| Snowy Missouri
Trailhead: 6:00 AM
Back to Trailhead: 2:30
Route: North Face Couloirs (on accident)
Hoping to climb one more mountain this year, Derek and I met and drove to the Missouri Gulch Trailhead at 5:45. There was a car there, and a tent pitched directly beneath a "No Camping in Parking Area" sign. Wish I'd got a picture.
According to the radio and 14ers weather, it was a shade below 10 degrees when we left. There was a couple inches of snow on the ground, and I quickly realized that 30 min miles were a pipe dream today.
Here is the first good view of the day:
And the trail below timberline:
And my foot in the snow, my toe covered by snow.
There were sections of what I call "junior varsity" postholing here and there, but the trail to timberline wasn't hard to follow, and the snow wasn't deep enough for real frustration. By the time we got to timberline, the snow was a good four inches, and some drifts were far deeper- above the knees in places.
Here is Missouri from timberline:
and Belford- where I dislocated my finger last October. I shook a deformed fist at Belford as I passed.
And the trail going through Missouri Gulch.
The snow deepened and slowed us down through the gulch, and by the time we got to the turn up toward the Missouri ridge, it was clear we were in for a long day. This is looking up the ridge- you can tell that the snow was deeper here and there.
We were doing fine, but the trail disappeared, and rather than traverse all the way to the right of the ridge, Derek had the idea of going directly up a couloir we were standing under. It didn't look too awful from the bottom, but this was a huge mistake. Roach calls these the North Face Couloirs, used for early season snow climbs. They are not good without the snow. They turn very steep very quickly. The ground was soft and wet, and seemed to disolve beneath our feet, leaving us sliding downward on each step. Eventually we got toward the top, and tried to make our way through deep snow to the ridge, doing varsity (thigh deep) postholing, but halfway across Derek decided we had to turn around- there was the real soft snow under a layer of crust, and Derek didn't like the sound. He thought there could be a slide. So we made it back to the rock out cropping (the big one in the middle at the top of the picture below). This was a nightmare. I've climbed the Bells and Pyramid, and let me tell you, this was 50 times worse. There was rarely a well anchored place for either hands or feet- every rock was pulling loose, and footholds were crumbling beneath us as we stood. Had we fallen, it would have been a major injury, and I was constantly filled with that "hanging by a thread" dread feeling. Here is the picture up the couloir:
and looking down toward the basin from about midway up:
I was trying to climb to the ridge without falling and without soiling myself, and eventually made the top, successful on both counts. Grateful, we looked toward the summit:
The ridge was long and snowcovered, but eventually we got to the final summit approach:
Here's Derek, then me, on the summit, Harvard in the background:
And Belford from the Missouri summit.
Obviously, we weren't interested in returning down the same couloir, and made our way all the way across the ridge to the unmissable cairn turning us down back into the gully. This made for much easier going, with some postholing, but solid snow, and even a short glissade.
Looking back up toward the ridge:
and looking down into the Gulch:
I'm not used to climbing with this much snow, so my legs were exhausted by the time we got back to the car, but I have to say that climbing snow-covered 14ers exposes a kind of beauty I just don't see in the summer months. More work, but a bigger payoff!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):