Peaks: Missouri Mountain 14,067', Iowa Peak 13,831', Emerald Peak 13,904'
Elev Gain: 6500'
Time: 11:45 (6am - 5:45pm)
Travelers: Dchild10 (Ryan), Yikes (Jim), Geojed (Jed)
Wildlife (other than the climbers ): One snowy white Ptarmigan, and a White Weasel
Ryan and I heading up into MO basin, NE ridge of Belford looming ahead of us (Picture by Yikes)
I first got the idea for this trip when I climbed Huron Peak two weeks prior and thought that this ridge would provide incredible views across to Huron and The Apostles on the west and also to Harvard and Columbia to the east.
The interested group size ballooned to 8 people at one point but at 6AM Monday morning just three of us, Yikes (Jim), Dchild10 (Ryan) and I were standing at the MO Gulch TH under clear skies and nice temps (13F). Weather looked to be positively delightful after the 100+mph winds from the week before. Temps were forecast to be in the low-mid 30's @ 13,000ft w/ West winds of 10-15mph. That forecast was spot-on.
We started off from the trailhead at 6AM on the dot and enjoyed the boot packed trail that helped us make short work of the switchbacks and the ascent to the MO Gulch Basin. I was kind of glad that I followed Ryan in the darkness up the switchbacks as that allowed me to just concentrate on the trail before my feet and I couldn't see how steep the trail actually was.
First view up into Missouri Gulch Basiin
We reached the junction w/ the Bel/Ox trail and took the trail less traveled leading us to the headwall below MO's NW ridge winter variation. There we split from the "trail" and crossed the creek and ascended the headwall.
Looking down from the half-way up the headwall
After we summited the headwall we could see most of the route that lay ahead of us up to the NW ridge. The “normal” winter variation that Roach describes is to ascend a slight rib to our right up to the ridge. Due to the light snow conditions and the abundance of exposed tundra/rocks we spotted a route that traversed the slope more up to the ridge and saved us some ridge walking time.
Ryan beginning the ascent up to MO's NW ridge.
We stashed our snowshoes about 1/4 of the way up the slope after we realized that crusty/walkable snow conditions were the name of the game for the day.
Jim (Yikes) taking a break where we stashed our snowshoes
Jim scouting out the route ahead w/ PT13,784 looming behind him
The winter variation route (green line) that Roach describes ascends the exposed rib in this picture. Our route (red line) traversed more and we gained the ridge at the shallow saddle just north of PT13,718.
A view up the slope to NW ridge with our route (red) and Roach's winter route (green) annotated.
During the ascent, looking back to the NE gave us stellar views of the Mosquito/Ten Mile Range.
View NE to Mosquito/Ten Mile Range
Cruising up the slope to the NW Ridge. (Picture by Dchild10)
As we ascended, the very dry, windswept Mt. Belford was our constant companion to the east, and Mt. Harvard watched us continually through Elkhead Pass. We also passed the 13,000ft mark ascending this slope and we would not descend below that elevation for the next 6.5miles of our climb!!
Very Dry Mt Belford with Mt Harvard peaking through Elkhead Pass
We gained MO’s NW ridge at 10am (4hrs from TH) and gawked at the gorgeous views of Huron Peak and the Apostles across the Lake Fork Canyon. The views of these majestic peaks would be ever with us, ever evolving, and reaching a crescendo of beauty by the time we reached Emerald Peak.
First view of Apostles and Huron Peak
We could now see the ridge we would need to traverse to MO’s summit (high point on left side of photo).
NW ridge to MO's summit
Ryan and I made quick work of the ridge reaching MO’s summit around 11:30am and took a well-earned 30min break behind the best windbreak we could find on the east side of the summit.
MO money baby!
Ryan rocking MO's summit with his best "Cornholio" impression!!!
Jim (Yikes) was quite a ways behind still and he had told us that he would probably only try for MO today due to the after effects of a cold, so after our break Ryan and I descended down to the MO – Iowa saddle in a speedy 12min and climbed up to the summit of Iowa reaching it around 12:30pm.
View from Iowa looking North back to MO's summit.
From here we had a great view of the rest of our traverse to and ascent of Emerald Peak (red line). We spent almost no time at all on Iowa’s summit, I mean c’mon, it not even a “real” centennial 13er after all, it only has 281ft of prominence from the MO – Iowa saddle. (Anyone interested in building a 19ft rock pyramid on the summit? )
View south from Iowa looking at our route (red line) up Emerald's NE Ridge
Hero shot on top of Iowa Peak. (Picture by Dchild10)
Views across the expansive Pine Creek Basin towards Mt. Harvard and Columbia were just astounding!
