Mt Harvard Columbia
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Mt Harvard Mt Columbia Combo - a difficult combo due to the elevation loss between Mt Harvard to Mt Columbia - distances are deceiving - not much of a trail up and down Mt Columbia

The Horn Fork basin below Mt Harvard and Mt Columbia mosquito city though!

Tree line in the basin for Mt Harvard Mt Columbia, I believe its called the Horn Fork Basin or another name might be the Mosquito City Basin

The summit of Mt Harvard comes into closer view as we climb up the Horn Fork basin on a good trail

The summit of Mt Harvard from the upper slopes of the basin, a long ways still to go

Looking back down the basin from the upper slopes of Mt Harvard, Mt Columbia on the left and Bear Lake on the right and Mt Yale in the distance in line with Bear Lake

A look back at the basin with Bear Lake on the right Mt Columbia on the left from the upper slopes of Harvard and Mt Yale in the distance in line with Bear Lake

The long traverse beckons you on from Mt Harvard over to Mt Columbia

The long traverse from the ridge near the summit of Mt Harvard

 The lower slopes of Mt Columbia with no trail to speak of

The basin where you lose all that elevation!

A look at the drop down off the ridge between Mt Harvard and Mt Columbia

Looking back from the Mt Columbia side of the basin you have to drop into

The slopes of Mt Columbia seem to be never ending

Upper slopes of Mt Columbia yet still a long ways to go

The summit of Mt Columbia with Mt Harvard in the background, I don't really know what I am smiling about?

Finally the summit of Mt Columbia, see how distant the summit of Mt Harvard is

Now you know it was a tough scramble when Victoria can't even crack a smile,lol!

Victoria on the summit of Mt Columbia, she doesn't look too impressed now does she?

And finally the nasty descent slope down Mt Columbia

The descent slope down Mt Columbia back to tree line to pick up the tent

Mt. Harvard / Mt. Columbia Combo

Scramble: Class 2 – Steep Hiking

Altitude: Harvard 14,420 ft, Columbia 14,073 ft

Elevation Gain: Harvard 4,540ft, 12.6 miles return, Harvard/Columbia 5,900ft, 13.5 miles return

If you backpack 3.5 miles up Horn Fork Basin to Harvard tree line at 11,500 ft – Harvard 2,920 ft 9.1 miles return, Harvard/Columbia 4,280 ft 10.0 miles return

Start Time: 5am to 8am to be on your way down by noon and avoid potential lightning storms, 5am for the combo recommended

Ascent Time: From tree line – Harvard 2 ½ to 3 Hours, Harvard/Columbia combo – traverse to Columbia summit is another 2 ½ to 3 Hours for a total of 5 to 6 hours to Columbia’s summit


Another toughie combo. Reaching the summit of Harvard on a good trail in a beautiful basin was nice, casting your eyes over to Columbia and the 2.2 mile traverse involved is another story. Most accounts recommend not doing the high traverse due to climbing difficulties but the low traverse which we took has its drawbacks as well. Dropping into the basin seemed closer to 1,600 or 1,700 ft of elevation loss rather than the 1,200 to 1,400 ft others have mentioned. The traverse took just as long as climbing Harvard from tree line. From the basin up to the top of Columbia there is no trail, you just pick your way up.

Getting There

North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead – 9,880 ft – No restrooms – There is a restroom at the Silver Creek Trailhead about 1.5 miles prior to the North CC Trailhead

Turn west on County Road (CR) 350 (Crossman Ave.) near the center of Buena Vista. This road is less than 1/2 mile north of the stoplight in the center of town. Continue on CR 350 for 2 miles and turn right onto CR 361. After almost 1 mile, turn left onto CR 365 (dirt). Continue on this road for over 5 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road. Approximately the last 3 miles is easy 4WD. At the end, turn right into the wooded parking area which loops around counter-clockwise. The trailhead signs are on the west side of the parking area. A high clearance vehicle recommended or be very careful with your car. My 1998 RAV4 with 7 inches of clearance made it with no problem but the last part is pretty rocky.

Updated trailhead info available here



It’s the old sleep in the vehicle at the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead or about 1.5 miles prior you could do the same at the Silver Creek Trailhead which has a restroom in the parking lot. I don’t’ currently have any beta on tent camping but some have mentioned you can pull out a tent at the NCC trailhead or there is dispersed camping along the road in.

Route Description

The trail starts on the west side of the parking lot drops down then climbs a bit then is fairly level for 1.5 miles. At this point you cross over the creek on a good bridge and quickly arrive at a trail junction. Going left takes you to Kroenke Lake which is the wrong way, heading right takes you north into Horn Fork Basin, Bear Lake and the tree line of Harvard. From this junction it’s another 2.0 miles to tree line with a steeper grade than the first 1.5 miles. Total distance to tree line is 3.5 miles and approx 1,620 ft of elevation gain. Dispersed camping here with Harvard ahead and the west slopes of Columbia to your right. The trail at tree line heads right or east towards the slopes of Columbia but winds its way back towards the center of the basin and continues on a good trail to the junction of Bear Lake, continue straight ahead as the trail winds its way up and over slopes to give a good view of the final slope up Harvard. The views are foreshortened as the final slope up Harvard is still long and steep but on a good trail. The summit of Harvard is composed of some very large rocks, the easiest spot for ascent is a little left of center but then the route moves to the right to deposit you upon the summit. Take your time here and pick the safest route to reach the summit.

From the summit of Harvard you can see the long 2.2 miles traverse to Columbia. Don’t be fooled, its 2 ½ to 3 hours away. Follow the ridge, there should be the odd cairn and a noticeable trail most of the way as you wind your way around various rock outcroppings. The route will stay on or near the ridge for ¾ of the way, then you have a choice of the high more difficult climbing route or the low route into a lush basin. We dropped down at this point into the basin (see photo) and plodded our way up the steep slopes of Columbia to the summit. If you look at our summit photos on Columbia you can see how distant Harvard looks in the background. Yikes, what a traverse, it really did feel like I climbed two separate mountains this day!

From here you hike south along Columbia’s ridge for .6 miles until you are above the big open grassy shoulder of Columbia. There are a couple of spots prior to this where it looks like people have descended a steep rocky slope but avoid these and continue on until you reach the shoulder mentioned above. It’s a long descent down this slope which only switchbacks a little but it eventually curves down the slope to the right and deposits you within a hundred yards of tree line. From here you can pick up your tent and hoof it the last 3.5 miles to the trailhead.