Ashley, Ryan (coworker) and I left after work on Friday with the ambitious plan of hiking three 14,000 foot peaks, all in close proximity. On Friday night, we backpacked in to the northern end of Missouri Basin. It was here that we would camp and launch or campaign to summit Missouri Mountain, Mt. Belford, and Mt. Oxford over the next two days.
Our campsite at about 11,000 feet
Saturday morning we woke up leisurely, melted snow to make water, and set off up the basin to try our luck on Missouri Mountain.
Ashley skinning up Missouri Basin
The further we went, the windier and snowier it became. Around half way up, Ashley decided to turn around due to weather and terrain concerns while Ryan and I decided to persevere. About an hour and a half later, and after negotiating some steeper sections near the top, we had reached the summit. It had been snowing lightly since about the time we parted ways with Ashley.
Ryan on top of Missouri Mountain
Somehow, I convinced Ryan to hike down the couloir I wanted to ski (Ryan was on snowshoes and didn't have skis). The snow conditions permitted a ski descent from the summit all the way back to our camp. The few inches of fresh snow in the couloir made for a tremendous late May surprise and excellent skiing! In the photo below, you can make out Ryan's more or less straight line descent with my ski tracks being the furthest to the left.
Our tracks coming down Missouri Mountain's 'C' Couloir
We decided to head back to camp and wait to attempt Belford and Oxford the following day.
We got moving a couple hours earlier on Sunday morning than we did the previous day in hopes that we could summit Belford and Oxford and return to camp in time to pack up and hike out before the snow got too soft. From our camp, the route up Belford was short and direct, gaining about 3200 feet. Ashley and I sent Snowshoe Ryan on the standard trial, which followed the ridge just above the gully that we skied up. We were able to ski to within about 50 feet of the rocky summit, which was an unexpected surprise as most of the snow-filled gully was hidden from below. Ryan reached the summit about 5 minutes before Ashley and I arrived.
Ashley nearing the top of Mt. Belford
From Mt. Belford's summit, Mt. Oxford lies about 1 mile away. A gracious ridge links the two with a saddle elevation of about 13,500 feet, so traveling from one to the other is easy relative to climbing an entirely separate mountain. Although there were less clouds this day and it wasn't snowing, the wind was vicious. The price we had to pay for the handy ridge linking the two summits was a steady 35 mile an hour wind with balance-destroying gusts.
Ashley traversing from Mt. Belford to Mt. Oxford
We successfully made it to the summit of Oxford in spite of the wind. The bad news (and we already knew this) was that the easiest way back to camp was to reverse the ridge, re-summit Belford, and descend Belford to camp. The retreat seemed even windier than the original traverse. Despite the names of these two mountains, more Missouri was encountered on that traverse than anything the previous day.
While Ryan continued hiking and glissading down from the summit of Belford, Ashley and I put on our skis and began (for me) the second ski descent of a 14er in as many days. Without the fresh snow, the skiing was not quite as good as the previous day, but it sure beat walking down!
Dealing with various degrees of exhaustion and altitude sickness, we spent some time recovering at the tent before packing it up and hiking back to the car.