that it gets a bit steeper and rockier but it remains a pleasant, class 1 hike/stroll all the way to the Horn Fork Basin.

The approach trail to the Horn Fork Basin is excellent; gentle, pretty and class 1 all the way.
More of the approach trail.

Shortly before treeline and the opening into the Horn Fork Basin you will encounter what I hope will turn out to be a simple but significant trail improvement; a sign at a trail intersection, pointing to Harvard straight ahead or Columbia to the right (the sign was placed earlier this month).

A major improvement?

Maybe I’m overstating the case, but this area has been confusing to a lot of people over the years because it is a popular area for dispersed camping. That, in turn, has caused a confusing network of use trails to develop that make it difficult to find THE trail to either Columbia or Harvard. Now it is crystal clear where to turn and CFI has placed rock and/or tree limb barriers blocking the numerous side trails en route to Columbia so that you can now walk directly to the base of the west slopes of the mountain without (potentially) getting sidetracked. Hopefully, over time, the network of use trails will fade away.

After the sign, when in doubt, head east.

The new, CFI-created trail starts at approximately 11,600 feet, at the base of Columbia’s west slopes, and continues, spectacularly, to 12,900 feet. I think the only way to fully appreciate this new trail is to have climbed (skidded?) this section before the CFI trail was built.

The objective is clear. Fortunately, the start of the CFI improvements is just ahead.

This is where the CFI improvements start. The sign has likely been removed by now.

The new trail is quite steep in some sections and the (beautiful) rock steps might be a bit of challenge for those with shorter legs, but it’s still class 1 (and first class) all the way to 12,900.

Some of the many beautiful steps that CFI has constructed on the trail. They're even more beautiful when you're going downhill!

I've worked a few times as a CFI volunteer and helped to build retaining walls similar to this but not nearly as tall. Based on that limited experience, I can say that this retaining wall, by itself, represents an enormous amount of work and effort.

The CFI trail is steep in places but also has several relatively gentle traverses between switchbacks.

Then the fun begins. The relatively flat ridge is at about 13,700, so you’ve got to negotiate about 800 feet of steep, mostly-scree use trail to gain the ridge from the end of the CFI trail.

One of the many benefits of the CFI trail is that it delivers hikers to the same spot on the mountain. Before climbers would tend to scatter out across the west slopes, scarring the delicate landscape with use trails. Now, with foot traffic concentrated to a single point at 12,900 a more “defined” use trail has developed that is pretty easy to follow all the way to the ridge. The 500 or so vertical feet from 12,900 to about 13,400 is probably the worst part of it, especially going downhill. I’d call this section the crux of the hike. Above 13,400 the grade eases a bit and the use trail traverses the slope a bit more en route to the summit ridge.


The ridge itself is fairly long with a few sections of talus. There is some up and down with a few false summits, but it’s not bad, no more than class 2 and definitely better than the scree section.


During my hike I talked to a member of the CFI trail crew who told me they are packing up their camp in the trees (near the aforementioned sign) for good. After five years of work, CFI is leaving the mountain with no firm plans to return.

However, he did tell me that several members of the CFI board recently hiked the trail and went on to the summit. Thus, the board members experienced the scree sections above 12,900 (including, perhaps, some slip and falls) and got to see first-hand the need for additional improvements, both for the benefit of hikers and for the fragile slope. Thus, perhaps, CFI may now be more inclined to fund additional trail improvements on Mt. Columbia in the future.


In the photo above, with five years of stellar trail work completed, the CFI crew prepares to leave Mt. Columbia.

Here’s a link to the donation page on CFI’s website.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Comments or Questions
Excellent Field Reporting
09/22/2020 17:13
Super job breaking down what€„¢s been done so far and what might happen later.

Thank you
09/22/2020 20:00
to you for the great report ... and to CFI for the years of dedicated work. Proud to support that great organization each year and really in awe of the great volunteers!

Always more to do...
09/23/2020 10:47
I recently joined CFI's Board and was on that hike with other members of the Board in early August. I've contributed to CFI for many years and joined the Board to give some of my time to the efforts that have made such a difference on the 14ers. That hike was a great moment and reinforced my reasoning for contributing to and volunteering for CFI.

During my 14er quest, I enjoyed the fruits of CFI's efforts in many places but the hike of Columbia in August was the first time that I was able to experience the before and after. My first time in 2004, like @scrambling, I descended the gully after traversing from Harvard. What an experience, basically skiing on loose gravel and small scree! What an incredible difference the new trail makes! Thanks to countless hours by CFI staff and crews, donations from individuals, companies and non-profit organizations, this trail is now darn enjoyable.

Sure, there's more to do here and elsewhere but I'm confident that CFI, with continued support from our partners and the climbing community, is up to the task.

Looking forward to it
09/25/2020 16:33
Thank you for your report. I'm looking forward to climbing this route real soon. I've climbed Columbia 6 times in the past, but have only gone down the ski the scree West Slopes. Each time I either did the traverse from Harvard or went up the South East Ridge. It will be great to do this route in both directions with this new trail. Thank you to CFI for your great work on so many fourteeners. I've been climbing 14ers since the 80s and have seen incredible changes. I encourage everybody to donate to this great organization.

   Not registered?

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.

© 2022®, 14ers Inc.