We left Littleton around 1:30 PM for the Missouri Gulch Trailhead arriving about 4:30 after a Subway stop for lunch on the go and quick stop in Buena Vista for gas. The trailhead is about 15 miles of paved road north of Buena Vista plus another 8 miles west on an easily traveled dirt road. The parking lot for the trailhead is easily identifiable on the left side of the road; however, the town of Vicksburg was not readily apparent on the right (as claimed in Roach.) The trailhead, at 9,640 feet, is west of the parking lot and began with a slight descent to cross Clear Creek followed by a steady uphill climb the rest of the way to our campsite at approximately 11,340 feet. During this portion of our hike, the rain was pouring down, but luckily, the temperature was warm and there was neither lightening nor thunder to dissuade us from our adventure!
Our plan was to camp at 11,600 feet where the CFI Belford Trail branches off the Missouri Gulch Trail, but unexposed campsites past 11,300 are rare and were taken by the time we got there. Were the weather not a factor, there are many open areas in the valley past the trailhead branch that would provide amazing panoramic views.
We set up camp in the rain, next to the remains of an old miners log cabin. We dried off, had a bite to eat then settled down for the night. The rain continued until about 11 PM, and a midnight bathroom break revealed cloudy skies. We awoke at 5 the next morning to relatively clear skies and after a warm breakfast and a bit of experimentation with new backpack equipment, started on our way for Belford and Oxford at about 7:30 AM.
The trip up was uneventful on a well marked CFI trail, summiting Belford at 10 AM and stopping for pictures and a snack before heading over to Oxford. The clouds were starting to roll in, but we were able to cross the saddle and summit Oxford at 11 AM. We explored the peak a bit, looking for mountain goats that had supposedly made the southeast ridge their home, but they were smarter than us and had gone looking for cover from the approaching storm. The clouds were starting to accumulate when we started back down the saddle at 11:30 AM and the first roll of thunder occurred right when we were beginning the 500 foot ascent up Belford's eastern ridge. That lit the fire under our toes and we quickly scrambled up and over the Belford's summit and down to the safety of tree line arriving back at camp at 12:30 PM, but lightening and thunder followed us the whole way down! It started to rain heavily, but within the safety of the tent, it lulled us to sleep as we took an afternoon nap. We woke up, had a late lunch/early dinner, waited for the rain to stop and took an evening stroll and chatted with our tent neighbors, then went back to bed around 9 PM. Clear skies and stars were seen at midnight and we awoke at 5 AM to blue skies and begin our trek up Missouri at 6:30 AM.
The initial route up to Missouri can best be described with one word - wildflowers! They were out like mad, with shades of purples, yellows, blues and whites decorating the grassy slopes. It was incredibly beautiful. In order to avoid the hair-raising experience that was the day before, we decided to summit first and take pictures later if the weather cooperated. The path to the summit is a branch off the Missouri Gulch Trail at 12,600 feet, which is easily discernable and well maintained including rock steps to lead the way. This route should be changed in Roach from a dash to a solid line! Once you get to the saddle, the hard work is over and you get to walk along the northwest ridge to the summit, which provides amazing views.
We summited at 9:15 AM, took a few pictures and ate a Cliff bar, but clouds in the ski prompted an early descent off the summit. Once back down in the valley, it was picture time to try and capture some of the beauty of the wildflowers. The Indian Paintbrush were in their yellow stage, so in a few weeks the area will probably be blazing red and just as beautiful. We returned to camp at 11:30 PM, packed up and headed back to the car arriving at the trailhead at 1:30 PM. We headed over to Buena Vista for lunch at Bongo Billy's Cafi (best sandwich shop anywhere) and returned safely to Littleton.