Northwest Ridge from Elkhead Basin
October 1, 2000 (Attempt)
A good friend of mine gave me a call in early September and wanted to come out for a long weekend from the east coast to hike and climb a bit. I was one month into my first year of law school but we went back a long time and I knew I had to cut out and do a long Colorado weekend with him. Mark rented a car and arrived at our house on Friday night, bearing a gift equal to all that stuff those wise guys took to Bethlehem, a couple dozen steamed blue crabs from Maryland. My wife and I are not Wyoming natives and before we moved to Far West West Virginia, we were Baltimorons. Baltimorons love their blue crabs and we had not seen any in over a year. Obviously, Mark was a very welcome guest.
The next day, we took off for Leadville and hiked up to Hagerman Tunnel in the gulch above Turquoise Lake. Remember, I used to be in the mining business, so tunnels are a nuisance I am attracted to like a fly to %#@*. We enjoyed the hike, dinner at Quincy’s (the steak joint in Leadville you have to try if you have not do so already) and then camped the night at the head of the Clear Creek Reservoir that I have spoken of in other narratives. The elk’s bugling and the clear sky full of stars provided a perfect Colorado night out and a bit of autumn chill to start the hike off the next morning. We got up at first light and soon were trudging up the trail to the basin below Missouri. I kept a game face on the switchbacks and tried to hold the pace down to a speed at least semi comfortable for a sea level based climber. We made it to the base of the pitch up the flank of Missouri but that was it. Mark’s lungs just were not there that day and I knew how he was feeling from a prior turbo trip that I had made to climb 14’ers. We stopped for a rest, a bite to eat and then made our way back to the car for the drive on back to Cheyenne.
The next day, Mark was off to RMNP for the day and I was learning about the details of consideration, for a legal contract of course . . .
October 21, 2000 (Summit)
Lets just skip that first part of the climb (the switchbacks), I do not even want to write about them. I arrived at the base of the pitch that puts one on the northwest ridge of Missouri Mountain and thought about the snow climbing couloirs instead of the regular beeline route to the ridge. I did not go hard core as the snow this early was more powder than snow but it was covering enough of the scree to provide a mostly frozen climb up the gully leading off to the left as compared to the traditional route. I made the ridge and thought to myself, “ok so where is the top?”
If you climb with Dawson’s guide and have done this peak, you know what I mean by this question. The summit on the photo in the book is not correct so the answer is that the top is the high point most of the way along the ridge to Elkhead Pass. I dutifully hiked the ridge along a well-traveled route and probably the better part of an hour later, made the real summit of Missouri Mountain.
Then it was simple, go back to the truck . . . not enough snow to glissade, just a long walk on back down the valley. The best part of the hike was the end, when I must say; I enjoyed the switchbacks more than ever. Not because I would perhaps never do them again, but because the aspen had almost shed all their leaves and the smell of the leaves on the ground underfoot was a fitting end to a grand 14’er climbing season.