Thursday, September 9, 2010
Trailhead: Missouri Gulch
Roundtrip distance: ~16 miles
Elevation gained: 7300 feet
Trailhead departure: 4:45 AM
Time to cabin: 5:30 AM
Belford summit: 7:15 AM
Oxford summit: 8:30 AM
Missouri Mtn summit: 11:40 AM
Return to TH: 2:15 PM
Total time: 9h 30min
This trip report will serve as a follow-up to one I posted last week. With my original plans foiled, and having returned home with our tails between our legs (I did bag two peaks, but humor me) my mind soon turned to thoughts of redemption in the Sawatch range. I had one, final opportunity to get back to the mountains before I left town for the weekend to visit some old friends, and the choice between Harvard/Columbia and Belford/Oxford/Missouri was obvious. The latter combo had more bang for it's buck, and an attempt earlier this year had resulted in a turnaround in heavy snow conditions (my first snow attempt). So I had it out for these mountains. This also would have been a great combo hike for Boudreaux, but given that he still wasn't 100% after our Shav/Tab endeavor arrangements for him had to be made. This day's hike would be a solo endeavor.
I made good time to the TH and arrived around 4:30 AM, noticing only a few more vehicles besides my own. It was much cooler this morning, approximately 43F, and the precipitation the night prior had left the trail/foliage damp with a lot of humidity in the air. Fortunately a clear, starry sky was present when I set-out. Fifteen minutes later I was ready to go & struck out on the trail. My breath fogged immediately in the beam of my headlamp which occasionally clouded my view of the trail but otherwise my trek up the switchbacks was uneventful. I was making good time, arriving at the cabin in 45 minutes.
The Cabin (on return to TH)
The choice is obvious
I continued to make my way up the gulch and upon arriving at a the sign above kept left and began my ascent of Belford's northwest shoulder. During my snow ascent in May we had essentially bee-lined up this shoulder -- which quickly became exhausting -- but the now obvious switchbacks made the ascent much easier.
The general route up Belford's shoulder
Morning's first light was caught about halfway up my ascent, and looking up towards Belford's summit I noticed fast-moving/wind-blown clouds quickly moving in from the west.
An early look at Emerald Peak
As I approached the summit it quickly became enveloped in cloud cover accompanied by frigid, high-speed winds.
Upon summiting Belford I had a moment of disorientation -- the cloud cover completely hid Mt Oxford & it's connecting saddle from view, and for some reason I was under the impression that the route to Oxford & Elkhead Pass took off separately from Belford's summit. However, I could only see a single route heading off towards west so I took a few minutes to wander around the summit looking for an alternative trail but could find none. After returning to the summit I waited a few minutes until a break in the clouds revealed Oxford's general direction which could be reached from Elkhead Pass -- I left the summit to take this path. After approximately 100-150 yards the trail leading to the Belford-Oxford saddle veers to the left. The hike over to Oxford was relatively uneventful with the exception of high-speed winds that would occasionally knock me off balance, but the views of the surrounding mountains were awesome.
Approaching the summit
At this point I hunkered amongst the talus on the summit to grab a bite to eat. It was still pretty cold, and the winds were still gusting at pretty high speeds. I made it back across the saddle quickly as my legs were still feeling pretty good, and hoped that as I lost some elevation on Elkhead pass the weather conditions would improve.
The hike back to Belford from the saddle
Fortunately the cloud cover started to dissipate during my descent but the high-speed winds would persist throughout the day.
Missouri Mtn's west ridge. Elkhead Pass courses left along the upper border of the gulch, then turns east & runs along the mountain.
The trip down to the Missouri Mtn trail took longer than I expected, and by the time I began my third & final climb for the day my legs were getting tired.
Starting the Missouri Mtn ascent
Particular caution had to be paid to certain spots along the summit ridge where loose footing in the setting of high winds could be a dangerous combination.
Coming upon the summit ridge
The end did justify the means, however, as the views from the Missouri mountain summit were spectacular. At this point the weather had significantly improved and things were warming up -- a welcomed change given poorer conditions earlier.
Looking back down Missouri gulch from Missouri Mtn's summit
Mt. Belford from Missouri's summit
A look back at the summit ridge
I took my time at the summit, and wrapped up my hike with the uneventful trip back down the gulch to the TH. With the exception of my Belford ascent under nightfall (when I could see another headlamp behind me in the distance) I did not see any other hikers the remainder of the day. Perhaps they decided to attempt another day when early winds/clouds blew in....
Just before reaching the trailhead I noticed a grave off the trail -- if anybody knows the story behind this I'd be interested to know.
Finally, some victory photos: