| Mo' in Snow
Mo' in Snow:
Peak: Missouri Mountain
Route: Missouri Gulch, Winter Variation
Date: November 5, 2010
Length: 11.5 miles RT
Vertical: 4600 feet
Ascent time: 3:38
RT time: 6:42
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise
Ever since Sarah T. warned that "even Kevin had to be coaxed across that section" on Missouri's summit ridge in mid-winter, I'd been both enamored, and frightened, at the thought that this Class 2 route somehow harbors some type of monster that only comes out in the dark or in the depths of winter. So I got out the maps and figured a way around Nessie. This monster was not going to swallow me up whole, by gosh. Maps out and some advice from Steve G. and I'd put together a beautiful if lengthy route that approaches from Clohesy Lake, continues south into the upper Lake Fork Basin, and onto the summit ridge southwest of Emerald Peak, curving left up the ridge to gain Emerald and then Iowa, then finally arriving at the destination, Missouri Mountain: Without ever treading near Dreaded Nessie's winter repose.
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of seeing Lake Fork basin in winter's splendor. The route would be a hefty 30 miles RT, as the usual winter parking near the ranch on 390 adds six miles one-way; a nice leg-stretcher for a winter's day, doable with Nordic gear. Huron would make a solid warm-up.
Well, I got the winter warm-up last year, but not the main course. Never did attempt it. So with a week's worth of great forecast and some snow coverage in the alpine, I decided to see what it was all about – before 390 gets covered and adds that extra 12 miles to the RT distance. I put out the word, but no takers for the long route, so decided I'd either go solo, or offer Nessie some partners. Partners signed on, but Nessie scared them off. Apparently Her idea was that I show up alone.
The old cabin just below treeline in Missouri Gulch
Not one to beat around the bush, Ken Nolan had some mystical advice for my spiritual dilemma:
"You are apparently going to amazing lengths to avoid your hard-to-comprehend-and-quite-irrational fear of a fairly easy spot on Missouri's Northwest Ridge…I'd recommend Fear Confrontation Therapy. I assume that you rationally understand that when you get there, you'll think "huh? Is this what the fuss was all about?" You scamper up Kit Carson's North Ridge and you're concerned about the normal route on Missouri? What's up with that?"
OK, that decides it. I've confessed my fear of the DSS (Dreaded Sketchy Spot) to Father Nolan and my penance shall be courage by confrontation. I would expect no less from a man who's seen all the 14ers, 13ers, 12ers, and 11ers in just about all conditions. And just to turn up the heat a little, Ken sends a photo of Jean crossing the DSS in winter. Looks like a piece of cake. Only she's on the side of the cake and there's lots of frosting.
Just above the headwall in the Missouri Gulch basin
It's 8:40 am on gorgeous Friday. I'm supposed to meet a young fellow in the parking lot but if he gets there early I'm supposed to catch up. I'm not sure he knows Nessie lies ahead. I feel a little bit guilty about dragging him in on this. We meet just after the old cabin near treeline.
The standard route looks fairly caked, but there's a dry rib heading up toward 13,695. It's hard to set off a snow slide on dry rock, so we start for the summit ridge just after the headwall, taking a hard right. Turns out the dry area is loose, as winter's icy grip has not yet frozen the scree into place, making the initial ascent a little less than aesthetic, till I spy a single set of steps up the rib to our left. The gully is shallow and low angle, so I cross to find some nice French steps up snow-covered tundra. Fast, safe, efficient. Perfect, we'll take it.
But my young comrade has other ideas, prefering to stay on the loose scree until it wears him out. Or maybe he's caught a glimpse of Nessie. In any case, he beats feet down. Darn you, Nessie, scaring off my partners. OK, I guess FCT works best if you're alone. Solo it is.
Gaining the summit ridge near the 13,700 saddle
Now in third gear and getting the last of the altitude gain out of the way, the French steps of my unknown benefactor seem to be making intelligent decisions all the way to the top – except for this hard left. Why not take it the last 300 feet to the ridge? They've done me well to this point, so I stay in the steps. Not the best decision, in retrospect, as the kicked-in steps travel over some talus and a few short sections where they disappear over bullet-hard snow. Can't get the axe into this stuff, but it's short, I've got spikes on, it's not all that steep, and the run-out is clean. Still, if I had it to do again, I'd just stay on the rib directly to ridge.
Looking north down the summit ridge to Point 12,473, at far right
Arriving at the summit ridge I'm overtaken with that sweet alpine passion which drives us to do this stuff. In high gear now, most of the altitude out of the way, I'm just starting the fun stuff on a longish summit ridge. OK, Nessie, whatcha got?
