| Goin' solo on Missouri Mountain
The middle of September was one of those awful times for Colorado, especially those living through the wreckage of the floods that hit the northern Front Range communities. Coming from out of state, I felt a little guilty about trying to salvage what turned into a canceled trip into the Elk Range with friends.
The result: A weekday solo ascent on Missouri Mountain. I'm not sure why, but this one has fascinated me for some time. I'd been to Missouri Gulch before, back in 2004, when a big group of us hiked Mount Belford. I vaguely remembered how steep the approach hike was. A big-time reminder was coming.
No one was at the trailhead parking lot when I pulled in the night before, and there were only four people in the basin the rest of the time I was there. So I'd get plenty of solo time to just think, look around and absorb it all.
The route starts steep, with these switchbacks starting up a quarter-mile in.
The switchbacks low on the Missouri Gulch trail. This was taken on the way down.
Holy cow. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape, but my flatlander heart and lungs were highly taxed here. It eased up somewhere above 10,500 feet before a couple of creek crossings and an old trapper's cabin. Soon after, you break into the willows and above treeline.
Leaving treeline and into the willows. About 11,500 feet or so.
About this time, the sun was rising and I caught the sun's rays hitting Missouri Mountain's north face.
Alpenglow and swirling clouds on Missouri Mountain.
The trail gives you a couple of forks, and this is the first. Go right to Missouri Mountain. Go left, and you're heading up Mount Belford's steep switchbacks.
A trail junction. Left goes to Belford, right goes to Missouri.
The terrain eases a bit once you leave the willows and enter pure tundra. Missouri Mountain comprises the southern wall of the Missouri Gulch amphitheater.
Out of the willows and into the tundra. Missouri Mountain dead ahead.
Soon thereafter, another trail junction appears. Go left and you're going up Elkhead Pass. I met a hiker on the way down who was going that way, on her way to Buena Vista. That's quite a hike. Go right to stay on track to Missouri Mountain.
Second trail junction. Left to Elkhead Pass, right to Missouri Mountain.
I wasn't feeling my physical best that day, so I was going slow. Much more slowly than on my last two trips. But it allowed me to take a look around and spy this cool view down into the gulch, with fog still present below treeline. At this point, I saw only one person.
Looking back on the basin, fog still hanging around below 10,500 feet.
More switchbacks greeted me on the shoulder of the mountain's northwest slopes. To be honest, the weird skies and my labored breathing made me want to quit. But being the stubborn sort, I kept slogging on. Somehow, each round of 50 to 100 steps really did make the ridge look closer, and that prodded me on.
It was a little weird to feel my hands grow cold enough to feel numb. I didn't think it was that cold, but what did I know? My body was working hard and sweating. My hands, not so much. The gloves came on.
Going up the switchbacks on the southwest slopes.
The clouds kept playing their tricks. One moment, they'd look like they'd burn off. Another, they looked like they were the precursor of a forming storm. Mount Belford's summit looked pretty ominous in this shot. But in the end, it was just swirling clouds.
Dramatic clouds over Mount Belford. Eerie, cool atmospherics that day.
Looking back southwest, the sun and clouds played tricks with light and provided this interesting look at Huron Peak's rugged-looking north face.
Beautiful Huron Peak nearby.
Obviously, those clouds were having fun up on Missouri's summit ridge as well. Earlier in the morning, I saw snow on Belford's and Missouri's summits, though that was pretty much all gone by 10 a.m. Still, these clouds made it look like the trail was disappearing into a gray void.
Up on the summit ridge.
I was grateful that the terrain eased on the ridge. Thoughts of canning it went away by the time I hit 13,000 feet. By the time I got to the ridge I was all good. At this point of the summit ridge, I was less than a half-mile from the summit.
Unfortunately, I didn't get pics of the "crux" of the route, a class 2+ scramble down a notch. Plenty of photos of that are on the route description. What I'd say is that you'll need a hand to hold onto a couple of rocky handholds. The ground at your feet will alternate between rocky and sandy, but it's not too bad.
Past that, more amazing sights. Below is a photo of Emerald Peak (left) and Iowa Peak, both 13ers. I'd live to backpack into that side of Missouri Mountain to reach those summits.
Near the summit, looking at Emerald Peak and Iowa Peak.
Finally, the summit. It was still cool, but not too windy. Cloud cover kept the sun from warming me up, so lunch was eaten quickly. It took me 5 freakin' hours to get to the top, much longer than I thought. But then again, the hiking on this one has some pretty steep parts. Piece of advice: In the days prior, stick to high carbs, lean protein and stay away from greasy/fried/fatty stuff. Diet matters.
Anyway, this is an incredible view down into the basin from Missouri's summit.
From the summit, looking down into Missouri Gulch.
Coming down, I ran into a couple of Texans on their way up. They'd camped in the basin the night before and we curious about the score of the Alabama/Texas A&M game. I broke the bad news to them that their beloved Aggies had lost.
There are a lot of stretches where it makes more sense to run down rather than hike, so I did some of that. Cool stuff happened when I stopped for a breather. The accoustics of the basin made every little chirp, squeak and call echo in an almost haunting way.
I got buzzed by a hawk. Saw marmots fighting. And caught a glimpse of these ptarmigans hanging out on the ridge.
If you look closely, you'll see three ptarmigans hanging out on the ridge.
I also saw weird stuff. Like this retainer.
It may still be there, on that tree limb on the switchbacks below 10,500 feet.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):