On my first attempt in the Missouri Gulch, I wanted to climb the standard Belford/Oxford route and tackle two 14ers, but weather turned me around just after summiting Belford. Now I was in a predicament to climb Oxford by itself or attempt to climb Missouri, as well. I didn't think climbing Oxford alone was very efficient so I started working on a plan to do both remaining peaks in one day. Call me crazy! This TR is more about planning and navigation with trail pictures and experiences.
I had originally planned to climb Missouri from the Iowa/Missouri saddle from Lake Clohesy, but that turned out to be too tough to do. So, I decided to arrive at that saddle by going over Elkhead Pass into the Pine Creek basin and up the eastern slope of the saddle. The distance was long, but I felt safer rather than climbing Missouri on the standard route. The plan set, I put it into motion and set the alarm for 3:30 am for a 4 am start. I thought this would give me enough time. I woke up on schedule and proceeded to hit the snooze button, but instead I accidently disabled the alarm! Good thing I wasn't going for a job interview. Anyway, I awoke at 5 am and hit the trail at 5:45am. A late start, but good weather was forecasted so I hoped it would all work out.
Dawn arrived on the east side looking back Missouri Gulch toward the trailhead.
About half way to the Missouri standard trail junction, I began to think about saving some time by going up Missouri on the standard route. But wait, I didn't have the 14er map or Bill's route description. Could I do this from memory as I had read the route and put waypoints on the route at one time?
Examining Missouri and contemplating a change in plans, nice trail on the right.
I debated with myself and recalled the time I planned to go up the gully from Guanella Pass to summit Mt Evans and found that to be a difficult climb. I had briefly thought about going an easier way, but didn't plan it that way, and went as planned. Experience makes a difference in decision making.
This time was different. I decided to face the challenge of the brief class 3 and if I felt it was too tough to do, I would go back the way I came. I needed to save some time and going up Missouri via the direct route was quicker. I would evaluate the risk once I saw it in person.
In total, this climb was 15.3 miles with a total elevation gain of 6990 feet in 14.6 hours.
I divided this adventure into four segments.
From the Missouri Gulch Trailhead to Missouri's Summit
5.4 miles and 4500 feet elevation gain; start 5:45am, arrive 10:45am: 5 hrs
The climb up to the trail junction was pleasantly simple as I had been over most of this route only one week earlier.
Decision point, going right, and in hindsight, a good decision.
Once turning right, onto the Missouri trail, I was concerned that I would lose the trail. The trail was well established, but not plainly obvious while climbing. The trail would only give out advance indications of location and difficultly upon arrival. It was like believing in something you can't see and hope it is there.
I scoured the mountain side to find a glimpse of the trail, to no avail.
This critter is the biggest wildlife I saw the entire day...whaterver it is!
Since I didn't have a map of this route or a description, I was truly climbing in the blind. I had gone over it several times so I knew the only difficult part was just before the summit.
I could see this trail, and it was headed away from the summit!
Making progress upward. Missouri is on the right and Elkhead Pass is left of middle.
Honest, there is a path in these rocks...somewhere.
An interesting rock formation. Looks like someone didn’t clean up after scattering rocks down the hill. Path is visible on the left.
Made it to the ridge.
A good view of the ridge line leading to the summit which is the last “bump” on the ridge.
Not so exposed at the moment or really at all until the drop.
Ok, so there’s a little exposure on the trail…
Up and up I went and finally made it to the ridge line. Then I started guessing about the exposure spot and my pace slowed down. When I realized this, I had to beef up my courage and reassure myself that I could turn around, if I wanted to. The ridge line exposure was fine with me and then I got to the drop. I think some of my previous climbing had prepared me for this level of exposure and I really thought to myself, is this really THE big deal?
This shot makes it look worse than it is. See all the rock holds? This is looking almost straight down.
The v in the rock at the top shows the starting point and the path has sides.
This is the other side. A 4’ high wall with so many footholds, you’d think you were on a climbing wall!
