Discover Missouri Mountain, a magnificent 14er in the Collegiate Peaks range
Special to the Daily
Centered between Mount Belford (14,197 feet) and Mount Oxford (14,153 feet) to the east and Huron Peak (14,003 feet) to the west, Missouri Mountain (14,067 feet) is one of the most dramatic of the 14ers in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area.
Missouri Mountain rises out of Missouri Gulch with a ragged eastern face of steep cliffs, while the western slope has a more gradual grade of crumbled gravel and tundra turf. The mountain is considered an intermediate hike of 6 miles over 4,500 vertical feet from the trailhead to the summit, taking a total of eight hours to complete.
From the Missouri Gulch trailhead parking area, the trail immediately leads to a wooden bridge that crosses Clear Creek. A short distance beyond the stream, a small, fenced area marks the grave of an infant who died during the early mining settlement days when the area was the thriving community of Winfield, founded in 1881.
After a series of switchbacks, the trail crosses Missouri Creek and continues a steep ascent on the east side of the stream. At 1.7 miles, an hour up the trail, a rock forms an ideal resting spot overlooking Missouri Creek, and the ruins of an old mining cabin provide several dispersed campsites for hikers intending to sleep overnight.
The junction with the Mount Belford and Mount Oxford trail splits east after 2.5 miles of climbing, found among krumholz and willows at 11,600 feet. The trail for Elkhead Pass and Missouri Mountain continues south, crossing over to the west side of Missouri Creek. The trail has become braided by heavy hiking traffic that tracks on the soft tundra turf, likely caused by hikers trying to avoid the deeply entrenched gravel path that fills with water in wet weather. The trail splits in the tundra 1.7 miles uphill at 12,550 feet, continuing on switchbacks through a boulder field across the west face of the valley.
After four hours of climbing, the ridge of Missouri Mountain reveals Huron Peak (14,003 feet) hovering over Clohesy Lake in the valley below. The trail ascending the west slope of Missouri Mountain from Clohesy Lake joins the ridge at 13,830 feet, about 5.5 miles from the trailhead. The summit of Missouri Mountain is only another half-mile beyond.
During the final tenth of a mile, the trail drops off the ridge through a small chimney, requiring careful handholds and footing. Continuing up the final couple of hundred steps to the summit demands a solid grip on shifting gravel and dust, with full exposure to the steep, unstable west slope. A slip from the narrow ribbon of foot tracks may lead to serious injury or death down the west face of Missouri Mountain.
How to get there
The Missouri Gulch trailhead is 50 miles south of Copper Mountain. After reaching Leadville, continue south on Highway 24 to mile marker 195 and turn right toward Clear Creek Reservoir on Chaffee County 390 (42 miles from Copper Mountain). Continue 8 miles up the gravel road and turn left into the Missouri Gulch trailhead parking area. An alternative trail up the west slope of Missouri Mountain begins 2 miles farther west at Rockdale, a cluster of four mining cabins, with a water-crossing south to dispersed campsites at Clohesy Lake.
Map: “Trails Illustrated,” Buena Vista, Collegiate Peaks, 129.
Author Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes, “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties,” and “Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness,” available from Amazon Kindle Books.
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