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. Turn right into the wooded parking area which loops around counter-clockwise. The trail starts on the west side of the parking area.
Photo #1 and Photo #2 show the route above tree line. Locate the trail and hike through the forest down to a bridge crossing and trail register. Continue on this excellent trail for 1.5 miles to a trail junction. Going left will take you toward Kroenke Lake - the wrong way. Turn right toward Horn Fork Basin and Bear Lake. Hike another 1.25 miles to a small clearing (on the trail) at 11,050' where you can see the large Southwest Shoulder of Columbia up to your right - Photo #3 and Photo #4. This shoulder contains much of the elevation gain of your hike. Continue on the main trail for another .25 mile to the Columbia trail junction. Turn right, leaving the main trail, and follow a different trail toward Columbia.
Take this small trail northeast up through the trees. After hiking over a hill in the forest, the trail enters a linear clearing where there is a trail junction. Turn right and cross to the east side of the clearing before re-entering the trees. Reach another small, linear clearing and turn right at yet another trail junction. Continue southeast through trees and bushes to the base of a wide gully on the southwest side of Columbia. There is one good landmark in this area: Point 11,853' shown on the topo map. There are cliffs above (left) the trail before you hit tree line at the base of the gully.
Follow the trail out of the trees and ascend the large gully to the left of the Southwest Shoulder. Hike east into the gully by looking for trail segments and hopping across boulders. Your next goal is to ascend much of the gully and angle right (southeast) to reach the shoulder - Photo #5. From 12,000' to 12,700', the trail is steep, loose and not so fun. Angle right and hit the shoulder above some rock outcroppings seen in Photo #6. Don't climb too far up the gully before heading to the shoulder - the upper end of the gully is steep, loose and ugly.
Once on the shoulder (Photo #7), follow the loose trail up to the ridge just above 13,600' - Photo #8. Turn left and hike along the ridge over rock bumps and several small saddles. From where you hit the ridge, it is over 1/2 mile to the summit. Photo #9 shows the type of terrain to expect. After a few ups and downs, cross a grassy area and climb the final rock pile to the true summit - Photo #10. Photo #11 and Photo #12 are views from the top.
The road to the trailhead is a bit rocky and rough but can be conquered by good-clearance vehicles. If you are going to pack in and camp in Horn Fork Basin, you will have to hike over 3 miles to get to tree line. There are many campsites at tree line and in the trees close to the route up Columbia. You may have difficulty trying to find a trail during parts of this hike. Just keep plugging along with an eye on the slope and you will find trail segments. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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