| What a week in Pine Creek!
Interested in as many 14ers as you can get from one beautiful, secluded campsite? If so, we‘d recommend a backpacking trip along Pine Creek into Missouri Basin.
We began at the Pine Creek trailhead Tuesday July 15th, with hopes of 5 14ers and 2 more centennial peaks from one basecamp. The trail crosses privte land with a small fee ($1 per person and 2$ per four-legged friends). We paid $4 for two people and one dog. The trail gradually ascends beautiful pine creek valley, passing through forests and meadows.
Little John‘s cabin (an old mining community) is about 7 miles out. We hiked another mile to one of the first meadows after the cabin. Several campsites are in the area, but we didn‘t see other campers nearby. The camp is directly between Oxford and Harvard.
We were fresh on Wednesday, so we got up at 4:30am for an attempt on Harvard and Columbia. We camped on the same side of the creek as Oxford, necessitating an early morning crossing. However, there is a nice log jam, which made the crossing fairly straightforward (even in the dark). After crossing the creek, we headed up slope through the trees. We did some bushwacking before reaching treeline and the grassy north slopes of Harvard. The grass is steep (55% grade) but heavenly as compared with scree or talus at the same angle.
The grade eases and becomes more rocky as the ridge approaches Harvard‘s summit. The ridge steepens for the last few hundred feet and becomes a fun scramble (doesn‘t have to be harder than class II).
We did the standard traverse south to Columbia but should have dropped down the East slopes before reaching a point at about 13,500 ft. When we got there the ridge becomes a scramble and with the dog we were forced to descend a loose, unpleasant scree gully. The rest of the traverse was mostly on snow fields until returning to the ridge at 13,400ft.
From Columbia‘s summit we backtracked along the traverse until we got to the low point. From there we dropped a little further into the frenchman creek drainage and then ascended the north ridge to meet the South Pine Creek Trail at 13,100ft. Unfortunately, the trail was nowhere to be seen on the ridge. Eventually we found it switchbacking down the north side and followed it back to little John‘s cabin. The trail was rough in areas and vague in others. The day‘s total: 10 miles and 6,000ft elevation gain. (Fairly comparable to the standard traverse route on Harvard and Columbia).
The next morning, we awoke at 5:20am. Although we were tired, we decided to try Missouri and if we felt up to it (and if the weather held), we would try for Iowa and Emerald as well.
The sky was clear when we started, but by 9am, clouds started rolling in.
We increased our pace and kept an eye on the weather. We summitted by 10:30am, rested briefly and got a summit photo.
We decided to descend over Iowa and down its grassy, gentle slopes.
Although this would be slightly longer than our approach, it would deposit us closer to treeline which we saw as a benefit due to the increasing clouds.
Signing the register on Iowa:
Bethany didn‘t like the looks of the clouds and chose to descend, while Ben decided to run up Emerald. We were both off the ridgeline and in the basin when the thunderstorm rolled in (about 12:30pm). We were very glad that we had done Harvard and Columbia the day before!
Emerald (left), Iowa, Missouri (right) from Elkhead pass on the next day.
On Friday, we decided to attempt Oxford and Belford. We left camp around 6:30am and bushwacked up the slopes behind our tent to where we thought there might be a faint trail up Oxford. This was not a good decision, due to the rain the day before. We were soaked by the time we reached treeline. Luckily, the sun was warm and we quickly dried once we reached the less vegetated slopes. We didn‘t find a trail up Oxford, so we picked the path of least resistance to the summit.
The weather looked good, so we decided to head towards Belford. Our plan was to summit Belford and then head down the trail over Elkhead Pass and back into Missouri Basin. As we headed towards Belford, the cloud cover increased so we quickly summitted, took some photos and headed down.
We descended quickly, and the weather held until we were just above treeline (when it began to hail). When we got back to our tent we debated hiking out but decided that we would wait for the following day.
Overall, it was a great week!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):