| Mountain Madness in the Sawatch, Pt. 2
Day 2 of my Sawatch adventure proved to be even more challenging than Day 1(Harvard and Columbia). I set off from the Missouri Gulch trailhead at 5:15AM and began the steep climb up into Missouri Gulch. As with the day before, I was able to put away my headlamp about 30 minutes into the hike, but this time I also opted to shed the fleece jacket as well. One has no trouble warming up on the steep switchbacks early into this hike. After it leveled out a bit, I came to the first stream crossing, and just past that were some of the most spectacular wildflowers I’d ever see. I’d never seen so many columbines!
Columbines along Missouri Gulch trail Along the trail leading to up to treeline, the wildflowers continued, with thousands more columbines. Once I reached the old cabin, I got my first glimpse of Belford.
Belford at sunrise I could see the trail zig-zagging straight up the northwest ridge. Thirty minutes later, I reached the base of the northwest ridge and began the steep climb. At this point, I also got some great views of Missouri in the early morning light.
Missouri at sunrise Though a tough climb, the trail was in great shape and delivered me to the summit of Belford at 8:15AM.
After just a few minutes atop Belford, I wasted no time in beginning the traverse over to Oxford.
View of Missouri from the top of Belford
Summit of Belford
View of Oxford and traverse from Belford The trail down to the saddle from Belford was quite steep in places but the hike from the saddle up to the summit of Oxford was lovely.
Looking back towards Belford on traverse I reach the top of Oxford at 9:05AM and was rewarded with the sight of a whole flock of Ptarmigan. I’d seen individual Ptarmigan in the mountains before, but never the 7-8 that I saw here.
Ptarmigan on summit of Oxford At 9:15AM, I began the trip back to Belford and made it back to the top by 10AM. From there, I headed south down the trail that lead to Elkhead Pass.
When I reached Elkhead Pass, I contemplated my options for heading up Missouri. I was already feeling a bit worn out, but I was so close that I decide to make a go at it. However, rather than head north to the standard northwest ridge route up Missouri, I decided to head toward the south slopes since it looked shorter and would involve less elevation loss. I liked the route I chose up Missouri. Perhaps the only thing that I would have done differently would have been to descend a little more into the basin south of the pass. The traverse I chose across the south slopes of Missouri was only fairly steep ground, leading to some uncomfortable footing. Once I reached the gentler slopes on the south side of Missouri, I began the climb toward the summit.
Top of Missouri from south ridgeAfter reaching the south ridge, I could see the top. By this time, I was very tired and it seemed I would walk for 30 seconds and then alternately rest for 30 seconds. I reached the top just before noon.
I again rewarded myself with a satisfying lunch, and like on Columbia, found that I was surrounded by hungry marmots. Either Missouri and Columbia are thick with assertive marmots or my lunches just bring them out from under every rock. By 12:15, rain clouds were once again closing in from the south and I beat a hasty retreat down the northwest ridge. Apart from an avoidable snowfield just below the ridge, the route was clear and the trial was surprisingly good. On the descent to the Missouri Gulch trailhead, I was again astonished by the stunning wildflowers.
Close-up It made it back to my car just before 3pm. Though this was a grueling day that is probably not for everyone, I thoroughly enjoyed myself on this uniquely beautiful hike.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):