From Buena Vista head west on CR 350 for 2 miles , then Turin right on to CR 365. In less than a mile make a left on to CR361 ( this is a dirt road). Continue on CR361 toward the trailhead (road will end at N. Cotton wood Creek trailhead).
Note: The road is possible in a 2wd vehicle however all wheel drive or 4WD, is highly recommend.
From trail head: Head up single track from sign, this portion of the trail is steep with a few rocks and roots. At 1.5 miles up the trail there is a fork and a sign for Kroenke Lake. Stay to the right and continue up the trail. The trail will steepen a bit. At another 1.5 miles up the trail there will be another slight fork. This one is not marked with signs. Continue right at this fork to leave Horn Fork Basin trail. This will take you up the west slope of Mt. Columbia*. This trail points you in the direction of a boulder field, continue on this direction. After passing through some small rolling hills and forest, continue left toward the boulder field at about 11,800. The trail has recently seen some maintenance so the trail is fairly easy to navigate through the boulders and rocks. Continue up the trail as marked. Faint tracks mark the way to Columbia’s summit, there is some loose dirt and rock in the steepest pitch just below 13,600. Once above follow the trail up to the ridge of Mt Columbia, and through some more rocks and boulders to reach the summit of Mt. Columbia. If only doing Columbia, reverse the route in which you came up to get back to the trail head.
If heading on to Mt Harvard continue north past the summit Mt. Columbia. this will drop you down into a clear connecting ridge. Do not follow the ridge itself, as it becomes class 4 and 5 climbing. Drop eastward down below to 13,00 through some loose and steep talus. THERE IS NO TRAIL! Once down at 13,000 you will move between some large boulders, and connect to a grassy slope. Turn Left and and head back up to the connecting ridge toward Mt.Harvard. The trail is not clear here however head toward the direction of Mt. Harvard. Once at about 13,800 you will be able to see the connecting trail. Follow this trail through some class 2 rocks and boulders and continue through to the summit.
Once at the summit there is a small scramble down 30-40 feet to the trial back down. (note this is a fairly steep section of about 1.2 miles to get into the basin.) Follow the trail down, at about 13,000 you will pass trough a small talus field. This section is well marked and easy to navigate. At about 1.5 miles from the summit of Mt. Harvard you will cross into the Horn Fork Basin. Here the trail mellows out as you run through willows and next to a creek. Continue to follow the trail through the basin , this will be the same trail you ascended earlier to connect with Mt. Columbia. Keep heading down the trail. At the fork to turn up to Mt. Columbia. Continue right on down the trail about 3 miles to get back to the trailhead. Note that at the sign for Kroenke Lake bear left to continue to the trail head.
* If wanting to summit just Mt. Harvard, follow trail from TH up to the fork at 1.5 miles. Continue right taking you up another 1.5 tot the next trail junction. Instead of turning right here like you would for Mt. Columbia, stay toward the left and traverse through the basin up to the summit of Harvard.
*This route can be done in reverse but the recommended direction is CW of the Columbia- Harvard traverse- if doing this traverse CCW follow these descriptions on the opposite direction.
Climbing your first mountain or 14er is an exciting and rewarding experience! You’ll get the achievement of seeing the world from above and the feel-goods of the endorphins from the exercise. However, the mountains aren’t a walk in the park, and getting down is mandatory. Some situations require extra caution and a little know how. With a bit of preparation, you’ll be able to get to the summit and back safely.
Whether you are training for a race or simply indulging in all the wilderness has to offer, there are a variety of factors, some constant, and some changing, that are likely to have an impact on your journey. Knowing these factors can help ensure your safety and get you back to the trailhead safely.