After a long Monday at the School of Mines I decided to take a break and do a few 14ers. I had heard my roommate/new climbing partner talk about his long trek up Bel/Ox/Mo numerous times (see trip report "Mizzelford - 3 the Hard Way") and I decided I needed to experience it myself.
Once my riveting Calc III lecture ended Monday afternoon, I packed up my car and was out of Golden by 4. I asked around to try and find a hiking partner but nobody else seemed as enthusiastic about skipping class on Tuesday as I was.
After a half bag of seeds and a few John Denver songs, I got to the Missouri Gulch trailhead around 6:30pm. I reviewed my notes/trail map and decided I would try for Bel/Ox and consider Missouri a bonus if I had the energy for it (which means I was really planning on doing all 3). I ate a PB&J, laid out my sleeping bag in the back of my car, and was asleep by 7:30.
The alarm went off at 3:00 am and I was on the trail by 3:20. A few other trip reports mentioned how steep the trail is right from the start and they’re not exaggerating. I was out of breath and had sore legs after the first mile or so. Once I got into the groove and warmed up though it was quite an enjoyable hike through the forest.
The TH That Started It All
The moon was very close to full and the sky was clear so I turned out the headlamp once I was out of treeline. This was both a blessing and a curse. It made for an incredibly serene experience but also caused me to stare up at the illuminated peaks during the trek through Missouri gulch (and constantly ask myself “I am going all the way up there?”).
Hiking Under The Moon
At the split in the trail I took a left and started the hike up Belford. I looked back and did not see any headlamps. In fact I didn’t see any sign of other people (aside from the occasional airplane) during the entire hike until I was a mile or so from arriving back at the trailhead. With only the sounds of my footsteps, my breath, and the occasional pica, I made my way to the summit of Belford.
Left To Belford
I summited Belford at 6:15 and didn’t waste any time on the peak. Feeling good, I went off in the direction of Oxford’s silhouette. The ridge between the two peaks was rather windy but the promise of the imminent sunrise was enough to keep me warm. I peaked Oxford, admired the sunrise, ate a PB&J, and headed back in the direction of Belford. I saw three sheep up on the ridge and after enjoying their subtle company, wondered why any animal would want to live above 13,000’.
Sunrise Over Oxford
Someone forgot their toaster on the Oxford summit
sheep hanging out on the ridge
The steep trek back up Belford’s slopes was a low point in the hike and left me wondering if I would have any energy left for Missouri. After getting above the ridge, I skirted to the left of the Belford summit, overlooked Missouri Gulch, and reevaluated my plan for the rest of the hike. I decided I would descend down to Elkhead pass and follow the Elkhead trail over to the turnoff for the Missouri trail. This way, once I reached the trail for Missouri I had the option to either climb Missouri or continue back to the trailhead.
The moon diving behind Belford
The trail lost quite a bit of elevation and I didn't think I had the energy to make it all the way up Missouri. I got to the base of the Missouri trail at 9:00 and sat there looking up at the daunting peak. Compared to Belford and Oxford, Missouri looked like a beast. I went back and forth about my decision but ultimately decided to climb it. I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting in the car on the way back knowing I could’ve climbed another peak.
It was a tough choice...
Once I left for the summit I felt a burst of energy and was able to make a quick ascent up to the ridge. The ridge to Missouri had a bit of snow but nothing that presented a challenge. There are a few places on the ridge with some exposure but nothing that I really thought was above a tough class 2. I reached the summit of the beast they call Missouri at 10:15 and spent some time up there admiring the surrounding Sawatch peaks and soaking in my 19th 14er. Feeling satisfied with my day and the seclusion it brought, I decided to head back down the mountain towards the reality they call the School of Mines.
Ridge of Missouri
One Big Cairn
Sunlight On the Snow
The Road To Missouri
About a mile from the trailhead I came across a group from the Fourteeners Initiative going up to do trail maintenance on the Missouri trail. I just want to say how thankful I am for their hard work. All of the trails I have been on this fall have been in noticeably exceptional shape.
on the way back
All in all this was a very memorable hike. Trekking around in the moonlight and being the only one out on the trails allowed me to experience a very rare, pure form of solitude.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” – Edward Abbey
With that being said, this is a tough hike so be sure to pack a good deal of water and be prepared for a lot of elevation. I had a topo map (printed straight from my roommates trip report) with me during the hike which I referred to a few times to know exactly where I was headed. It isn't necessary but it doesn't hurt to pack one.
Total Time: 9 hours
Total Mileage: About 14
Total Elevation: About 7300’