| Sawatch Trifecta
Trailhead: Missouri Gulch
Trip Distance: 14.5mi
Elevation gain: 7,400ft
Having a few days off from work and some hot weather here in Denver it seemed like a good time to head to the mountains and hike some 14ers. I knew this would be a long and tough trip but I figured I would give it a go and see how I felt along the way and how the weather held out in the afternoon. The morning was already a little warm so it was nice to start out in the trees and have some shade. The initial section of trail starts out w/ several switchbacks and gains some elevation right from the start. After numerous switchbacks and a few small creek crossing, the trail gradually starts to level out as you get to tree line. After passing the remnants of the old cabin you leave the forest and continue on a good trail through Missouri Gulch. This is where you get your first view of Mt Belford.
Mt Belford in the morning
As you continue on the trail, which remains fairly level through the gulch, you come to the first split in the trail, where Mt Belford's trail goes left and the Elkhead Pass trail goes right. Since I was looking to climb Missouri Mtn first I stayed right and continued on the trail. The trail continues through the gulch and there are several small creek crossings along the way. Further up the gulch the trail splits again, with Elkhead pass going left and Missouri Mtn going right. At this point the trails start to climb again and the switch backs start again. There are still 2 small snowfields to cross in the switchback section, but they are short and easy to walk across. The trail continues up the side of the mountain until you reach about half way up the mountain and then the trail turns up the scree slope and you aim to reach the saddle in the ridge. Once on the ridge there is a good trail all the way to the summit. The majority of the summit ridge is easy hiking. The rock towers near the summit require a short section of downclimbing to skirt around them before regaining the ridge and summit, but this section is not very difficult. From the summit I got a better look of what was ahead for the remainder of the trip.
A view back down Missouri's ridge, you can see the saddle below
Looking towards Mt Belford and Oxford
After a short break I was headed back down the mountain to the Elkhead pass junction. This is part of what makes this combination a little more difficult, the lack of a eacy connecting ridge from Missouri to Belford. The distance and elevation lost in getting back to the junction takes a toll on you later. Once back at the trail junction I headed up the Elkhead pass trail. This is a long, but gentle trail that provides some nice views of the sawatch range.
Emerald peak as seen from Elkhead pass
Missouri moutain and the eastern ridge
The elkhead pass trail eventually takes you to the ridge between Mt Belford and Oxford, a few hundred feet east of the Belford summit.
Oxford's ridge as seen from Mt Belford
At this point I was still feeling good and the weather was perfect. I knew thing weren't going to be easy though with having to make 2 more ascents but I felt I could make it. After another short break it was off to Oxford. The down climb of Belford's ridge is steep but luckily Oxford's ridge is a little more gentle. The initial section of Oxford's ridge is a little steep, then you cross over a small ridge and the trail become much easier all the way to the top. Once at the top the summit is basically a pile of rocks, it looks like the summit is actually a little further along the top of the ridge but there is the summit register and summit marker to indicate it actually is the summit. At this point I was starting to feel the effects of 3 fairly long ascent climbs, Missouri's, Elkhead pass, and now Oxford. Oxford's ridge took more out of me then I expected but there was no other option then heading back the way I came. I wasn't really looking forward to climbing the steeper Belford ridge on the way back. I took a few minutes to rest, eat and drink and I was on my way again as I wanted to back to Belford before it got too late in the afternoon. The trip back up Belford was tough. I basically walked for about 2-3mins, then took a break, and repeated this until at the top. Even though I felt like I had been drinking enough throughout the day I think I was dehydrated from the warm weather as I started to get a headache on the way up. I just took it easy and kept to the walk and rest method until the top and eventually made it. The summit of Belford is a little different than most, a yellow/orange rock formation that is fairly distinct from its surroundings.
Belford's summit, taken earlier in the day from where Elkhead pass meets ridge trail.
After another short break and taking in more food and fluids I headed down the main trail for Belford. I knew this trail would be steep also, but I was looking to save some distance. If I had to do over again I think I would have gone back to Elkhead pass and taken that trail all the way back. The switch backs down Belford's west slopes are steep in sections and wear out your legs from constantly bracing yourself as you go down. I was glad to finally reach the gulch again, where the trail leveled off once again until reaching the forest.
Looking back up the gulch at the end of the day
At this point I was pretty much on auto pilot just making my way back to the trailhead. After a long day it was nice to finally make it back to my vehicle and a bottle of gatorade. Overall it was a long day and it definitely tests your physical and mental strength. It was a great hike though and something I would do again, I would just be better about drinking more throughout the trip. One tip if you are planning on doing this trip. Bring fly/mosquito repellant, they were eveywhere from the trailhead to the summit.
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