| Missouri Gulch to Denny Creek - 1 of 3
Monday, August 31st, 2009
Start: Missouri Gulch TH at 6:45am
Elevation Gain: 4,517
Distance: 7.2 miles
Google Map (from GPS):
It's truly difficult to accurately convey the amount of time and energy that went into preparing for this adventure. Thirteen months ago the three of us sat down and began planning. Our route had to be one-way with access to both the Colorado Trail and a few fourteeners. After countless Chipotle lunches, 14ers.com forum posts, trip report reviews and Roach book inquests, we settled on a route. Beginning at the Missouri Gulch Trailhead we would hike through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness for four days culminating with our arrival at the Denny Creek trailhead.
Describing our preparation as detailed-oriented would be an unfortunate understatement. Over the course of the next thirteen months we acquired the best gear we could afford. From spare laces to contact lense solution to iodine tablets, nothing escaped the scale. Group weight was broken up and distributed evenly. Purchases and pack weight were logged in shared google spreadsheets. Lunch breaks at work were spent in cold dark stairwells with thirty-five pound test packs going up and down and up and down.
In the weeks and days leading up to our departure we met frequently and unpacked and repacked our gear, verbally discussing each day's activities in detail so as not to miss a thing.
We drove out Saturday, August 29th and arrived in Salida around midnight. Sunday morning we headed up Methodist Mountain for some acclimatization. We headed over to get a few pics of the southern Sawatch and got a nice shot of Princeton, Yale and Columbia.
A group of bucks frequented the seven acre's behind our condo.
In the late afternoon and evening we went over our pack checklists one last time. In the morning thirteen months of preparation would end and the true test would commence. Our trip was finally upon us.
We arose at four in the morning, showered, and headed out for Missouri Gulch by four-thirty. We reached the CO-390 considerably faster than I had predicted. I didn't believe memorizing the distance from CO-390 to the trailhead (7.5 miles) was imperative. I was so very wrong. We ended up in Winfield wondering how we missed Missouri Gulch. In summer and early fall the Missouri Gulch Trailhead sign can be somewhat difficult to spot. Make sure you mark your odometer when you exit CO-390.
After parking, stretching, and using the restroom, we were on the trail by 6:45am. Our goal for the day was to set camp at the Missouri Gulch/Elkhead Pass trail junction, drop weight, then storm up Missouri.
The switchbacks coming up the gulch were definitely memorable. Within thirty minutes of heading up the trail I remember thinking how much harder hiking was with 40lbs on my back as opposed to 15lbs.
As we headed up the gulch the views all around were breath-taking. A forum member once said we would not be disappointed and he was absolutely correct.
We stopped frequently to eat and drink and to take in the rising sun and gulch that was coming to life ever so slowly.
In two hours (8:50am) we had reached the 11,300' Mt. Belford junction.
The view up Belford's Northwest ridge.
Treeline is at 11,300 but it took about thirty minutes to get fully up and above the trees. This photo is facing north looking towards the trailhead.
The stretch of trail from 11,300 to 12,600 was scenic but really seemed to drag on and on. Knowing that twenty-five pounds was about to fall off our backs motivated us and we pushed on.
Once we reached the Missouri Gulch/Elkhead Pass trail junction (clearly marked by a wooden sign) we spent the next thirty minutes finding a suitable campsite and setting up camp. After dropping our tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and other non-essentials, we headed up the ridge.
Upon reaching the ridge we were elated to finally cast our eyes on Mt. Huron. Previous versions of our route had us beginning with Huron so committing actual image to the mind held something of a relief.
I was so excited that I momentarily lost grasp of Leave No Trace and ventured unto the tundra to take in the western view. Two of the six individuals we saw that day happened to be coming down from the summit at just that moment. They kindly discussed the merits of Leave No Trace and I apologetically informed them of my awareness and momentary lapse.
Belford and Elkhead Pass from Missouri's ridge.
The ridge walk was actually quite enjoyable. I found myself jogging through parts of it. It was getting close to 12:00pm at this point and the skies were turning grey.
Missouri's crux was not terribly difficult. We had done the appropriate amount of research and prepared for it; slow and steady and we were all down. As the week progressed we would of happily embraced it in comparison to what we encountered bushwhacking down Oxford's southeast scree gully.
Coming down the crux. Hands work much better than trekking poles.
Eleven minutes from the crux and we were standing on top of Missouri. It was quite the rush, the words numb and surreal come to mind. You spend over a year picturing and to finally be there... and to be there alone, better yet. We took in the views, ate some Clif Bars, got faintly dusted with snow, and rapidly headed back down.
Looking east from the summit of Missouri.
Belford on the left, Oxford center.
Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Yale, Antero, Shavano & Tabeguache.
Looking north up the gulch. From the snow patches follow the drainage to the little green spec that is our tent.
Me goofing off on the summit.
Group summit shot.
At 1:12pm we found ourselves back at the crux. Here are a few shots of our climbing efforts. As long as it is dry you should be fine.
This picture was taken halfway down the ridge.
Huron with a little more light this time around.
Our pace back down the ridge was casual. The weather held all afternoon as it graciously would the remainder of our trip. The absence of urgency couldn't be more present than in this picture.
After reaching our tent we packed it up and looked for a better spot. After fifteen minutes of realizing we had already found the best location, we rooted our tent and gear back down and began filtering water and making dinner. Our menu consisted of Chili Mac, string cheese, gatorade and hot chocolate for dessert.
The wind howled through our camp as we prepared for sleep. The next day should be fairly easy, or so we thought. Belford would be like teeing up a watermelon, it was only 1,400 feet from where our heads rested. The ridge walk over to Oxford, piece of cake. Now that bushwhack down Oxford's southeast face might get tricky but we did our homework. We have it all planned out. No big deal.
Click the following link for day two of our adventure:
Day 1 Elevation Profile:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):