- Date: June 15, 2019
- Partner: Matt Odierna
- Height: 14,197 feet
- Range: Sawatch
- Route: Northwest Ridge (Class 2)
- Overall Distance: 8.00 miles
- Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet (TH to summit)
- 14ers climbed: 30 separate climbs
- 14ers remaining: 23
- Road Condition to Trailhead: From Leadville, drive 20 miles south on U.S. 24 and turn right on the Chaffee County 390 road. On the 390 road, drive 7.5 miles on a washboard dirt road to a sign for the Missouri Gulch trailhead. Turn left and drive down into the large parking area. A 2WD car can easily make this.
My mountain climbing partner Matt Odierna invoked our usual “lean and quick” strategy for the first time this year. We arrived at the trailhead on early Friday evening, gathered our gear, and quickly set off in pleasantly cool weather. Since the first part of this trail is identical to Missouri Mountain, I will refer you to my 2018 post detailing that climb.
About less than one mile in, we passed a huge debris field from a serious avalanche. Right afterward, we encountered snow heading up to the valley. We had to pick and choose our spots where we crossed the patches of snow. For the most part, it was firm, but we occasionally broke through. Once into the valley, we were able to veer to the east and stay out of the snow for most part. We made quick work of the first two miles, heading up the valley, and positioned ourselves where the route started to gain the Northwest Ridge, just under 12,000′.
Night came quickly and the temperature dropped. This was the first time I had used my new Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo tent and so it took me awhile to get it up. The wind blew for a couple of hours and once it subsided, then I was able to get some sleep.
At 5 AM, I was excited and awake 🙂 The nice thing about climbing with Matt is that he doesn’t like to waste time, either. We were setting off by 5:30 and immediately started ascending a steep ridge line, as the sun was coming up. The weather was again pleasantly cool, maybe in the 40s. It wasn’t until about halfway up the spine that we encountered our first snow field. Matt was out ahead of me and I decided to stop and put on my microspikes on my Altra Lone Peak 4s. Microspikes are amazing. They are much lighter than crampons and give you real Velcro-like purchase on the snow. I used them to cross two steep snow fields on this climb. Since I did not have an ice axe, and just one hiking pole, I was unwilling to take the risk of a fall-and-slide.
After about 1.5 miles of steep, defined, and tolerable Class 2 climbing, the trail leveled off to a bench. By that time, Matt was out of sight and I had to orient myself. The trail proceed directly to the east past a prominent light-colored knob and it was a relatively short, easy stroll up to the summit block where Matt was waiting. The time was roughly 7:15 AM. On the summit on this beautiful morning, we could several other 14ers in the distance. Notably, across a saddle about one mile in distance, we could see Mount Oxford. We chugged a couple of Red Bulls and then flew back down the ridge line to our campsites. Surprisingly, we ran across more climbers than anticipated coming up. I guess this is a sure sign that summer is almost here. By the time we gathered up all our gear at the campsites and got back to the trailhead, it was bit past 10:00 AM.
As you can see, this is not a long, tough climb. I’d give it a 3 out of 10 on a scale of 14er difficulty. It is a beautiful climb and, in the summer, would be ideally suited for someone wanting a little more challenge than the 14ers in the Class 1 category.