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Route #3) Missouri Mountain - North Face Couloirs
Difficult Class 2, Moderate Snow Ski: Advanced, D8 / R3 / II
From Leadville: Drive 20 miles south on U.S. 24 and turn right on the Chaffee County 390 road.
From Buena Vista: Drive 14.5 miles north on U.S. 24 and turn left on the Chaffee County 390 road.
On the 390 road, drive 7.5 miles to a sign for the Missouri Gulch trailhead. Turn left and drive down into the large parking area. There are restrooms here.
Missouri's north face has several good couloirs that provide excellent snow climbs. Here's the north face seen from Mt. Belford - Photo #1 and Photo #2.
From the parking area, start down the Missouri Gulch Trail, cross the bridge that spans Clear Creek and continue into the forest. Hike over 1/4 mile and climb a bunch of switchbacks up through steep forest. Exit the switchbacks at 10,400' and continue south along Missouri Gulch. At 10,800', turn left and cross to the east side of Missouri Gulch using a small log bridge. Continue south up a semi-open slope to reach the remnants of an old building near 11,200', in the forest. Leave the trees to get your first view of Mt. Belford and Missouri Mountain.
If you're climbing this route in winter or spring, you'll be lucky enough to have snow for the remaining hike up through Missouri Gulch. If you are skinning (skis) or would like to stay on snow as you ascend, the best option may be to hike a bit to the right and ascend the drainage gully which often holds snow into mid-May - Photo #3. Pass the normal turn-off area for Mt. Belford and continue up gentle terrain - Photo #4. Missouri's north face and summit finally come back into view as you ascend the final slopes near the south end of the basin - Photo #5 and Photo #6.
The north face can look a bit confusing because the summit is difficult to distinguish from this area. Photo #7 shows the north face in relation to the standard northwest ridge route. Before climbing to the north face, this is a good area to study the face and identify your intended route. As shown in Photo #8, there are several options. Most climbers ascend either the main couloir (blue in Photo #8) or the easier "C Couloir" which is farther to the right (west) - Photo #9.
At 12,800' (Photo #10), near the end of the basin, turn right and climb a brief slope (Photo #11) that leads to a bowl below the north face. Enter the gentle bowl and hike over to the base of the north face couloirs - Photo #12. Photo #13 and Photo #14 show the two most popular options. From here, the "C Couloir" is the easiest route to the summit, but the remainder of this route description will use the main couloir (Photo #15) that provides the most direct line to the summit.
Climbing the main couloir:
From the bowl, climb steepening terrain to reach the entrance of the main couloir near 13,400' - Photo #16. The couloir begins to narrow near 13,500' - Photo #17 and Photo #18. Near 13,600', approach a right turn in the couloir - this is usually the most dangerous part of the climb because you're in or along the main fall line - Photo #19, Photo #20 and Photo #21. Photo #22 shows the view of Mt. Belford to the northeast. After the right turn, the remainder of the couloir comes into view - Photo #23 and Photo #24. Climb 350+ feet southwest on slightly easier terrain - Photo #25 and Photo #26. Once you hit the summit ridge, turn left and walk up to the top - Photo #27 and Photo #29.
If you climbed the "C Couloir" option, Photo #28 shows where the top of the couloir has a spur that turns left toward the summit. If it has snow, the spur provides the best line at the top of the "C Couloir." Plus, it bypasses the rocky terrain along the end of the standard northwest ridge route.
The north face couloirs attract plenty of skiers each year but plan ahead so there's no confusion when you get there. While there are many ski options (Photo #8), most skiers hit either the main couloir or "C Couloir" - Photo #12. Pick your line and be safe. Photo #31 is a shot of the main couloir after an April ski.
This route is only recommended with snow. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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