San Isabel National Forest

Climbing Mount Columbia

Leadville Ranger District

Activities: Hiking, Fishing
Season: 6/15 - 9/30
Length: Route 1: 6.5 miles (10.4 km.) Route 2: 7.50 miles (12.0 km)
Attractions: Mount Columbia, elevation 14,071 ft., is the 35th highest of the 53 14,000 ft. peaks in the state. Excellent dispersed camping and opportunities for fishing exists on both routes.
Use: Route 1 & 2 - Moderate
Difficulty: Moderate
USGS Map(s): Mt. Harvard 1:62500


Route 1
Trail begins: Elevation 8,800 ft. Parking available at beginning of forest access road between Three Elk and Four Elk. 4WD may continue one mile to road closure. Continue up old road one mile to Colorado Trail. Hike one mile south on Colorado Trail to Three Elk Trail. Hike west on Three Elk to Columbia Basin 2.5 miles. Climb NW 0.5 mile up gully to ridge and continue 0.5 miles SW to summit.
Trail Ends: 14,071 feet summit of Mount Columbia

Access: From Leadville travel south on US Hwy 24 for 26.5 miles to Crazy Horse Campground. Drive west into the Four Elk development and follow the signs to the forest access road. Please respect private property.

Route 2
Trail Begins: Elevation 8,400 ft. Parking available at beginning of Harvard Trail, Forest Road 138. 4WD may continue 3.5 miles to Wilderness boundary. From there, continue one mile to Colorado Trail and continue up the Frenchman Creek drainage 2 miles. Head SW up gentle slope one mile to summit.
Trail Ends: 14,071 ft. summit of Mount Columbia

Access: From Leadville, travel south 24 miles on US Hwy 24 to Chaffee County Route 138 travel SW 0.5 miles to Forest Road 138.

NOTE: No well defined or marked trail exists above treeline on either route to summit.

Technical ability or special mountain climbing experience is not necessary for these routes up Mount Columbia. Good physical condition is important; however, ascent and return require a good full day of strenuous hiking. At this elevation where the air is thin, you will require extra energy. Stick to the trail. Don't shortcut trail switchbacks as this causes erosion. Take a few extra minutes to pack out whatever you pack in. Better yet, pack out a few pieces of someone else's litter too.

The cardinal rule of experienced hikers is to turn back if in doubt. You can always make another trip if weather conditions are bad, you started too late, of if someone tires rapidly. Start your trip early since showers or thunderstorms often occur in the afternoon. These storms build quickly and may bring freezing rain, sleet or snow. Avoid exposed areas, rock outcrops, lone tall trees, and other natural lightning roads. There are no shelters on the peak. Temperatures seldom are above 50 and often drop below freezing.

Wear proper clothing with special attention to boots and lightweight, warm and waterproof jacket. As a minimum, you should carry a day-pack with lunch, quick energy snacks, water, sunglasses, sunburn lotion, and a small first aid kit. Don't forget your camera. Snowfields and gullies can be treacherous. Don't slide down these slopes. The gradient can be deceptive, and you can quickly loose control. Stick to the known trails. Be sure to advise relatives or friends of your trip, route and schedule. Stay with your party or group. Winter climbing is not advised.

Campsites are available at Elbert Creek or Halfmoon Campgrounds. Suitable backpacking campsites are not available along the trail route. The campgrounds are accessible to most types of vehicles. However, the very large motor homes, trailers over 22 feet or highway type busses are not recommended. Forest Road 110 is narrow, graveled, and rough; so please drive with caution. The road is closed by snow in Winter months.

Drinking water is not available once you leave the campgrounds. Carry an adequate supply for your entire hike. Streams and surface water should not be considered safe for drinking without purification.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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