Peak(s):  Emerald Pk  -  13,904 feet
Iowa Pk  -  13,831 feet
Date Posted:  10/21/2015
Modified:  10/26/2015
Date Climbed:   10/18/2015
Author:  JQDivide
 Emerald and Iowa via Elk Head Pass   

Justin Martin and I hiked Emerald Peak (13,904) and Iowa Peak (13,831) via Elk Head Pass.


The weather forecast was iffy, but it turned out to be good mild fall day. It wasn't a Blue Bird Sky day, but the cloudy sky was a different experience. We could see the summit of Belford, but not Missouri as we hiked into the gulch. Actually Belford was the only summit we actually saw until our way out, then Missouri was visible, for a little while. It was a monotone color kind of day... gray clouds, gray rocks and the golden dry fall grass.


Looking back toward Missouri from Elk Head Pass trail

Up Missouri Gulch, to Elk Head Pass then down into the upper basin just east of Iowa... I guess it's the western most point of the Pine Creek drainage, which I think is Missouri Basin. The route into the basin looked easier than trying to skirt Missouri to the Miss-Iowa saddle. We went down the pass trail then took a right (south) at a point we felt the elevation gain/loss looked good. We went by two small lakes. The second lake was next to an easy slope that led to the saddle between Emerald and Iowa. There was a path that was kind of easy to follow, but got lost the closer we got to the saddle. The saddle was tundra intermingled with rocks and depressions. So pick a direction and just go for a summit.

From Elk Head Pass, looking over the basin toward Emerald Peak

In the basin, the slope up to the Emerald-Iowa saddle

Looking back toward Elk Head Pass

Iowa Peak from the basin, well it's in the clouds.

Looking east, we could see where the clouds stopped and had a nice view of the Buffalo Peaks.
Looking east to the Buffalo Peaks

Mtn Harvard

We headed to Emerald first, thinking we would either hit Missouri or use the Miss-Iowa saddle for a descent. We had both already summited Missouri, so it wasn't a goal of the day. A little something extra if the weather held out. (From the basin, we had spotted a grassy slope off the Miss-Iowa saddle that looked good for a way out between the first lake and the pass.)

Emerald Peak

Justin on Emerald

Justin coming down Emerald

Me hiking down Emerald

Both summits had little to no visibility at the top. The clouds were steady at just between 14,000 and 13,800 feet, then they pushed down to 13,300 later in the morning as we moved from Emerald to Iowa. Emerald was a slow going because the talus was wet, with a little bit of snow here and there. We didn't want to slip and break anything. We got some sprinkles of sleet going up Emerald, with just a little wind. We never saw the summit on our way, but was able to find it, by hiking to the east ridge and then up. We didn't spend much time at the top. Not too cold, but a little sleet and no views didn't keep the summit very interesting. Came down the same way.

Heading up Iowa

Heading up Iowa

With the clouds lower than when we started, the trip to Iowa was completely blind. We had a really good idea of the direction and the wide ridge was easy to navigate. But as we got closer we realized we were just a tad too far west, but an easy correction once we got closer. Again, not much time on the summit. The hiking in the clouds was pretty cool, but I would have like to have seen Huron and the valley below.

Summit of Iowa

Me almost at the summit of Iowa

Our planned descent, we couldn't find the grassy slope off the NE ridge of Iowa in the clouds. We didn't spend a lot of time searching... we decided it was farther north, or it could have been right in front of us... Not wanting to screw up, we turned south and headed toward the same route we ascended to the Emerald-Iowa saddle. We were at the second lake and out of the clouds in no time. At this point we took a 15 minute break and I pulled out the summit beers we didn't drink at the top. But it was a nice refreshing beverage before heading back up Elk Head Pass. As we moved across the basin, we got a little bit of snow.

Heading off the saddle back into the basin

Summit Beers, just not on the summit

As we hiked back up Elk Head Pass we were discussing the lack of wildlife we see on 14er hikes. Five minutes later a large coyote sat at the top of the pass watching us. It moved off to the east and then down the side of the pass. We lost its gray form in the gray rocks. I took a photo, but it sucked, could barely make out the coyote.

We went up and over the pass and on toward the main trail. We actually got some cell phone coverage and was able to send a text message. About midway down the gulch, we saw a rainbow sitting over the lower end of Missouri Gulch. A few hundred yards before tree line and the cabin remains it started to sprinkle rain, nothing a shell had trouble with keeping us dry. Then while between the cabin and the creek we saw another rainbow in a similar location.

Heading out of Miss Gulch

All in all a good day. I think a lot of people missed out, thinking the weather would be bad. There were two other hikers ahead of us that went on to Missouri. On our way up the switch backs in the morning, we saw headlights turn into the TH parking lot, but don't know if they hiked. We ran into Eagle Eye on our way out about 3 p.m. He was heading to Belford. There were no other cars in the parking lot.

First rainbow

Second rainbow

Was about a 10-hour day.
5:50, left the TH
6:36, at the creek crossing
6:57, at the cabin remains, short stop for a snack
7:28, Belford/Missouri trial split
8:29, Elk Head Pass / Missouri trial split
9:09, Elk Head Pass summit
9:50, second lake, short stop for a snack
10:40, Emerald/Iowa saddle
11:13, Emerald summit
11:45, Emerald/Iowa saddle
12:13, Iowa summit
1:00, back at second lake, 15 min. snack and beer break
2:00, Elk Head Pass summit
2:53, Belford/Missouri trial split
3:00, 10 minute talk with Eagle Eye on his way up.
3:15, at the cabin remains
4:00, TH

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Comments or Questions
As my dad would say...
10/21/2015 22:13
"It’s the only weather we have today." Good job not letting a little weather keep you from the summits. Most others wouldn’t have even tried.

I agree with Eddie.
10/22/2015 07:55
It can be kinda fun hiking in the clouds. Too bad they didn’t clear for you for a little while at least. The views from Emerald are really nice.

10/22/2015 08:57
Looks like your were hiking in Scotland, not CO! Very cool day

Great photos.
10/23/2015 16:18
Thanks for sharing, guys.

Eagle Eye
good job
10/26/2015 11:16
Congratulations. Nice to meet you guys I was on my way up Mt Belford.

Eagle Eye
10/26/2015 15:55
MtnMan and Jay, the weather was actually pretty nice. Just looked worse than it was. We were dressed appropriately and enjoyed the hike.

Eagle Eye, nice to meet you. Hope you enjoyed the solitude that day. (made edits to report)

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