Looking to get outside on the 4th, Kris and I set a goal to climb Missouri Mountain southwest of Leadville. Kris got to digging around and realized that there was a relatively simple route to climb Missouri, Belford, and Oxford in a single push. I had already done the latter two, but he had not. Wanting to test my fitness I agreed to climb Missouri and Belford and let him go bag Oxford while I headed down.
We headed up the night before and found a camping spot just below the Missouri Gulch TH. Asleep by 9:30, we set our alarms for 3:30 a.m. with a goal to be on the trail by 4 a.m.
We were a few minutes late getting on trail, but the boots hit the dirt at 4:08 a.m. and quickly began climbing up.
The trail is easy to follow and extremely well maintained. No need for anything besides boots at this time. We reached the split (a little over 2 miles in) in 1:09 just as the sun was high enough to turn off our headlamps.
Missouri Gulch was beautiful as it filled with the early morning light. Wildflowers were plentiful.
The hike up to the ridge looks more imposing than it actually is. The trail is excellent the whole way and we were able to reach the ridge in 37 minutes from the sign where the trail splits with Elkhead Pass. Once on the ridge, the winds picked up and we put on our shells, but the temperature stayed fairly warm.
We stopped for a second and enjoyed the view as we layered up. The sun was starting to fill in the valleys to the west and the shadow games made for a beautiful landscape.
We continued on the ridge. While it looks intimidating, there is excellent trail and it never progresses above Class 1 the entire way. We were on Missouri’s 14,067 foot summit in 35 minutes and enjoying the view.
On the summit, we were greeted to a 360 degree view of the majority of our route. We could see down into Missouri Gulch where we had come from and down into Missouri Basin over to Elkhead Pass and BelfOx where we had to go. The terrain looked manageable and the route-finding relatively straightforward.
As we descended off the summit of Missouri Mountain into Missouri Basin (confused yet?), we found ourself on some pretty loose scree. It was a struggle to descend to a point where we could traverse around the Class 4 rock above us, but with time and several looks at our maps, we were able to do so.
Instead of descending all the way into the basin, we chose to make a beeline for the pass, which was in sight the whole time. It was only in the last half mile or so that we were able to pick up the trail below us. When we finally did spot it, we decided to stay high and hike the side slope until we met up with it at the base of the Elkhead Pass climb.
From there it was quick work on Class 1 trail to just below the Belford summit which we were able to accomplish in 1h45m. We decided not to summit Belford at this time and headed across the saddle to summit Oxford. I was feeling strong so I changed my plans and continued across with Kris. I remembered the traverse to be much shorter, but it took us 45 minutes to cross the saddle and climb Oxford.
The Oxford summit is a flat and expansive. We joined 3 others up there who had come over from Belford and a toaster…which I’m not sure where that came from. We had come from Missouri to Oxford in 3h05m. We were making excellent time.
We spent 15 minutes on the summit and headed down for our last summit of the day. It’s a straightforward traverse across the saddle and we enjoyed the views and flowers.
We reached the Belford summit at 14,197 feet 45 minutes after leaving the Oxford summit and at a total time of 7 hours, 11 minutes. It is a unique looking summit in that it seems to be like a block just resting on top of rocks. There were quite a few people here, many debating their next steps. Kris and were glad to finally be done with the climbing, but dreading our descent of Belford and her infamous switchbacks.
We spent another 15 minutes on our final summit of the day and began our trek down Belford’s standard route. We debated heading down Elkhead Pass which was much more gradual, but we didn’t have time for the extra 2 miles.
The descent is steep and unenjoyable. Too steep to walk and too steep to run so you’re stuck somewhere in the middle. It didn’t help that it was a hot day and we had run out of water (we each drank 3 liters of water and 32 oz of Gatorade on the hike). We stopped at the first creek crossing at the bottom of the switchbacks and filtered water from the creek that was deliciously cool and refreshing.
With that done and feeling refreshed, we made the final push back to the trailhead, completing the hike in 9 hours 10 minutes.
Total Time: 9:10
Total Mileage: 14.5 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 6,904 feet
TH to Missouri: 3:13
Missouri to Oxford: 6:03
Oxford to Belford: 7:11
Belford to TH: 9:10