Friday, September 5, 2014

Missouri Mountain

On Wednesday, August 6th, after climbing Culebra Peak on Saturday, Mt. Princeton on Monday and Huron Peak on Tuesday, I decided to climb Missouri Mountain. I had a little trepidation. Missouri was longer by about four miles than the preceding peaks (10.5 miles round trip), at least 1,000 more feet of elevation gain (4,500 feet), and had a greater level of exposure (rated on as having the same level of exposure as Longs Peak and Mt. Sneffels). After a horrible start on Culebra, I was picking up steam and feeling better and more optimistic about doing this more difficult climb. 

I was a little unexcited by the prospect, however, because the trail head and trail for Missouri is the same as for Belford and Oxford for the first 2,000 feet and that trail was relatively long and boring.
Missouri Mountain, from Mt. Belford. 
I got an early start, leaving the 9,650 foot trail head about 5:40 a.m. It was still dark, but I'd been here before so I slowly made my way, without a flashlight, from the parking lot down a rocky trail, across the bridge over Clear Creek, and then slowly, but steadily up the right hand side of Missouri Gulch. The first part of the hike is through forest. At about 10,800 feet the trail crosses a stream to the left side of Missouri Gulch. At about 11,300 feet I left the forest and Mt. Belford, a fourteener, was visible to the left and Missouri Mtn. was visible straight ahead. At about 11,600 feet, the Mt. Belford trail veered off to the left and the Missouri Mtn. trail went right. Belford was marked on the sign, but Missouri was not. The sign said, "Elk Pass," I believe. I climbed a small hill in the basin, then continued ahead through meadow grass and willows. This portion of the trail is quite uninteresting. It looks like moose country, but unfortunately, there are no moose to add some excitement. At about 12,600 feet there is another trail junction. The Elkhead Pass trail continues to the left and the Missouri Mountain trail goes right and starts steeply switchbacking up the side of the mountain that surrounds that end of the basin like football stands surrounding the end zone of a football field. I am in the Collegiate Peaks, after all (Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Oxford, Missouri), so a football metaphor is in order.
Mt. Belford to the right and Mt. Oxford is just beyond the peak on the left. 
Missouri Mountain straight ahead.
Starting the climb up toward the ridge.
Initially the trail goes up a grassy hillside and then hits talus. The trail from there up to the 13,700 foot ridge is the most difficult park of the hike. I had to do frequent rest-steps. Although more difficult, the trail becomes more interesting, with beautiful views of the summit head wall and of the variegated ridge above. It was fun to look ahead and try to figure where the trail was headed and how it would negotiate the terrain ahead. I have great admiration for the people who have engineered some of these trails.
View of the ridge above.
Things get steeper and more interesting. A good view of the ridge from below. 
The summit of Mt. Belford is the tiny knob on the ridge above, just across the Missouri Basin.
After what seemed like a very long time, I eventually reached the 13,700 foot ridge at a saddle. From there it was three-fourths of a mile to the summit following the ridge. That ridge makes for a great hike, one of the more fun sections of hiking I've done in Colorado. It is relatively flat, but with some rocky outcrops that keep it interesting, and the views on both sides are stunning, some of the best in Colorado. It is in the heart of fourteener country and fourteeners and their smaller thirteener cousins are found in every direction. It is hiker and mountaineer eye candy. The ridge is not all that wide in places, which provides nice exposed downward views as well.
A cairn marks the ridge on a saddle. This is where the fun starts.
Climbing higher on the ridge.
Wonderful view ahead. Beautiful white clouds, blue sky and colorful rocks.
Some interesting points on the ridge. Note a hiker just cresting the hills on the way back down the mountain. 
The summit is straight ahead. It is the gendarmes in the center that have to be avoided by leaving the ridge.
Looking back down the ridge I've just traversed.
Huron Peak, which I climbed the day before, is across the valley to the left side.
After following the ridge for some ways I encountered some hikers on their way back from the summit. They cautioned me about a section ahead which leaves the ridge, to avoid some difficult rock, and goes to the right by dropping down into some exposed steep, loose talus to avoid it. The route description on describes it as "brief, Difficult Class 2". That got my heart pumping a little bit. I hiked along the ridge for some time, trying to anticipate where the section would be, and finally found it right before the summit. It is in an area with bright yellow rock, the same type of rock which weirdly tops the peak of nearby Mt. Belford, like a dollop of sour cream on a tostada. The trail steeply drops down below the ridge, to avoid some gendarmes, with little in the way of secure handholds or footholds and into some thin scree, with a sustained, steep slide below. The trail maneuvers around in this way for about 20 yards before heading more steeply upward through less exposed talus to the summit, just a short distance ahead.
Here the trail leaves the ridge and goes down and around the pinnacles on the right. The trail is visible toward the summit just to the right of the gendarmes.
Looking above at the loose yellow rock. Note the feint trail. 
After getting through the loose section, looking at the trail to the summit.
Nearing the summit, looking back down the trail. La Plata Peak, which I climbed last year, is just right of center in the background. 
Marilyn and her dog Henry come up the trail as she passes a couple that just left the summit.
The summit was wonderful. Sunny, clear, blue skies and mountain peaks jutted up like white-caps in a stormy sea all around. I tried to identify some of the fourteeners, most of which I've climbed in that area, and mostly could, at least the closer ones.
The brass summit marker.
Oxford Peak, which I did several years ago, is just left of center.
Belford Peak is to the right and the Missouri Basin is below. The hike up was through that basin. 
Way to the back far left are Mt. Princeton, which I did this year, and Mt. Yale which I did last year.
Another view of Huron Peak in the center.
Mt. Iowa, a thirteener is just ahead and left, and Ice Mountain and North Apostle are to the back and right.
Harvard, left, and Columbia , right, in the center. Sam I did them in one day two years ago.
Shortly after I got to the summit, Marilyn and her dog Henry, I think, arrived. I arrived at 10:40, five hours after I started. They started about 6:30, almost an hour later than I did and obviously made better time up.
On the summit with Huron Peak as a backdrop. Tough to beat this view.
As usual, the hike down was much easier. I walked with Marilyn and Henry much of the way. Henry rolled around in snow banks and laid down in the stream, making me a little jealous. It looked like a nice way to cool off. Marilyn has traveled much of the world and so it was fun to talk about travel. The conversation kept my mind off my sore legs and toes. Unlike the prior two hikes, my toes took a pounding. I'm going to lose the toenail on my left big toe. Not that it is unusual, it probably happens every year. It is a price of admission into the Colorado high country. I made it back to the car by 1:40, about two hours and fifty minutes.
Marilyn and Henry on the way back down the ridge.
At the end, I was very happy I'd done Missouri. I ended up loving it. One of my favorites, perhaps after Longs and Sneffels. The long sustained hike along the ridge is spectacular. 


  1. Some wonderful photography in here. I love the deep blue of the sky highlighting the other contrasting colors. Gorgeous.

  2. can I use one of your photos in a book I am going to publish?

  3. (Bob) Just seeing this comment. You can use it, but I would love to know the name of the book and the author. Thanks.