August 29th, 2010 Mount Belford – 14,197'
Mount Oxford – 14,153'
Missouri Mountain – 14,067'
TH: Missouri Gulch Trailhead
Distance : Around 16 miles
Elevation : 7300'
Total Time : 9 hours, 15 min
Hold up…Derek writing a 14ers.com trip report that is actually about 14ers?! Crazy!
Obviously, I don't normally write reports on 14ers just because there is already a lot information out there. In this case however, I ended up choosing the combo in an order that hasn't been reported on a lot, so I figured it may be of some use.
With fall starting to make some appearances in the high country, I suppressed the urge to head into the Lost Creek Wilderness. Instead, I figured I should try to finish some 14ers that I had put on hold a couple years earlier and had never gone back for.
The weather predictions were making me doubt whether I would be able to grab all 3 summits. That said, if I always listened to weather predictions I would probably never get out. So I decided on a plan of starting from the Missouri Gulch Trailhead around 5 AM. I had originally contemplated packing up to treeline the night before. Last year I had packed in with VermontMike, but after getting sick I had to bail the same evening. This year, I didn't have enough time the night before to pack in.
I made it to the trailhead a little quicker than I had expected, and I was able to hit the trail right at 4:45 AM. No one was stirring at the trailhead, and according to the sign-in book there was just one group heading up ahead of me. It was chilly when I started out, but I knew I would warm up quick once I began ascending so I decided to start without a jacket. I also took my water filter to save on water weight. (I actually never ended up needing the filter.) Light and fast (for me) was the name of the game today.
The switchbacks went by quickly (much faster than last year when I had my overnight pack) and I reached "the cabin" in little time. Once I broke out of the trees, I could see Belford's silhouette against the moonlight. Even though it wasn't a full moon, there was quite a bit of light. I actually hiked without my headlamp for a few minutes until the thought of a turned ankle made me click in back on. I passed by the group of two that had signed in ahead of me. I asked where they were headed and they indicated Belford. They asked me the same, and I felt kind of stupid because I actually wasn't sure yet. I knew I wanted all three, but I still hadn't made up my mind if I was starting with Belford or Missouri. As I was only a few hundred yards from the trail split, I needed to make the decision quickly. Eventually I figured that in case weather moved in, two was better than one. So Belford would be first.
The wind really started to pick up as I began up the trail to Belford. Mixed with the cooler temperatures, it was downright cold. I finally gave in and brought out a jacket and gloves to compete against the wind. Fall is definitely coming! Darkness eventually faded and the world began to show itself around me as I ascended Belford's shoulder. I noticed some goats watching me from the slopes of Peck's Peak to the north. I assumed they were mocking my unorthodox "two legged" approach to ascending a mountain.
Looking north from the slopes of Belford. The white specks on the hillside are mountain goats.
First rays of sun to the north.
Looking SE from near the summit of Belford. Missouri's ridge pictured.
Emerald, Iowa and Missouri seen from the summit of Belford.
The standard trail up to Belford gets a lot of complaints, but I found it quite nice. As 14er trails go I suppose it's a bit on the steeper end, but to me that just means you get to gain elevation faster! I was looking forward to making the summit and hunkering down to get out of the wind, so I sped up a bit over the last 500 feet. I reached the empty summit of Belford at 7:45. I was a little ahead of my planned summit time, so I took a longer summit break than usual and found some relief from the wind while enjoying my snickers bar. From my windbreak just below the summit, I enjoyed the views of some peaks to the north including Grizzly, La Plata, French group and Elbert.
Finally, I emerged from my break spot and started out towards Oxford. Again, the trail is very nice all the way over. My favorite part of the saddle between Belford and Oxford was the view of Harvard. It looked MASSIVE from this viewpoint. The final ascent to Oxford is very mellow, but I still had to stop a couple times to catch my breath. I went to the wrong summit "rock cluster" first, and then backtracked to the true summit. Once again, I had the summit all to myself. I had seen a distant hiker standing on Belford a few minutes earlier that was no longer there, so I knew that someone was probably on their way. I stayed only briefly and took back off towards Belford. I knew it was going to be a bit of a grunt to get back up.
Mt. Belford seen from the summit of Mt. Oxford.
Massive Mt. Harvard from the saddle of Belford and Oxford.
Harvard again with some early morning clouds rolling over.
Final slope back up to Belford.
I passed a couple people on my way back up to Belford, but overall I was surprised at the lack of people out on a summer weekend. Maybe the weather forecast made people change plans.
As expected, the ascent to Belford was not enjoyable. My legs were starting to feel the day already, and it was pretty slow going over the final 300 feet. Finally, I came to the intersection of the Elkhead Pass trail.
