14er season is finally upon us! Itching to get back out into the mountains after a few busy weekends of moving into a new house, Ryan and I decided that this was the perfect time to get our 9th and 10th summits. After doing some research, we discovered that there were several trailheads leading to 14ers in the Collegiate Range along Chaffee County 390 between Buena Vista and Leadville where we had camped a few weeks prior (refer to my blog post [Camp] San Isabel National Forest).
On Friday after work, we put the seats down flat in Ryan’s Subaru Outback and filled it with snacks/water for the following day as well as our sleeping pads, pillows, blankets, etc. for the night before hitting the road. We arrived to the Missouri Gulch Trailhead around 10-11pm and managed to secure one of the last available parking spots. Tired and ready for the early start, we climbed into the back of the car and got a few hours of sleep.
The alarm went off at 4am; we dressed, packed the final goodies into our packs, strapped on our headlamps and hit the trail by 4:15am. For the first hour or so of the hike (which was ALL uphill in the form of steep switchbacks through the forest), the only things we could see were the trail a few feet ahead of us, the few bobbing lights further up the mountain from other hikers, and the gradual dawn on the horizon. The sun didn’t rise until we had plateaued over the forest, and at this point I was starving so we stopped to eat, warm our hands, and pack our headlamps as the light was spreading quickly over the area.
Our bellies full, we continued on to the summit (which we could now see looming above us). We were devastated to see that the trail essentially traveled straight up the rocky hillside, but weren’t too surprised as the hike was listed at a ~6,000ft elevation gain from the trailhead. We continued onward and upward at a slow and steady pace. Being our first real hike of the summer, we stopped frequently to catch our breath and allow the burning in our legs to subside. The view from up here was spectacular, making our suffering more bearable.
We summited Mt. Belford in about 4hrs, and were pleased to share the summit with only one other person and his dog. The sun was shining, the wind was light, and our summit donuts were calling so we had a seat and took in the views (and tastes!).
About 15 minutes later with Mt. Oxford in our sights, we headed down the saddle to summit our 10th Colorado 14er. It didn’t take too long to switch peaks (although the steep trail looked daunting), and were greeted by even warmer temperatures and less winds. This is the first summit that has been actually enjoyable for us to spend time on! We found a comfortable spot to sit in the grass, enjoyed our second summit donuts and took in the views for a half hour or so (it was about 10am at this point) before deciding that it was time to head back to the trailhead.
We hiked back up the steep saddle and were faced with two return routes; re-summit Mt. Belford and go straight down the other side, or take a less steep yet longer trail through the valley back.
Our knees were bothering us from the steep elevation gain and all the steps so we opted for the “scenic” route back to the car. This route ended up being several miles longer and took us about three hours to get back to the trailhead, but the weather was holding nicely and the surrounding landscape was lush, blooming with wildflowers, and made the trek worthwhile.
We estimate the distance to be around 10-13 miles with 6,500 feet of elevation gain.
It took about 12 hours to complete.
We know that we’ve officially added two more Colorado 14ers to our list!
On to the next one!