| Missouri Mountain
Route: Missouri Mountain, Northwest Ridge from Missouri Gulch
Distance: 10.5 miles
Vertical: 4,500 ft
Time: 6 hours 45 minutes
When: Thursday, September 22, 2011
Weather: brisk in the morning and warm by noon, bluebird all day
I have wanted to hike Missouri Mountain for while. I first wanted to get it in June but nasty thunderstorms nixed those plans. I tried again in August and had a stunning bluebird day for it, but my hiking partner had to turn around at 12,600 feet, so I turned around with him. I really wanted to get it this time. The forecast was for a beautiful late September day. Cool and crisp in the morning, warming nicely later in the day, and bluebird all day. Fortunately for me, the forecast was right on the mark.
This was my first full day of hiking on a long weekend trip to Colorado. I had hiked Yale on the previous afternoon (trip report here: http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=11186). I knew I wanted Missouri this day, but I was still undecided about whether I wanted to add any other summits afterwards, especially Iowa and Emerald. So even though the threat of afternoon storms was almost non-existent, I still did an apine start. Wake at 3:00 a.m., out of the hotel by 4:00 a.m., arrive at the trailhead shortly before 5:00 a.m., and on the trail by 5:00 a.m. sharp.
Sunrise was around 7:00 a.m., so that left me with at least an hour and a half of hiking in total darkness. Being solo, it was a little disconcerting to be alone in the darkness for that long with only my headlamp to guide me. But the time passed quickly. The switchbacks are steep, but they allow you to gain elevation quickly. I was at the top of the switchbacks after 25 minutes, passed the cabin and treeline about an hour from the trailhead, and was quickly making progress into the upper basin.
At about 6:30 a.m., I was in the middle of the upper basin and the first light of day started to appear.
First light on Missouri
First light to the north
It had been 30 degrees when I left the trailhead. It was probably in the mid-20s at this point. Ice crystals had started to form in my water. I was looking forward to sunrise and the warmth it would bring. And sunrise did come, on schedule, at around 7:00 a.m.
First rays of sun on Missouri
There had been a dusting of snow on the trail starting around treeline. With the emerging light, I could see that there was a dusting on most aspects of Missouri, as well.
Looking back the way I had come
By 7:00 a.m., I was approaching the Elkhead Pass junction. Soon I was making my way up the slope toward the northwest ridge. My progress had been very good so far. But the sun had not yet melted the snow on the trail, and the footing on the rocky sections had become questionable. I had microspikes with me. They were not really necessary at that point, but slow and cautious was the prudent way to go.
Looking back from about midway up to the ridge
Looking toward the summit from the same spot
I reached the northwest ridge at around 8:10 a.m. The view to the west was sudden and spectacular.
La Plata Peak
The Three Apostles
The summit of Missouri was still 3/4-mile away along the ridge.
The trail along the ridge was a slick in places from the snow, particularly along the western side that had not yet seen the sun, so I put on my spikes every now and then.
Starting along the ridge
Getting close to the north couloirs
The final summit pitch
I had been looking forward to the class “2+” section on the ridge. As the route description says, it is very brief. It was dry when I got there, so no difficulties.
Looking at the downclimb
Looking back from the bottom of the downclimb
Following that brief downclimb, the ridge climbs steeply up to the summit. I arrived at the summit at 9:00 a.m., four hours after leaving the trailhead.
Looking back along the ridge from the summit
There was a thread topic recently about showing the Sawatch a little love. I agree. I think it is a magnificent range. Some summit views:
The Three Apostles
Emerald and Iowa
Belford, looking bulky from this angle
Mount Elbert above Hope Pass
Snowmass and Capitol
Pyramid and the Bells
Castle and Conundrum
Shavano and Tabeguache
Mount of the Holy Cross
The air was crisp and clear, and even the distant San Juans looked like you could reach out and touch them.
Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn, and friends
Redcloud, Sunshine, and Handies
Mount Sneffels and friends
Missouri’s summit with Harvard and Columbia
At this point in the day, my hike of Yale the previous afternoon was taking its toll on my legs. I decided against adding any additional summits to the day. Of course, after the fact, I wish I had gone on to Iowa and Emerald while I was all the way out there. But I can’t complain. I decided to take advantage of the day by taking a liesurely stroll back to the trailhead, taking my time and enjoying Missouri Gulch and the brilliant fall colors. If possible, the views got even better on my descent.
Missouri from back in the basin
Farewell to Missouri Gulch
One of the perks of taking my time on the descent was that I could enjoy the aspens. It was an incredible walk through a golden wood.
It was a spectacular day. I had passed only three other hikers the entire day. As I continued through the aspens, I did not want the day to end. But eventually it did. I arrived back at the trailhead shortly after noon. I was tired, but extremely pleased with how the day had gone. By this point in my trip, I was ready for a restful afternoon, which I spent up at Cottonwood Pass and then later back down in Buena Vista. Missouri Mountain. It had been worth the wait.