I climbed down face out using poles and hands to keep from slipping and didn't have a problem. The 20' walk over the slippery sloping side to the 4 foot climb was actually worse. After getting through this area, I met Bulldog from chapter 8 of Halfway to Heaven and chatted with him until both of us needed to find more stable ground. He was on number 34 and still going strong.
I summited Missouri and really felt accomplished and underwhelmed at the same time. I had built up the drop to the point I was dreading it only to find the risk was within my comfort range. I was happy and now wondering if my plan would work in reverse and I could get to the saddle between Missouri and Iowa. I found the USGS disk and took photos of me and it, had a snack and started down the south ridge.
One happy climber…for now.
From the Missouri Summit to the Belford Shoulder
2.4 miles and 1300 foot gain and loss in elevation; depart 10:55am, arrived 2:15pm: 3.5 hrs
A look back up the mountain about half way to the saddle.
Looking toward the saddle. I accidently cut off the top of Iowa.
A westward photo toward the lake and the path on the map that doesn’t look too appealing.
The other side of the saddle. A kinder, gentler slope.
I found the path I needed to take very quickly and got to the saddle. Looking west, where there was a path on the map showing a route to the saddle from the west, I saw a faint path, but not one I would relish taking. The lake might have to be a separate trip all on its own. I turned east and headed downhill and decided not to take the route I had outlined on my GPS and try to save some time with a shortcut.
Rivers of talus to hop over or go around. The bluff is that tiny slope in front of the pass, almost dead center of the picture.
I recalled other climbers had mentioned not staying too high due to scree near Elkhead Pass. What I found was several ribbons of talus perpendicular to my route in which I would have to go through to join the path headed up to the pass. I came upon a big bluff that did not show any contour lines on the map, but the path goes around it and you can see this odd detour on the map.
The on the bluff looking toward Elkhead Pass. My route was somewhere below.
On top of Elkhead Pass with the established path up to Belford’s shoulder.
Now, I figured out why it showed this detour. I ended up going above the bluff and slightly down to the path, connecting with it and heading up to the pass. Another option was continuing uphill but that would have brought me to a higher point on the pass which would be further away from my destination—Oxford. Now the goal was to stick to the clearly defined trail up to Belford's shoulder and the spot where I hid from the storm trying to figure out what to do. Proceed or retreat.
The roundtrip to Oxford's Summit
2.4 miles with an 1190 elevation gain combining both directions; departed 2:15pm, got to the summit at 3:45pm, returned to the shoulder at 5pm for a 2.7 hr roundtrip
I arrived at my old haunt chatted with another climber doing the standard route for both Belford and Oxford delaying the inevitable jaunt across the ridge to Oxford. I had once said it didn't seem that far, it's just right there.
shot is at the two-thirds across point looking back at Belford.
This where I was going—to the last high point in this shot.
My depth perception must be off! That was a challenging jaunt. I was tired. The route to Oxford looked easy, but it took me longer to get there than it did to get back. Go figure. Two out of two mountains summited and now to get down before dark, a dependable factor of nature, would make me bring out the headlight.
The official summit photo of Oxford.
From the Bedford Shoulder to the Trailhead
5.1 miles with a 4400 foot elevation loss; leaving at 5pm and getting back to the TH at 8:20pm for a 3.4 hour downhill trip.
On the shoulder determining the fastest, easiest way down. Note the shadow.
The trailhead is about 4 miles from here.
My planned route was to follow the path down via Elkhead Pass, but that took me out of the way a little so I cut off some distance by bushwhacking down to the trail like I did the week before. This was the 4th time I had been on this path, darkness, daylight, rain and now dusk to dark. It always looked different.
Lots to think about. I finished the Missouri Gulch group in two attempts albeit, the hard way, due to unintended consequences. I overcame my concern for the exposure on the drop and went 15 miles without running out of water or knees complaining. It was a great, but tiring day! 16 summits this summer and a ton of experience, too.