From the Missouri Gulch trailhead the trail starts out as Class 1, but nearer the summit you have a choice of class 2, 3 or 4 approaches. This mountain offers one of the few opportunities for any technical climbing in the Sawatch Range. It is possible to climb Belford, Oxford and Missouri together, but it makes for a long, hard day. Doing all 3 is a 14 1/2 mile trip with 7400 feet elevation gain. This is a wonderful hike from Missouri Gulch, and a rewarding summit to bag. Good views of the Three Apostles can be seen from the summit. The descent is rather fun down a steep scree field that eventually hooks back up to the trail.
From Buena Vista go 15 miles north on US 24 to Chaffee County 390. From Leadville go south 20 miles on US 24 to 390. Take 390 west for 7.7 miles and you will see the trailhead on your left. There is a large parking lot and toilet facilities. The trail starts out and stays mostly class 1 but nearer the summit you will encounter loose scree on the class 2 route on the Northwest Ridge. There is also a class 3 route through the more rugged North Face couloirs.(see Routes section for more information on North Face Couloiurs) The approach from the East Ridge is a class 4 route.
Starting from the large parking lot and trailhead, the route starts over a nice bridge crossing Clear Creek. It immediately starts through the forest with a nice series of switchbacks. The trail is in good condition and easy to follow. Shortly after passing the "cabin" mentioned in the camping section the trail rises above tree line into the broad Missouri Gulch. After a bit a sign marks the fork where the left trail leads to Belford and the right trail leads towards Missouri. As Yogi Berra says "when you get to a fork in the road take it."
Stay on the right trail and pass several steep slopes on your right until you get to where the trail turns back east towards Elkhead Pass. Leave the trail at his point and start to work your way up the grassy slope to your right. A cairn marks the trail exit point. Be sure you dont go too far or you will find yourself either backtracking or climbing a Class 3 or class 4 route. If you leave the trail too early you will wind up going across the summit ridge, which requires a bit of scrambling over some loose rock. Be careful.
There are several steep ascents up green slopes, but I recommend taking this last possible one. The trail starts out here through the grassy fields and eventually to a talus field higher up. This route has the best trail and causes the least impact to the environment. This route is also marked by a large cairn at the top on the summit ridge and is also the recommended route for descent.
Once you make it to the ridge there is still a bit more climbing to do as the trail still works its way higher. There is some exposure in this part of the climb, but nothing terribly significant. Thebeave7 adds: "The CFI has now built a very nice trail up from Missouri Gulch to the North/Northwest ridge. On the ridge there is a trail the entire way, though it breaks down into several very short sections of class 2, otherwise a very nice runnable trail." Continue climbing to the final ridge and follow it to the summit. Missouri is yours!
Conditions on this mountain, like all Colorado 14ers, are subject to change rapidly- especially during the prime climbing summer season. The mountains are their own weather system, and weather forecasts from nearby towns often have little to do with actual mountain conditions. You can generally count on clear to partly cloudy in the morning, and heavy clouds and thunderstorms in the afternoon during the summer.
The following weather forecast is included as a guide and should not be used as a substitute for good judgement. Expect mountain conditions to be no better than forecast and possibly much worse. NOTE: The weather site is temporaily unavailable due to technical difficulties.
There is no substitute for getting an early start, and getting as much of the mountain "behind you" as early in the day as possible. Keep a good eye on the sky as weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. The greatest weather danger is from lightning strikes, and climbers are killed almost every summer in Colorado by lightning strikes. July seems to be the most deadly month for lightning.
Two climbers were killed by lightning in Colorado within a couple days of each other in the summer of 2003. I think the following important information from Gerry Roach's book "Colorado's Fourteeners From Hikes to Climbs" bears repeating. Added here with permission from Gerry Roach:
Colorado is famous for apocalyptic lightning storms that threaten not just your life, but your soul as well. This section will have special meaning if you have ever been trapped by a storm that endures for more than an hour and leaves no gap between one peal of thunder and the next. The term simultaneous flash-boom has a very personal meaning for many Colorado Climbers
1. Lightning is dangerous!
2. Lightning is the greatest external hazard to summer mountaineering in Colorado.
3. Lightning kills people every year in Colorado's mountains.
4. Direct hits are usually fatal.
1. Start early! Be off summits by noon and back in the valley by early afternoon.
2. Observe thunderhead buildup carefully, noting speed and direction; towering thunderheads with black bottoms are bad.
3. When lightning begins nearby, count the seconds between flash and thunder, then divide by 5 to calculate the distance to the flash in miles. Repeat to determine if lightning is approaching.
4. Try to determine if the lightning activity is cloud-to-cloud or ground strikes.
5. Get off summits and ridges.
1. You cannot outrun a storm; physics wins.
2. When caught, seek a safe zone in the 45-degree cone around an object 5 to 10 times your height.
3. Be aware of ground currents; the current from a ground strike disperses along the ground or cliff, especially in wet cracks.
4. Wet ropes are good conductors.
5. Snow is not a good conductor.
6. Separate yourself from metal objects.
7. Avoid sheltering in spark gaps under boulders and trees.
8. Disperse the group. Survivors can revive one who is hit.
9. Crouch on boot soles, ideally on dry, insulating material such as moss or grass. Dirt is better than rock. Avoid water.
There is no camping allowed at the trailhead. Free camping is available along the left side of County 390 from highway 24 to the trailhead. There is no formal campground- just available primitive campsites. Many have fire rings and are near a creek.
There is also remains of an old log cabin about a mile or so up the route- just before you get to treeline. The "cabin" is full of scrap metal and has no roof- so you can't sleep in it, but surrounding it is plenty of area for a backcountry campsite. If you want to shorten the climb, or you plan to do Belford/Oxford from the same trailhead, and want to avoid the switchbacks at the lower end of the trail for a second time, you might want to consider carrying your camping gear to this site.
When To Climb
June to September are best with July and August being peak season. Try to climb early in the day as Colorado is noted for afternoon thunderstorms. Plan to be off the summit by noon or 1pm. Weekdays tend to be less crowded than weekends.
People Pics and Miscellaneous
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Maps and Contact
MAPS USGS 7.5 minute quads Mt. Harvard & Winfield
San Isabel National Forest
Trails Illustrated #129 Buena Vista/Collegiate Peaks
Leadville Ranger District
2015 North Poplar - Leadville, CO - 80461
Phone (719) 486-0749
Fax (719) 486-0928