Mount Oxford (14,153 feet)
Iowa Peak (13,831 feet)
Emerald Peak (13,904 feet)
Missouri Mountain (14,067 feet)
Via the Missouri Gulch Trailhead
July 22, 2003
Since I had already climbed Belford in February, 2003, I wanted to at least get Oxford this time. It would even be better if I could also get Missouri. And, it would be totally outstanding if I could get all three 14ers, plus the two centennials, Emerald and Iowa. Everything would depend on how well I felt, and if the weather would hold out.
Sam and I tried to get a really early start, but we ended up at the trailhead at 6:45am. This was strike one. If the weather didn’t hold out until late afternoon, my climbing would be limited. I took off a few minutes before Sam, since we knew that we would probably not be staying together today.
The Missouri Gulch trail is well worn and easy to follow. I followed the trail in the direction of the Belford Northwest ridge. Belford was going to be my first peak of the day. I started out very strong, because I wanted to have the best chance at getting 5 peaks. I didn’t stop at all, until I hit the peak of Belford. I reached Belford’s summit in just under 2.5 hours. That was half the time that it took me to summit in February. Things were looking good. And, the weather was great, so far. During my trip up Belford, I had been in contact with Sam via radio, and he was going strong also. He started just after me, and up to the ridge he was still only 20 minutes behind. At the pace that I was going, that was a great pace that Sam was holding also.
I only spent 10 minutes on the summit of Belford. I hadn’t planned on spending any time, but I was prepping my backpack so that I could leave it along the trail, and not carry it to Oxford and back. I started working my way towards Oxford, and I ditched my pack along the route, in a place that I knew I would be passing on my way to Iowa/Emerald. On my way up from the Oxford saddle, I realized that I had left food in my pack. I had visions of a Marmot dragging my pack off. That would crush all my plans, as the majority of my water and supplies were in my pack. I made the summit of Oxford in just under 1 hour. Again, I didn’t spend much time on the summit. However, I did take a few minutes to snack on a Clif Bar, and talk to a nice couple that were already on the summit. They had a cool dog named Willow. I told them of my plans to try for all 5 summits, and they were very supportive of the crazy plan. I was really feeling strong at this point. I didn’t feel like I had used up any of my legs yet, and I already had over 5000 vertical in them.
I took off from Oxford, and made it back to my pack in about the same amount of time. Whew! The pack was still there and untouched. I immediately started down the class 1 route towards the Elkhead pass, where it meets up with Missouri. When I got there, I start down into the basin, but instead of dropping completely to the bottom and loosing all that elevation, I decided to try and skirt the side of Missouri. Big mistake! This was a big pain in the butt. The terrain went from talus, to dirt, to boulders, etc.. It was never consistent and the grade made it very difficult to traverse without falling. Eventually I made it to just below the Iowa, Missouri saddle. I didn’t want to traverse Iowa twice, but I was sick of this sideways traverse. So, I pushed up into the Iowa/Missouri saddle. After that sideways traverse, I was finally starting to wear down. I reach the summit of Iowa pretty quickly after getting to the saddle. Time from Oxford to Iowa was just over 2.5 hours.
From Iowa, I evaluated Emerald. It looked tough. First, I’d have to drop 500+ feet. Then, I’d have to climb Emerald, which looked like a steep boulder field from Iowa. I contemplated leaving with 4 peaks. Plus, by this point it was 1pm in the afternoon. The sky looked okay, but there it was starting to get dark over by Harvard and Columbia. I finally decided that I had to get Emerald today. If I didn’t get it today, then I’d probably never be back just to grab this single centennial.
When, I got to Emerald, I found that I was pretty much correct. I was just a steep boulder field. I thought that it was similar to the peak of Holy Cross. So, I just took it a few steps at a time. I made it to the top almost 50 minutes from leaving Iowa. I was almost home. Now, I just had to grab Missouri on the way out. From the top of Emerald, I could see that it was getting dark over by Harvard and also over by Ice Mountain. So, needless to say, I didn’t spend much time on this peak. I hobbled down the boulder field, and over the skirt of Iowa. Then, I started up Missouri, while looking over my shoulder at the weather behind me.
I made the summit of Missouri in just over an hour from leaving Emerald. I savored this summit. But, I still only spent 10 minutes, as the dark clouds looked like they were coming my way. My chosen route down from Missouri was the northwest ridge route. I started off in a bad way as I quickly lost the route, and ended up with some creative class 3 & 4 climbing before I found the route again. This route does have a significant amount of exposure. So, needless to say, I was a bit more careful the rest of the way. Other than my initial screw up, the ridge route was pretty easy to follow. Eventually it ends at a cairn, which I assumed was to indicated the down climb. But, I couldn’t find it. I kept looking, then I realized that a large mass of snow was blocking the initial part of the down climb. If it weren’t for that well placed cairn, I would have missed it all together.
The down climb trail has obviously had a lot of work done to it. The down climb trail drops you right below Elkhead pass. The class 1 trail from here is very easy to follow, but really long. During my hike along the trail, I kept looking over my shoulder, because the clouds above Missouri were getting darker and darker. In fact, I could hear thunder between Belford and Missouri. Needless to say, I quickened my pace. It almost seemed like the dark clouds were following me down the Gulch. I managed to get below tree line before it got any uglier. I hobbled my way down the trail, across the creek, down the switchbacks and to the trailhead. Return trip from Missouri took about 2.5 hours.
What happened to Sam, you ask? Well, Sam reached the Belford Northwest ridge at an amazing pace. He worked his way up the ridge, and his pace only slowed slightly. I think he made the summit in around 3.5 hours. Instead of traversing to Oxford, Sam decided to return to the trailhead, taking his time, and meeting everybody on the trail, as he went. Sam spent some quality time at the car, waiting for me to return. He socialized with everyone returning to the trailhead, and even managed to mooch a beer off someone. When, I got back, I felt like death, and Sam’s expression confirmed that I looked like it too.
Five peaks – three 14ers, two centennials, 8180 feet of elevation, 16.5 miles of hiking. I don’t think I’ll try to match that one anytime soon. Overall trip time was 10 hours 45 minutes.