| Missouri Mtn via Missouri Gulch
ITALICIZED TEXTMissouri Mountain (14067') from Missouri Gulch, July 5, 2012 10.5 miles, 4500' of gain
4th report of 6 on this tour
Thanks to the day off, Dave and I were able to change up our schedule with super-early starts and fresher legs. I chose Missouri Mountain as our second 14er attempt of the tour, recognizing that it is a pretty straightforward uphill hike, with an airy finish and also the interesting crux downclimb.
We started at 3 am and got to enjoy Missouri Gulch by full moonlight, augmented by headlamps. Once past the cabin site, we saw a headlamp way up Mt. Belford at about 13000'. Dawn slowly crept into Missouri Gulch as the moon set behind the ridge. We passed the cabin, then the cutoff for Belford, then turned right where the Elkhead Pass Trail continues up the gulch.
We ground our way up the switchbacks while the sunshine blasted slopes just above us. At 13000', the sun rose over the summit of Belford and warmed us. We continued, sometimes on well-maintained rock trail with cairns, other times on soil. We found a pika that seemed tame, perhaps used to taking handouts from occasional hikers. This was the best close-up of a pika I had ever experienced, he seemed to be posing for us, although the little critter hid as we tried to find our cameras.
We reached the 13700' saddle and the lovely view farther south came into view. Dave examined the landscape above on the ridge, also what we had already accomplished, and decided that he was uncomfortable pressing forward. While I was disappointed, I am supportive of my good friend and had to respect his limits. We had a brief discussion about how to proceed, then I moved forward to traverse the Missouri ridgeline. Dave had the car keys, would probably stay put on the saddle, although we also discussed the option of his early descent as well.
The Missouri Mountain ridge walk was one of my most rewarding moments in Colorado mountaineering thusfar. The weather was perfect, 40s, perhaps 50 degrees, with a light, refreshing breeze, perfect for a workout. I kept thinking about the fact that it was hot and humid back home, this was entirely different. I did my best to pay attention to the tread, as I was alone, but also to check out the continual wide vistas on either side of the ridge.
After traversing several humps, I met the crux downclimb. Lump in my throat, certainly Dave would have stopped here had he attempted the ridge walk. I had read about this short crux for a long time, so I had rehearsed this moment and was mentally prepared for it. I released my trekking poles down the chute and they continued down, one at a time, without running away for good. I laid low to the ground, planning and executing moves on rock with my hands and feet. I was relieved to be down and recovering my poles.
What the guidance did not tell me is that the next 100' or so of this climb may be the most demanding terrain besides the crux. After that, the trail goes continually upward. I believed I was approaching one of the final false summits, when, to my surprise, I simultaneously found the Missouri summit benchmark and also realized that the ridge ahead of me was all downhill. Yippee! For all of the times we reach a falsie in disappointment, the reverse was true this time. Premature summitization....cool.
It took 37 minutes for me to reach the summit from when I left Dave at the saddle. It was 9:42 am. I took photos and a panorama around, ate, applied sunscreen, enjoyed having the summit to myself. While I had expected to limit my time up top, as Dave and I were separated, it still took 25 minutes to get my celebration accomplished.
Just off the summit, I met a man at the crux who was hiking past Missouri to Emerald and Iowa, also Elkhead Pass.
When I returned to Dave, he told me that he stayed at the saddle and struggled to keep warm by walking nearby. He sighted me and my progress along the ridgeline. Once we were back together again at the saddle, more folks were hiking uphill now, we met several groups, including some dogs.
Dave told me later that he was disappointed in himself for his inconsistent fear of heights. Still, he enjoyed a long, challenging hike through lovely Missouri Gulch and I was with him to guide his backcountry tour. I am convinced that, had Dave pressed past the saddle onto the ridgeline, he would have faced a much more difficult decision at the downclimb crux, only a couple of minutes from the true summit. Things may have worked out for the best the way they did.
Our early start included an early finish (12:50 pm), early enough to still get breakfast at the Roosters Crow in Buena Vista. While we could have easily purchased The Entire Menu, we opted for pancakes, waffles, and Denver omlettes, as well as pancakes to go, so we could eat them at 1 am the following "morning". The joys of headlamp starts.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):