October 8 2021

I took off three days in mid-August for the purpose of traveling down to the San Juans to tackle a quartet of 14ers in Chicago Basin. Unfortunately, on the day before I was scheduled to make the nine hour drive down there, the weather changed suddenly and Colorado received its first snow of the season. In August. What the hell. My climbing party made the difficult decision to cancel the trip given that rain, lighting, and snow were less than ideal conditions for attempts on class three and four peaks.

Roca and me on the never ending switchbacks to Belford

Eager to “beat” the weather and capitalize on our days off, the group decided to try for a more accessible trio of mountains a little closer to home. Ultimately we decided on Belford, Oxford, and Missouri in the Sawatch Range near Leadville. With the exception of a small crux near the summit of Missouri, the route is an uneventful class two affair. It is long however. At fifteen miles and 7,500ft of vertical, it’s a fairly big day.

Primo, on the summit of Belford

Besides the obvious freedom, joy, and solitude that mountain climbing brings, the most interesting part of this outing occurred upon reaching the summit ridge of Missouri. The assault on the Missouri spine is a rather steep, rocky, and scree filled affair. By the time we’d reached the crest of the ridge, we had been on our feet for roughly eight hours and ascended 7,000’. While we were glad to have most of the vert behind us, we were dismayed by the clouds that had formed and, until that moment, been shielded from our view.

Soph, Roca, and me hiding from the wind on Oxford

At that point we decided to make a calculated risk. According to our map we had 0.6 miles of ground to cover to the true summit. The half mile would be made more interesting by the ~200’ of vert composed of rolling terrain and a border line class three crux directly below the peak. We would then have to do that in reverse before dropping enough elevation to be out of immediate lighting danger. I did mention we were exhausted and also had my dog with us who’d never done a 14er before, right?

Soph downclimbing a scree covered face. Missouri summit featured behind her.

It was 11:38am when the group declared a hard turn at 12:10pm or if we heard thunder. Once said proclamation was made, we all immediately began rushing across the ridge with anxious energy. The trio of Sophi, Primo, and myself spread out according to our dedicated paces with Soph and I almost jogging. I made the summit at 12:00. Soph was there at 12:03. Chris turned back while in the crux at about 12:08. The return trip across the ridge was just as rushed as we watched a neighboring mountain get assaulted with rain. On the circuitous route back to the car, the weather revealed we would have had another hour or so on the ridge before inclement weather would have impacted our specific route.

Roca posing for a snap with a few miles of downhill to go.

The Missouri summit push has left a number of lingering questions in my head. Was our push for the peak appropriate? What if the storm didn’t blow over to a neighboring mountain and hit us instead? Should Soph and I have waited in the crux for Chris? If we did, would all three of us have made the last peak? Will I know what the right answers to these questions are next time I’m at altitude, exhausted, and anxious?

Obligatory “the Belford approach is awful” sentence. I personally found it much harder than the notorious one hundred switchbacks of the Whitney standard route. Your mileage may vary but if your miles do they’re definitely wrong!