Peak(s):  Missouri Mountain  -  14,071 feet
Emerald Pk  -  13,904 feet
Iowa Pk  -  13,831 feet
Date Posted:  09/07/2021
Modified:  09/17/2021
Date Climbed:   09/05/2021
Author:  Peaks4Days
 Missouri + Iowa + Emerald Loop   

Summary: Loop hike from Clohesy Lake / Rockdale / Missouri West Slopes Trailhead hitting 3 peaks. 8.92 mile loop with 4,045 ft. of elevation gain. Class 2 max. GPX recording at end.

Getting There: This hikes starts from the "Rockdale" trailhead listed on Getting to this trailhead requires going up Forest Service Rd. 381, which is pretty tough - rated at 4/6 on Within the first half mile of FSR 381, I came across the first, and deepest, stream crossing. I actually tried this road a few months earlier, in July, and the water was too deep for me to comfortably cross, even in my lifted Land Cruiser. However, the water was only a foot or so high in early September.

After the first stream crossing there is maybe 20 yards of trail, and then the second stream crossing. This stream is shallower than the first, but is bordered by a rocky obstacle on the far side. To be perfectly clear, this is a tough obstacle, the toughest on the entire road. A crossover/Subaru will not make it. A stock 4Runner or Tacoma might make it, but probably with some serious scraping. My lifted Land Cruiser barely made it up this obstacle. Past this point, the only other vehicles were either lifted or off-road trim specific (Rubicon Jeeps or TRD Toyotas). The good news is that there is nothing harder than that obstacle for the rest of the drive.

The Actual Trail: The road is closed to vehicles about a half mile from Clohesy Lake, at which point my fiance and I dismounted and continued on foot. We reached the turn-off for Missouri Mountain, which veers off to the left, just as Clohesy Lake came into view. This is where the fun began, as the trail immediately got steep as it switchbacked through the trees to ascend the side of the valley.

On the trail to Missouri Mountain ascending out of the valley

The trail continued to ascend up and out of the valley for another half mile or so, when it opened up to the expansive cirque below Missouri and Iowa.

Looking at the Missouri/Iowa cirque. Missouri is the high point to the left of the middle notch, while Iowa is on the right.

Once in the cirque, we had a brief respite from the steepness until the trail turned left and (steeply) ascended a grassy hillside to get on top of a rib of the Missouri ridgeline. The recurring theme here was the steepness of the trail. While the Missouri West Slope trail only gains 3,150 ft. to the summit of Missouri - as opposed to 4,500 ft. for the Standard trail - it does so in ~2.75 miles, meaning it is a pretty steep ordeal.

On top of the rib, the trail continues to the base of a rocky knob. We climbed the rocky knob, after which the steepness finally relented as we met up with the Standard Route on the ridgeline proper.

On the Missouri ridgeline, where the West Slopes Route meets with the Standard Route. Iowa visible on the right with Emerald directly behind it.

On the ridgeline, it was about another half mile to the summit of Missouri.

Lots of people on the summit of Missouri (as you'd expect). View looks over ridgeline to Iowa, then Emerald.

Unsurprisingly, there were a bunch of people on the summit of Missouri. My fiance and I stayed up there about 10 minutes to eat some snacks and take some pictures, then moved on. From the summit of Missouri, the route to Iowa was very apparent. The route, which follows the ridgeline between the two, was a Class 1 non-issue, with the biggest problem being some sandy rock on the way down from Missouri. While there was a slight trail down to the saddle of Missouri and Iowa, there was no trail once ascending up Iowa - and in fact no more trail until meeting up with "Pear Lake Trail 1461" on the other side of Emerald, in about 2.5 miles.

The summit of Iowa was nice, and we had it all to ourselves and a few ravens. Looking down the ridgeline, Emerald looked a bit more intimidating than Iowa.

On the summit of Iowa, looking at Emerald.

We decided the best way to summit Emerald would be to go down to the saddle, then walk over to the left side of the peak to ascend Emerald's Northeast ridge (as opposed to going straight up the North Face). This turned out to be a good route, and the climbing never exceeded Class 2.

On the summit of Emerald looking back. Iowa is far-left, Missouri center-left, Belford center-right, Elkhead pass below Belford, and Oxford far-right.

Next came the part of this trip that we were truly dreading - the descent off Emerald's Southwest slopes. We had researched this part of the trip, and everything we saw made it look like this would just be a steep, scree-filled mess, with some cliff bands added in for some extra fun. Turns out this was exactly correct.

Looking down Emerald's Southwest slopes.

I could be wrong, but frankly, there was no good way down the Southwest slopes. This entire side of the mountain was a mix of talus and scree. Our biggest concern while descending this was to keep an eye out for cliffs, as we knew they were intermixed. Fortunately, we found a gully that took us all the way down to the base without falling off a cliff. I only had to stop 3 times to empty dirt and stones out of my shoes.

Once at the base of Emerald, the terrain opened up to a beautiful, comparatively flat, basin. The trail, "Pear Lake Trail 1461," lay on the opposite side of the basin.

Crossing the basin, looking back at the nasty Southwest slope of Emerald Peak.
At the top of Pear Lake Trail 1461 looking back across the basin to Emerald Peak

After crossing the basin for about .75 miles, we found the trail. The trail was very faint at first, and easy to lose as it wound down to the center of the valley for about a half mile. However, once in the valley, the trail was an easy, straight shot back to Clohesy Lake, where it completed the loop and met up with the Missouri Mountain turn-off after 2.5 miles.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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