**Note: There has been a lot of discussion regarding the Elkhead Pass trail and how much elevation is saved by descending this way versus back over Belford. I decided to check out the exact elevation difference between Belford's summit and the trail intersection on the way down with my GPS, and I came up with 85 feet. That's it. So I can see descending Elkhead Pass trail for a pleasant and smoother (albeit longer) descent, but to do it to save elevation is ridiculous. You'll save next to nothing.
Anyway, I branched off towards Elkhead Pass on another very nice trail, and much more gradual than the standard route to Belford.
As I descended towards the pass, I began to take notice of the clouds overhead and to the west. The clouds had been building over the past hour, however nothing seemed to be able to take form. I hoped they would stay that way, but I knew that I had to stay cautious because the high winds were moving the clouds into the area very quickly. Once I hit the pass, I stopped only to take a couple pictures then continued back down into the gulch. I quickened my pace a bit, as the clouds were still making me a bit nervous. The trail seemed to go on forever, but that was probably just because I was in a hurry. Finally, I made it to the trail intersection for Missouri's standard route and the Elkhead Pass Trail. **Note: Besides for going in the opposite order of Roach's book, his book also follows a path that intersects at the Belford standard trail which is a couple hundred feet lower. Therefore, my total elevation is a bit less than his book shows however the mileage ends up being more. (Both differences are due to using the Elkhead Pass Trail.)
Iowa and Missouri pictured. The low point in the foreground is Elkhead Pass.
Looking back up towards Belford from the Elkhead Pass trail.
Missouri's east ridge.
Emerald standing tall.
It was only 10:15, but I still wasn't sure if I would have time to hit Missouri's summit. I decided to give it a shot anyway. I began heading up towards the ridge on Missouri's standard route. Again, the trail is fantastic! (Maybe I'm just not used to having trails, because every trail I was on looked great.) I slowly made my way up, playing leap frog with another hiker heading for the summit. (To be honest, he was the one leaping. I was moving pretty slow at this point.) Once I hit the ridge, I had a view of the incoming weather to the west and knew that I would be able to make an attempt at the summit. I was also now in full force of the wind, which proved to be quite annoying.
The final ridge to the summit seemed to go by quick, as most of the elevation was already gained. Just some up and downs for a few minutes and I was standing on the summit. The weather now looked better than it had an hour ago, so I was in no hurry to descend. The other hiker arrived a couple seconds behind me and was nice enough to take a summit photo of me. I broke out snickers bar #2 and rested behind the windbreak on the summit. (Did I mention it was still windy?) I was pretty tired at this point, and was happy that the rest of the day would be downhill. After about 10 minutes I decided to bolt and said farewell to the other summit occupant.
Ridge along Missouri. (Looking north.)
Belford and Elkhead Pass from near the summit of Missouri.
Final slope up to Missouri.
Emerald (again) and Iowa from Missouri's summit.
I descended from Missouri via the standard route all the way to the trailhead. I turned on some "Blonde Redhead" on the ipod and descended quickly completely lost in my thoughts. (Just an FYI in case anyone grumbles: I only use my ipod when I'm solo and above treeline.) I was happy to have completed my day's goal of all three summits, but now I just felt like getting down and heading home. These will go onto a list of peaks that I doubt I will ever repeat, but obviously any day in the mountains is a good day.
One of many enormous cricket type creatures all over the slopes of Missouri.
Looking back up towards Missouri from the descent back to Missouri Gulch.
Flat ground heading into Missouri Gulch.
Missouri on the descent.
Dropping back into the trees in Missouri Gulch.
Regarding my route choice: it seems that most people like to approach this combo by starting with Missouri. Personally, I would rather have nothing but downhill after my final summit thereby making Missouri the best one to finish on. Also, you can minimize some elevation by connecting the peaks via Elkhead Pass trail. I know that some have dropped south from Elkhead Pass and ascended Missouri from the Iowa-Missouri saddle. I think that this would save a couple hundred more feet, but being off trail would make it much slower. If I ever did this again (which I won't =P) I would choose the same route as I did.
1. A long day, but not as exhausting as I expected. The nice trails help. So did the cooler weather. (To compare, the couple times I've done Longs I was WAY more tired in the end.)
2. Ascending AND descending Elkhead Pass trail would be a waste of time due to the added mileage. I would use it only to descend. (Unless Belford was your only target.) It's nice to have variety anyway.
Left Trailhead- 4:45
Belford Summit- 7:45
Oxford Summit- 8:45
Missouri Summit- 11:45
Returned to Trailhead- 2:00
Final track of the day.
Oh, and I might as well add the song that was stuck in my head a majority of the day. Good song though...
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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