Trailhead to Missouri Gulch
On May 14 a fellow colleague of mine and I departed Springfield, Missouri late in the afternoon, headed for Colorado. We stopped briefly in Kansas City to pick up the third member of our team, John, and then proceeded to kill time driving across Kansas. By 2:00 a.m. we were all exhausted and decided to take a few hours rest at a truck stop. Not sleeping well in the cramped car, we all seemed to be more than ready to drive again at 4:00 a.m. After a short stop in the Springs for some last minute items, we arrived in Buena Vista just in time for a morning coffee at Bongo Billy's (one of my wifes favorite places on the planet). We enjoyed a great capuccino and headed for CC 390 and the Missouri Gulch Trailhead.
Once arriving at the nicely situated trailhead, we resorted our gear, having decided the snow load was not going to be overwhelming. We crossed the creek at roughly 10:00 a.m. The switchbacks were clean and made steady progress up into the gulch where the change in slope was really appreciated. After a short break for water and trailmix at the second creek crossing around 11:30 a.m. we headed on up toward the meadows. The trail below the cabin was predominately covered in snow, but it was fairly soft and easy to navigate. We arrived at the cabin around 12:45 p.m. We decided to move on up higher in the valley in search of a patch of level ground since the snow was not completely filling the valley. We found a small level spot just big enough for our tent at about 11,200 ft. After setting up camp, we boiled some water for dinner on my 20 year old MSR whisperlite, which still runs like a champ after 4 or 5 gasket kits. We ate some delicious alfredo and tuna and filled the water bottles in the nearby creek (iodine tablets actually seem to add to the flavor of Green Tea mix). We played keep-away with a couple of marmots that were hanging around camp and then took a nice long nap in the sun. By 5:30 p.m. the skies were beginning to cloud over and a small amount of sleet was beginning to fall. We ate a little more, and readied our packs for the morning ascent. After some world-crisis-solving discussions, we turned in early with the alarm set for 4:00 a.m.
4:00 a.m. Lukas jabbed me and we woke up to absolutely perfect, star-filled, skies. There is something about the moonlit snow on mountains that rekindles my spirit every time I encounter it. We threw on our poly's and Gore-Tex and made Southwestern Egg Burritos and mashed potatoes. The breakfast was a great body warmer with temperatures just below freezing. We crossed the creek on a nice, solid snow bridge and moved quickly up to the base of the north butress of Belford. I had thrown in my crampons even though we were planning on climbing the standard trail. After reaching the north couloir, I couldn't resist the temptation to climb the snow route since the conditions were perfect. I knew I had my ice axe and crampons and didn't want to carry them to the top unused! Lukas had left his crampons back in camp and John didn't have any, but we figured that I could kick or chop steps when needed. We headed up the couloir at 6:00 a.m. with an 8:00 break planned above the primary rock band on Belford's north side. The conditions were very nice and the snow was firm but yielded easily to the crampons and subsequent step kicking by Lukas and John. At 7:45 we reached the rock band and took a short snickers break. Back on the snow again we only encountered one missle as it sped passed us on its way to the bottom. We noticed three Rocky Mountain Goats feeding on the opposite side of the valley and we watched them as they fed and bedded through out the morning. I have been climbing in Colorado since the mid eighties and have only seen goats on a few distinct occassions, it seems that Bighorn sheep are a bit less secretive and are much more willing to make their presence known than goats. We broke out into the sunlight around 9:00 a.m and exited the couloir just a hundred feet below the summit, on the north ridgeline that leads back to Peck's peak. We gazed down the steeper NE face of Belford over towards Oxford and then made a fairly exposed snow climb up the NE lip to the summit rocks. After some congradulations and photos we returned via a couple of glissades down into the Missouri Gulch valley. We were then faced with the first obstacle of the trip! SOFT, DEEP snow. We could no longer walk on the snow without post-holing every other step and in some cases, cratering! We regretted the decision to move into the valley so high up, but figured the trip back up and around would take longer. I suspect I was wrong. Two and one half hours later we made it back to camp, quads screaming and wishing for snowshoes! After a brief nap and some lunch we headed back down the gulch trail headed for another adventure.
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