Peak(s):  Missouri Mountain  -  14,067 feet
Iowa Pk  -  13,831 feet
Emerald Pk  -  13,904 feet
Date Posted:  09/08/2010
Date Climbed:   09/04/2010
Author:  Chris P.
 Missouri, Iowa and Emerald via Missouri Gulch  

I wanted to add a report for this non-conventional route for climbing Missouri, Emerald and Iowa together. Overall this route was very nice and I would highly recommend it, however if you are looking to minimize the mileage and elevation gain while climbing these peaks, this is not the best route to take. In a few places I did not take the most disireable path and those sections are noted below.

With the superb weather forecast over the weekend, I was itching to get out and climb something. I landed on Missouri because I've been wanting to get back to this mountain after being turned back from it twice (got sick at 12,500' the first time, got stormed off at 13,000' the second time).

I knew that I would have lots of daylight and no chance of storms for the day so I wasn't worried about getting an early start. By the time I rolled out of the sleeping bag, got myself some food and got to the trailhead it was getting close to 9:00 am... a perfectly acceptable time to begin climbing a mountain.

I didn't rush myself and kept a steady pace all the way up through the Missouri Gulch Valley, slowing down considerably once I started climbing the slope to the Missouri ridge. This slope was probably the most tiring part of the day. Some of the tundra was beginning to turn colors, but nothing was looking too colorful yet.

Belford West Slope

Missouri Gulch Valley

I got to the top of Missouri at 11:30 and hung out on the nice quiet summit for a while.

Top of Missouri

Only at this point did I begin to seriously consider extending my day beyond Missouri. I finally made the decision to continue south along the ridge to Iowa and Emerald peaks with the idea of re-climbing over the top of Missouri to get back into Missouri Gulch.

I began the trek down the ridge to the Missouri/Iowa saddle, then up the gentle slope to the summit of Iowa. The picture below of the apostles was snapped from the summit of Iowa.

Apostles from Iowa

I didn't spend a lot of time on top of Iowa and quickly made my way down to the Iowa/Emerald saddle and contemplated my options for ascending Emerald. The north face of Emerald is covered in a large, somewhat steep talus field. By starting the climb on the east side of the face some of the talus can be avoided initially, and this section of the slope is not as steep. The east ridge can be gained fairly quickly and climbed directly to the summit. There is a trail of sorts that cuts directly through the middle of the north face. I don't recommend ascending the trail because you will be sliding around on loose scree the entire time. It would be much easier to climb the larger blocks of talus to the ridge. The trail does make for a quick descent of the peak for those with good balance.

After hanging out on top of Emerald for a little while, I studied my options for the return. I could either go back over Iowa and Missouri the way that I had come:

Missouri and Iowa from Emerald

Or I could descend from the Iowa/Emerald saddle into the valley to the east and then ascend Elkhead pass on the opposite site of the valley:

Elkhead Pass from Emerald

I chose to drop into the valley to the east and head for Elkhead pass. After descending Emerald I made my way to the north end of the large flat area in the Iowa/Emerald saddle. From here I made my way north and west toward the small lake below. I soon encountered a loose headwall that cannot be seen from above, so I traversed north to easier ground to descend the headwall.

Headwall below Iowa

What I did not realize at the time was that if I had stayed on the south end of the Iowa/Emerald saddle while descending I could have easily gotten around the headwall.

Once at the bottom of the headwall, an extensive moraine/boulder field proved to be the next challenge. This section is much wider than it appears from above, and was somewhat tedius to cross. Finally across, I was greeted with the small alpine lake nicknamed "Emerald Lake" and the views across the valley to Belford and Harvard.

"Emerald Lake" and Harvard

Here I took part in one of my favorite of all alpine activities; alpine lake swimming. After a nice short swim I began heading in the direction of Elkhead pass. I had a choice to either stay to the higher ground and have a more gradual ascent to the pass or stay lower in the valley until I met the trail that climbed to the pass. I chose the gradual ascent which was nice at first, but eventually the level ground ran out and I had to traverse a steep, somewhat loose slope in order to reach the ridge just above the pass. If I were to do it over, I would have stayed in the valley until meeting the trail that ascends the north side of the pass in order to avoid the tedious traverse.

The picture below is looking back at the slope I traversed with Emerald in the background.

Emerald from Elkhead Pass

From the top of Elkhead pass I made my way back down through Missouri Gulch toward the trailhead. On the way back through the valley I passed several people who I had passed while ascending Missouri, which sparked some questions as to what route I had taken. My time back at the trailhead was 4:30 pm, making a round trip time of 7:30. The stats for the day were approximately 14 miles and approximately 6000' of elevation gain. This turned out to be a highly enjoyable way to climb all three of these peaks together, and after this trip I have decided I would like to spend some more time in the highly scenic Pine Creek drainage.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Pine Creek drainage ...
09/08/2010 21:15
You are so correct ... I love that valley ... you will too. Isolated camping, good fishing, nice views. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!

Doctor No

Well done!
09/08/2010 21:39
Nice work, Chris! I always enjoy the alternate route trip reports.


Missouri via Elkhead
10/04/2010 16:52
Hi, Chris,

That was an excellent report. I also have read a few other reports, one from theBeav7 and one from ChrisM, about coming down off Missouri by the back (south ridge to the MO-IA or IA-Emerald saddle).

I did Belford yesterday and went up the NW ridge, then came down via Elkhead. The route down was much easier and less exposed than the standard NW ridge route, less stressful and a lot prettier, too. If I'd known you could do the Elkhead trail all the way up with no exposure worse than a ”1”, I would have gone up that way, as well, then maybe over to Oxford.

During the whole route down, I could see the route up Missouri. It looked like it was going up a straight wall, till I saw the trail thru the binocs traversing the wall. That exposure spooked me a bit, unless the trail is solid and wide. So when I read ChrisM's report, then yours as well, I thought the exposure would be a lot less if I took his and your descent trail in reverse. But I wondered if there's a trail up to the IA-MO saddle or if I'd be trailblazing. Or is it better to do the IA-Emerald saddle, then go around or over Iowa to get to Missouri from that side? Is there any trail from the Missouri basin with the lake you swam in to either saddle?

There was also a trip report from unclegar from 2 years ago with a photo in it with 3 different routes from Elkhead over to the two saddles (Thanks to unclegar for the great pic with the routes overlaid):

And thanks for the info on the headwall. I can probably see it to avoid it if I'm going UP the route rather than down.

Thanks for the great report and thanks for whatever additional info you can share.....Joe from the North Country

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