Peak(s):  Missouri Mountain  -  14,067 feet
Date Posted:  09/04/2008
Date Climbed:   08/30/2008
Author:  KeithK

 An Acceptable Substitute  

Missouri Mtn. (14,067')
August 30, 2008
Northwest Ridge from Missouri Gulch
Elevation Gain: 4,700'
Round Trip: 10 miles, ~11 hours
Harry (Bresch) and KeithK

"Missouri is an ugly pile of dirt, and one of the least interesting mountains I've ever seen." – Myself, summer of 2007.

Who would want to hike in the San Juans for four or five days when the Sawatch is so much closer? Uh huh, that's what I thought, anyone in their RIGHT mind!!! Sometimes we just have to make the best of what we have, though. Originally planning a July excursion to southwest Colorado, circumstances forced me to delay my vacation by a month; still, I was looking forward to the end of August, with intentions of climbing at least four 14ers in the grandest of Colorado mountain ranges. After a surprising amount of effort to summit Culebra Peak, and a quick look at the logistics of making a 5 or 6 day trip, I decided to forego my ambitions. Disappointment aside, I decided to make the most of my time off, doing some needed chores around the house, and getting in a nice climb of Mt. Bierstadt just to know that I could. The Sawatch quickly became the target for the weekend, though, and Harry and I ultimately decided to head for that most popular of trailheads, Missouri Gulch. The plan would be to hike in to the Elkhead Pass trail split with the Missouri Mtn. trail, and then assess the time and either point towards Missouri or Oxford. One way or another, we would be in for a long hike.

Arriving under brilliant stars suspended in the inky blackness of night, we sat out from the Missouri Gulch trailhead at 5:15 a.m., headlamps showing the way up the immediately steep trail on the south side of Clear Creek. I was pleased with our early start, as I knew from my previous hike up Belford that this first two miles of trail was anything but easy, as the trail climbs, and climbs, and climbs. Jodi (Nebnative) caught us early in the switchbacks, and we were pleased to keep her company for a short while in the darkness. Hiking alone in the dark is spooky, and I appreciated her need to share the trail. Once it lightened up enough, we bid her farewell, as she continued at her faster pace, with intentions of climbing the Belford and Oxford combination.

The cascading stream greets us along the only flat stretch of trail during the first two miles of hiking… (Image by Harry)

Looking back down the gulch and across the valley… (Image by Harry)

With the exaggerated shadow of Mt. Belford stifling the late summer sunrise, we were well into the basin before any direct sunshine was felt. The relentlessly steep trail into the gulch relents as it rises into the basin, and the hiking is at least a little bit gentler. Still, it's over three miles to the Missouri Mtn. trail junction, and we weren't making the time I'd hoped for. Oh well, Missouri looks easy from here!

Missouri Mtn. guards the southern edge of the basin… (Image by Harry)

A closer look from near the trail split…

The class 1 trail begins to switchback up into the bowl below the northwest ridge, and soon becomes more of a class 2 endeavor, as a large moraine blocks easier passage. Still, it is well defined, and steps have even been crafted in spots to make the hiking a bit easier.

Believe it or not, there is a trail through here…

A zoomed shot of the ridgeline; the summit visible on the left… (Image by Harry)

Unfortunately, Harry began to slow down, citing an increasingly less than cooperative calf muscle. I was feeling fine, at least as good as I usually do during a 10 mile death march with no oxygen, and I continued to work up the trail, contouring along the slope of the bowl toward the next immediate goal, the low point on the ridgeline. Turning around, I noticed Harry still resting where I'd left him, and he gave me the "save yourself, go on with out me!" signal. With the simple choice of up or down, I looked at my watch. It was not quite 10:30, still plenty of time to make the summit, assuming the weather would cooperate. At this point, the clouds seemed to be forming randomly, without the organization that would normally signal impending turmoil. Plus, a couple of groups were passing Harry as I looked back, and it made me more comfortable knowing that I'd have others on the trail with me.

Pressing on; the upper stretch of trail before the saddle is steep and loose, but easily negotiable with trekking poles and good boots…

Taken from near the saddle, a surprising amount of ground has been covered since leaving the Elkhead Pass Trail…

Attaining the saddle, the visible trail begins its way across the west side of the initial rise in the ridge, reminding the hiker that there is still some climbing to do. However, I didn't find any real difficulty here, aside from trying to breathe. One short, steep and loose stretch gains the ridgeline proper, and the summit can be seen waiting.