Amazing views across expansive Pine Creek Basin to Mt Harvard and Columbia
Emerald is very steep on its North Face and in our increasingly tired state there was no way we would try to ascend it directly. So we angled up and to the left (red line) at the base of the slope and gained the relatively mellow NE ridge and take it to the summit. The green dot is where the next photo was taken from.
Close up of Emerald's North Face. Green dot is where next photo was taken.
Emerald was nice to us and gave us a slight respite from our pain and then turned it back up on us until we finally reached the summit!!
“We’re done now right? We’ve climbed all the peaks we came to climb and the deal was ‘Climb One Peak, get two free!’ What? You mean we have to traverse back and regain all we’ve descended.”
Dang! Gotta make sure to read the fine print next time!!
Final stretch to Emerald's (13,904') summit
We reached the summit of Emerald at around 1pm. Found another friendly wind break that Ryan said wouldn’t exist (shame on you for doubting Map Man!! ) snacked and snapped, as best our meager cameras could, some mediocre pictures that only hint at the true majesty and beauty of what lay before us.
View south from Emerald. Yale, Princeton, Antero, Shavano and Tabeguache were all visible
Through our labor, hard work and perseverance we finally gained the most breathtaking views of Ice Mountain and North Apostle’s astounding East Faces. (That looks like a FUN couloir up North Apostle’s East Face, anyone know anything about it? Is it doable?)
Crazy awesome view of North Apostle and Ice Mountain's East Faces
We spent ~15min on Emerald’s summit and began our descent, taking a more direct line down its North Face. We found a nice hiker trail that sped us down the mountain in less than 1/3 the time it took us to ascend it. Here at the saddle I was able to snap an even better photo of Huron Peak’s awesome East Face and the ridge between Huron and The Apostles.
Huron Peak looking good!
Panoramic of Huron Peak to Apostles
We slogged back over Iowa’s grassy, tundra slopes talking constantly about how great it would be if there was a a way to teleport ourselves back home and "beam" some food into out starving bellies at the same time. Finally, we made it down to the base of our final, grueling (in our exhausted state at least) major ascent of MO’s south ridge by 1:58pm. We made a goal of reaching MO’s summit by 2:30pm and reached it with about 30seconds to spare. From here we could see our traverse back along MO’s NW ridge, with the majestic La Plata looming in the distance.
View back north along MO's NW ridge from MO's summit
Here’s the snowy crux of the NW ridge right below the summit (view it LARGE for best detail). In the bottom-center of this photo you can see Ryan just about to start across it. The rock on the right is class 4 and we climbed across 2/3 of it on our way up, but Jim (Yikes) had made some tracks across the snow on his descent so we decided to follow his tracks. The snow here is relatively soft and deep. It didn’t feel too sketchy crossing it, but it felt good to have it behind me. Not a real high pucker factor for me; it may push it pretty high for others. YPFMV
Crux snow/rock section along NW ridge below MO's summit.
We made it to the saddle between PT13784 – PT13718 and were really disoriented as we thought this was our descent point, but couldn’t find any of our tracks from earlier. The east side of the ridge was looking gnarlier than anything we came up. It wasn’t until 5mins later and I saw a short rocky chute we had downclimbed on the west side of the ridge that jogged my memory as to where we were. In hindsight, we should’ve recorded a waypoint where we reached the ridge earlier!
Good views of the Elk Range. All 14ers were easily spotted.
Jim had taken his time on MO’s ascent and return to the descent point at this saddle and was waiting for us here. We cruised down the slope into the basin mostly following our tracks from earlier but also descending more of the crusty/hard snow we had bypassed earlier in favor of the tundra. We heard maybe 2-3 light-moderate “Whomphs” on the descent but never spotted any cracks in the snow from them. Ice axes were a MUST for this descent and Micro-spikes worked great at giving traction in the crusty/hard snow too. I actually just wore my Micro-Spikes the whole day! We found our snowshoes, took a short break to refuel and returned to the headwall. Once down from the headwall we crossed the creek on solid snow at 4:55pm. Once back on the trail we cruised down the trail with thoughts of comfy car seats, chocolate milk, and yummy hamburgers dancing in our heads. The waxing moon illuminated our path through the forest and we finally reached the TH parking lot at 5:45pm. A mere 50min after we crossed the creek below the headwall!
What an awesome day!!! Thanks Ryan and Jim for coming along. I had an incredible, albeit very tiring, day!!!
Elevation Profile for the climb