Peak(s):  Missouri Mountain  -  14,071 feet
Mt. Belford  -  14,202 feet
Mt. Oxford  -  14,158 feet
Date Posted:  07/29/2019
Date Climbed:   07/27/2019
Author:  aldsw
 Backpacking Missouri Gulch with Summits of Belford, Oxford and Missouri   

We backpacked up the Missouri Gulch and summited Belford, Oxford and Missouri over the weekend. I found finding info about backpacking and bagging all three summits difficult so I thought I'd share the things I thought were important and readily found in other reports.

The initial climb is steep. The switchbacks are no joke and even once you get past them, it doesn't mellow out until the cabin. It's pretty cool to cross the creek and avalanche debris field. You'll be tempted to camp near the cabin. The forest is lush, you'll be tired from the steep slog up so far, it's close to water and spots are plentiful. Don't do it! Continue on to the split in the Belford - Missouri Gulch trail (about .7 miles further). Spots are also plentiful water is even more accessible here. While it's not thick forest, you're tucked away in willows and there are enough pines you'll find a spot to hang your food. You'll be glad you shaved the mileage off the hike in the morning.

We took (and thoroughly enjoyed) the Belford-Oxford-Missouri route and would recommend it over the opposite order. I didn't think the zig zags up Belford were not nearly as bad as others made them out to be. My wife and I aren't huge hikers but we zipped right up to the summit, taking plenty of breaks for air. The trail is one of the best constructed around, especially if you're used to front range trails. We left at 4:57 am and were ~the third on the summit of Belford for the day.

The trek over to Oxford took an hour. It's a pretty easy hike, although the descent is steep. It was a nice surprise that the true summit is the closer of the two big rock piles. Of course I had to walk over to the other to confirm and my GPS had the first rock pile about 10 feet higher. The others that joined us on Oxford appreciated I had already checked for them ;).

We didn't notice the Elk Pass intersection on our way to Oxford from Belford. I had expected it to be further down the saddle or even on the incline to Oxford. Sadly, it was near the summit of Belford so we had to go almost all the way to the summit of Belford before taking the turn to Elk Pass. Looking back at all the research I'd done, I clearly just had a case of wishful thinking because it sucked having to climb all the way back up the steep trail to Belford. It was really only a mental challenge, the hike itself was great.

It took us about two hours to go from the summit of Oxford to the Elk Pass / Missouri Gulch split. Elk Pass is a long, constant descent. It was much longer than I expected and grew tough on the knees as we got towards the bottom. There were a few snow fields to navigate around (late July, 2019 - an epic snow winter). They weren't a problem as long as you're wearing Goretex shoes.

We were tired, sore and the clouds were building when we got to the go/no-go decision point. The clouds didn't seem to be coming together so we decided to start up and see how it went. I'm glad we did! Missouri was my favorite of the three. The trail up to the ridge was a masterpiece. I'm amazed by the work of the trail builders. There were a few small snow fields and water crossings leading up to a large snow fields right at the ridge. It was well tracked. We didn't regret not having microspikes but were glad we had hiking poles. The ridge was much longer than I expected but a really fun hike. It gently climbed up and down through spots that were technical enough to get your heart/mind racing but easy enough that you never felt in danger. I don't do well in highly exposed areas and never felt anxious about the trail. The views from the summit were amazing, shocking, I know. The clouds continued to threaten so we snapped a few pics and ate some food before heading back down the ridge.

The hike down was tough. Our legs were spent and descending was harder on them then climbing. We witnessed a massive boulder break free above us and watched in awe as it went screaming down the mountain, destroying anything in its path. Pretty scary to see as we'd just crossed its path minutes earlier. We celebrated as we got to the intersection with Elk Pass as the trail flattened out but it was still a long hike down to our tent from there, more than a mile. There were multiple stream crossings and sections of trail that were filled with mud and water. My feet stayed dry (thank you Goretex!) but my wife's feet were completely soaked by the time we made it back to camp. It was more than a mile back to where we started the day and we dropped some serious elevation on that last stretch, which made us even happier we decided to do the Belford-Oxford-Missouri order. Starting the morning with the stream crossings and mud would have made for a long day!

We debating packing up camp and heading down Saturday evening but the clouds finally decided to open up on us so we hung out in our tent until it passed and then decided to make dinner and spend another night in the Missouri Gulch. This was a BIG HIKE - 17.5 miles, 7,500 feet elevation gain - but it was probably my favorite to date. The Missouri Gulch is a beautiful place that I'd recommend as a backpacking destination to people even if they didn't want to bag 14ers.

Comments or Questions
07/31/2019 17:02
Doing all of those in one day is quite the trek! Me and my buddy hiked up Belford/Oxford on Saturday, then camped at the Belford/Missouri split like you did. Did a sunrise hike to Missouri the next morning. We probably saw you somewhere on the trail, we left the trailhead at 3:30 that same morning. 3 summits definitely made for a fantastic weekend!

Nice work, trkl9!
07/31/2019 20:58
Nice work! I don't know if we would have been motivated enough to go up Missouri Sunday morning so I'm glad we went for it on Saturday!

Sweet report!
08/07/2019 11:19
Sounds like a great trip! From your description, it seems like there are enough trees to hang a hammock. Is that the case?

Hanging a Hammock
08/07/2019 12:12
You could definitely hang a hammock down closer to the "cabin". You could probably find some that would work beyond there too but I didn't look closely to confirm.

Great report!
05/26/2020 08:45
Thank-you for posting this trip report. After reading it I have decided to complete these three fourteeners as part of my backpacking adventure this summer. I was considering Harvard and Columbia but I may as well complete three 14ers instead of two.... more bang for my buck!

06/28/2020 09:03
Really helpful report. Going to try it next weekend.

06/28/2020 09:41
Good luck! It's such a great trip!

Camping question
08/11/2020 22:24
When you camped .7 from treeline, how long was the distance and time it took you to summit Missouri? Thinking about camping night before to break up the distance for Missouri.

08/12/2020 07:28
Sorry, I can't help with that question. We hiked Belford, Oxford and Missouri, in that order, from where we camped. It would definitely be a great spot to camp to break up just Missouri though. You could go even further than .7 miles to cut even more time off the next day.

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