| Missouri Gulch Triple
This year i had set some lofty goals for my 14er journey...among them, i had planned on increasing my list from 9 peaks to 30. Unfortunately that hasn't happened. All summer long it seemed like the weather would refuse to cooperate when i was free. Or if the weather was good, i could count on having something come up to prevent me from getting out. So i decided that this fall im going to get to it and bag some peaks. The Missouri - Belford - Oxford route seemed like a good way to get a few new peaks, as well as helping to whip my sorry ass into shape.
Chase and I left golden on wednesday night and decided to stop in breckenridge and head out from there, since we didnt feel like setting up camp in the dark. I have a condo up there that i use as a vacation rental, but october is dead, so we crashed there. 4am the alarm goes off and I have an ugly thought shoot through my head: did i remember my shoes? I had worn my sandals on the drive up, and i remembered packing the down slippers, but not my trail runners. I ran down to the car and started rifling through all my stuff and confirmed that i had forgotten my shoes.
Chase and I debated what to do...eventually we settled on sleeping in a little while and waiting for a store to open up since i needed new trail runners anyway. We decided that we would hit la plata instead since its relatively short, and do mobelox the following day. When the store opened up at 10, i got more bad news...they didnt have any size 13 trail runners. fudge. So now i had to drive back to golden to pick up my damn shoes. Drove down to golden, got them, sat at my house cursing my stupidity for a few hours, and then drove back up through leadville to the trailhead, a full 24 hours after we originally left golden.
We set up camp near the missouri gulch trailhead, but not at it, since theres a sign that forbids it. After setting up camp, we made the discovery that our campsite was surrounded by mountains of horse poop. i do mean mountains. the horseriding crowd sure seems to be inconsiderate when it comes to the poop. It was a beautiful night though...Tons of stars and the moon was huge. It concerned me a little bit to hear wind blowing through the higher trees, but our campsite was well protected.
I slept amazingly well, and we slept in until about 730. After breaking down camp and getting our stuff ready, it was finally time to start hiking. We hit the trail at 8:05 and immediately started to gain elevation switchbacking up through the trees. That seems to be the routine in the sawatch...steep hiking through the trees to get you warmed up. We passed the cabin ruins and made our way into the basin. Missouri and Belford soon came into view. Unfortunately, the wind began to make its presence known, and would be with us until we retreated back to the trees.
On the way up, we passed a large group of CFI people doing trail maintenance. That seems like hard work at 12000'+...my hat goes off to them. We thanked them and continued on. We made good time up to missouri's NW ridge...on the way up, we passed a couple who warned us about the wind knocking them over. Joy. Sure enough, once we crested the ridge, we were blasted by a steady 25-30mph wind. We made our way over to the summit and topped out around 1115. The ridge walk to the top was very enjoyable with spectacular views all around.
summit of missouri, still feeling good
we sat on the summit for a few minutes and then dropped off the summit down the west ridge of missouri. We followed the trail to the saddle and then descended a little ways before making a major error. Instead of dropping down to the grass to catch the trail up elkhand pass, we decided to contour across the dirt/scree/talus slopes under the east ridge. DO NOT DO THIS. drop the few hundred to the grass. it will be faster, and way less of a pain in the ass. We struggled across for a while before deciding this was stupid. We descended to the grass and made good time up the pass. The scenery in this basin was incredible...it felt remote and wide open.
dont traverse this slope
The wind was really starting to get old at this point, and seemed to be increasing in speed. No matter which way we were going the wind seemed to be in our faces, never at our backs. We trudged up belford, slow and steady and reached the ridge around 2. Seeing how far away oxford looked was demoralizing, but we decided it made sense to grab it first. The ridge across to oxford was the windiest, most miserable part of the day. I was starting to fade and the incessant wind was really taking it out of me. We made decent time and grabbed the summit of oxford around 3. the weather seemed to be looking pretty ugly for a day that allegedly had a zero percent chance of rain/snow. It seemed like in addition to the wind, which i would say was gusting to 40-50+ at this point, we would be getting rained/snowed/sleeted on.
0% rain huh?
fading on the summit of oxford
we started down off of oxford and the wind picked up even more. There was one gust that had to be 60+...strongest wind ive ever encountered on a 14er. we both stopped dead in our tracks and braced against it. I was so fatigued at this point....i was really hating myself for suggesting this hike in the first place. My calfs were like potatoes, cramped up to all hell. We made our way up, slowly. I got blown over by the wind at one point. finally, we hit the summit of belford at 4. The wind was blowing so hard at this point that we didnt even bother to take pictures. we basically just walked right across the summit, touched the top and then started down.
My only goal was to get back to the trees and out of this damned wind. We bombed down the trail off belford, which seemed really steep. We made great time back to the trees, where we took a few minutes to chill out. we passed the cabin and the CFI peoples campsite and by 6pm we were down at the car, for a time of 10 hours car to car. I have never been so glad to see my car in my life.
this is a great, scenic hike, but its long. It was a new personal best for me, both for distance and elevation. I'd definitely call this the hardest hike ive ever done. I said it once already, but let me say it again; when you come off the west ridge of missouri, go down to the grass. dont dont dont try to contour that scree slope. it sucks, it takes forever and you'll most likely go down to the grass anyway after flailing for a while. other than that, the route is very easy to follow and is mostly on good trail. just try to pick a day without wind, because you are exposed to it for a very long time. cheers
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