With the summit to the left, the hike along the ridge is not overly difficult…

The other two groups caught up and passed, informing me that Harry had turned back. I felt bad for him, but I've been there, and he still completed the equivalent to a hike up Quandary Peak, so it was hardly a lost day. You'll get it next time, dude! Feeling confident, with that familiar "you're close enough now to touch it" sensation beginning to creep up on me, I methodically worked my way along, up, down and around on the ridgeline, reaching the "crux" of the route in short time. Both groups had stopped here, assessing the best way to down climb the twenty or so feet of steep, loose dirt on top of rock that leads down and around the rock towers on the ridge. Unfortunately and inexplicably, I didn't take any pictures of this area. I think my adrenaline was working too hard, as I'd been anticipating this move all day long. The first group made their way across the steep, sandy and loose area, while the second took their time. Three adults and three children, safety was the obvious concern. Of course, the kids scampered right down once they were allowed to, while the adults paid much respect to gravity. Personally, I found the crux to be fairly easy, and just used my trekking poles strategically while finding good footholds. Down, across, and up the six foot "cliff" on the other side, and all that was left was a short haul up to the summit!

Huron Peak makes for a prominent summit shot backdrop, while Castle Peak lurks in the distance, wondering why I haven't climbed her yet…

Emerald Peak and the view of the Sawatch to the southwest…

Mt. Harvard, Mt. Columbia and Mt. Yale to the south…

Mounts Belford and Oxford to the east, surely well traveled on the Saturday before Labor Day…

Missouri Gulch, with the Arkansas River Valley and Mosquito Range forming the horizon…

Mt. Elbert, with Mt. Massive hiding…

La Plata Peak…

Stately Huron Peak…

The Three Apostles, looking less interesting from this profile…

Already past noon, I didn't feel the need to spend much time on the summit. I took a group photo or two for the group of six (two families) that were sharing the tiny summit with me, and prepared for the long descent. Trekking poles cannot be recommended enough for this route, as there are sections that are sandy and steep, much steeper than I expected. Even then, it was not long before the saddle was once again attained, and I stopped to chat with my new friends. It really is a small world, as I learned that Scott, who was leading his two young sons, the youngest being 8, was actually a former co-worker of mine. We chatted about my former employer, and people that we each knew. The time flew by, and it did not take long to reach the easier terrain of the basin. Leaving the families to enjoy their time out, I continued down the trail as fast as I could, knowing that the last two miles is a serious meat grinder. And of course, I could taste the ice cold Fat Tires waiting for me in the car!

Nearing 4:00 p.m., I reached the Vicksburg Cemetery, and the well known gravesite.

Not normally interested in such things, I felt compelled to document the history of this place, truly a part of Colorado's 19th Century frontier…

I was happy, relieved and thirsty as I reached the car, where I raised Harry from his nap, proclaiming "Beer, and Advil, stat!" Soaking tired feet in a cooler full of ice while enjoying a cold beverage may seem like a small reward, but on this day, it was a very well deserved reward. Missouri Mtn. made for a long day. I didn't find it to be a boring pile of dirt, though, and I thought it was somewhat enjoyable, especially the ¾ mile walk along the ridgeline. There was more of an "exposed" feeling, I felt, compared to other Sawatch hikes I've done. My nineteenth unique fourteener summit felt like an accomplishment, more so than an ordeal.


 Comments or Questions

09/05/2008 17:09
Looks like you had a great day Keith! Place is beautiful isnt it? Probably my favorite area in the Sawatch outside of Mt. Holy Cross.


I‘ll be there soon!
09/05/2008 18:22
My wife and I will be attempting Missouri on Monday. It looks like a fun albeit lengthy climb!


No 14er should be an ordeal!
09/09/2008 20:17
Great report! How many is that for the summer? I also liked Missouri as one of the better Sawatch peaks.


The arduous task of walking uphill...
09/09/2008 22:53
Caroline, I assure you, my lungs and heart would have my brain believe that EVERY 14er is an ordeal! That was #8 this summer, including Grays and Bierstadt repeats.
Vince, the area has definitely grown on me. That view from Missouri is second only to Huron from what I‘ve seen.
Tornadoman, I hope you had a great climb!

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