Looking ahead to the corrugated ridge and Missouri's lofty summit
The views on the ridge are outstanding. There are a few high points to gain which end up working out better staying on the ridge proper than trying to contour around to the west, due to the loose scree in some sections. In another month or two, the scree will be frozen, and it won't matter.
Clohesy Lake beckons: The Lake Fork approach should be fabulous in winter.
The summit ridge takes longer than I'd hoped. This is the last time I schedule an evening activity after a 14er. At 6:00 pm I'm supposed to be at the Southern Colorado Photography Society awards and reception for the photo show this week, where I'm hoping to place. I'm feeling a little rushed because if I'm not there people will worry. Or worse.
Ah, but there's a summit in view; we'll worry about all that later.
The summit ridge looks interesting. It actually looks much tougher than it is. It also feels longer on the way back than on the ascent.
I encounter a very short section of Class 3 downclimbing, and wonder if this is the Dreaded Sketchy Spot? It's dry, being on the west side of the ridge. A look back shows that it could have easily been avoided by taking a short detour further west, down, and across. This can't possibly be my Nessie, even in mid-winter.
Worse than Ken's pragmatic prognostication of my future exclamation upon encountering the hard spot, I'm almost at the summit and haven't even been able to find the hard spot. This is starting to get a little embarrassing.
Nearing the summit of Missouri Mountain
Thank Goodness, right in the nick of time, I round a corner to find a steeper patch of snow. I do my level best to get a couple shots to make it look scary. I'd found the crux of the route –and the crux is trying to make the photography render this section to look like anything approaching heroic.
Not to say that it probably isn't a little more chilling in mid-winter. Here's another failed attempt at making me look courageous – one of those straight down the boot shots.
Of course, Ken takes this stuff all in stride. Here's a shot of Jean seconding his traverse across this section on January 11, 2009:
So, what? Was I going to stay home because that "little sketchy section" might look like this? Turns out it didn't, and Ken probably knew it. Thanks for the "coaxing," Ken!
BTW, notice how gripped Jean is. Her axe is still on her pack. Show-off!
Anyway – I feel a little exonerated to have found Nessie in an agreeable mood today. Now, where'd that summit get off to?
Iowa and Emerald looking seductively in reach
A mere 5.5 miles one way, I'd figured the summit for two hours, two and a half just to be sure. But the summit ridge takes longer than expected; I'm happy to come in under four today – 3:38 to be exact. Iowa and Emerald exert their seductive pull at the risk of a little hello from the CCSO if I don't get down soon. Very well, let's take some photos and snack and get going. New rule: No evening commitments following fourteener ascents, with the exception of ad lib libations.
A look back along the north ridge from the summit of Missouri
The summit boulder makes a great tripod
Don't laugh, it actually works – most of the time. Not bad for nine ounces.
Most of the route above treeline
The return view of the Dreaded Sketchy Spot
Looking back at a beautiful mountain
Last winter, I'd pondered whether gaining the saddle between Iowa and 13,130, on the Clohesy side, would be a viable option.
Here's the same shot, just a little left to see Iowa Peak, with the saddle at far right.
The summit ridge seems twice as long on the descent. I don't like hurrying. I wonder if anything garnered a place in the show, but at this moment I'm more interested in the beers at the car.
Headed back down the ascent route
The late afternoon's beauty in the alpine is magnificent. I wouldn't have minded a bit finishing by headlamp. But I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities for that this winter.
Belford is looking stately in its westerly wind-scoured attire.
Goodbye for now, Missouri Mountain. Maybe we'll see you in a couple of months.
The trail through the trees has patches of dry ground interspersed with sections of hard ice. The spikes are secure as I hustle to get to the reception. I finally make it to the car shortly after four but the drive is longer than anticipated. Fortunately, no one panics that I'm an hour late. I miss the awards, but am pleasantly surprised to see a Second Place ribbon hanging on the photo of 14ers member, Bruton, climbing Ripple Effect, and an Honorable Mention hanging on the photo of 14ers members Papillon and Wooderson, on the cornice in the saddle between Grays and Torreys last January 16.
What luck today. No Nessie, and my first time with two awards in a show. The only thing that could possibly beat this is gazing upon the Missouri Gulch bridge bathed in late Fall afternoon sunlight.
I thought some of you might like to see the placing images from the SCPS show.
Here's 14ers member Bruton on "Ripple Effect, 5.11a, RRCOS, April 2010, Second Place in Non-pro Portrait:
Here's Papillon and Wooderson in the saddle between Grays and Torreys, January 16, 2010, Honorable Mention in Non-pro B&W:
Thanks to Papillon, Wooderson, and Bruton for gracing these images. And thanks to Ken for the "coaxing" to get more. : )
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):