With 20 14ers down but only one Sawatch peak checked (Elbert) I figured it was time to get cracking on this range. My schedule this weekend only allowed for one day of climbing, and I figured Belford - Oxford - Missouri would be a great way to knock off a few peaks while getting some fun trail running and elevation in. I met Dave (awesome guy and great climbing partner!) after posting in the forum, and we left the Morrison / 470 Park n Ride at 8pm on Saturday evening for the Missouri Gulch trailhead.
Dave slept in his Subaru while I bedded down just outside the parking lot (not knowing that there is no overnight camping allowed here, the sign was hidden in the darkness but be aware of this in the future). We woke up at around 4:15am and rolled up the trail around 4:45am. It switchbacks steeply up into Missouri Gulch before breaking treeline and leveling out. There is a nice creek running through here and many people were camped along the trail. The NW shoulder of Belford was in front of us and it looked steep; the amount of elevation gain remaining was significant, (sorry, still too dark for photos).
We started up the good switchbacks out of the gulch and gained elevation quickly.
A pretty morning in the Sawatch
Dave coming up the switchbacks
While the terrain is somewhat steep, the trail is good and the switchbacks minimize the challenge. We approached the Belford summit block quickly and the day was off to a great start.
Belford summit block
We reached the top of Belford at 7:15am, 2 hours 30 minutes after leaving the parking lot.
Summit of Belford
Dave heading toward Oxford
We took a 10 minute break on top of Belford and then started down to Oxford. The trail was somewhat loose and steep in places but nothing challenging, and it quickly mellowed out for an easy hike up to the Oxford summit. It took us 45 minutes to get from Belford to Oxford
Harvard from the route over to Belford
Easy hiking up to Oxford
Looking back to Belford from the Oxford summit
Dave on top of Oxford
We left Oxford after a short break as we wanted to grab Missouri as well. Climbing back to Belford, we decided to skirt the summit and take the trail toward Elkhead Pass before dropping into the basin and climbing the other side on Missouri's standard route. This proved to be a great decision as it minimized our elevation loss all while allowing for fun trail running in the high alpine. I had read reports of people descending toward Elkhead Pass and then continuing up the ridge or South Slopes of Missouri, and the rock in these areas is known to be very loose so we were both against going in this general direction.
Looking at Missouri from below Belford
We ran from near the Belford summit all the way into the basin, where we filtered water before ascending Missouri.
Dave running toward Elkhead Pass
Nearing the trail junction
There were a TON of crickets along Missouri's standard route, some of them were pretty loud and big!
The standard route of Missouri uses easy, rocky switchbacks to gain the ridge just north of the peak.
Typical hiking below the ridge
Once reaching the ridge on Missouri, the standard route is easy to follow and pretty straightforward. There are a few spots where the terrain is loose, small scree (my trekking poles were helpful), but nothing too challenging. One section that must be downclimbed on the ascent and then climbed up on the ascent (hopefully that makes sense), featured 15 feet of relatively steep scree, but I was able to find good foot holds. If you have experience walking on scree it's not a big deal (see photo #22).
Looking up Missouri's standard ridge
Dave looking up the ridge
Looking down the ridge from near the summit
We took a few minutes on top of Missouri before descending. The route back was easy to follow and many folks were coming up with the good weather forecast.
Looking along the ridge with the loose sections
Dave coming up the loose section (for some reason I can't get the photo to rotate, but hopefully you can get an idea of this section)
Cruising out through the basin
Thoughts of food and beer...
All in all this was an awesome dayhike with a great partner. I'll go ahead and agree with what others have said though, it's not for everyone as the elevation gain is pretty good, (looks like about 7300' of gain in ~14 miles round trip). Despite this, the entire route was on good trails and strong legs and lungs are the best tools for knocking these three peaks off in a single loop.
We stopped at Quincy's Steakhouse in Buena Vista for some filets before heading back to Denver and Boulder respectively. Dave, it was great meeting and climbing with you!
If anyone has any questions about this route or these peaks as a dayhike, feel free to PM me.