Emerald from Missouri Gulch – With a Side of Belford and Lackawanna

Missouri Mountain, Missouri Gulch

In January I summited California Peak with Zambo. While descending the summit ridge I became dizzy and disoriented. “Zambo, is this what altitude sickness feels like?!?” An extra strength ibuprofen got me back to the car.

Fast forward to March, I attempted Shavano and Tab with Danny. At about 12,500′ in the Angel my head began to pound and my legs stopped functioning on all cylinders. “Is this really happening again?” After some egging, I was able to convince Danny to go ahead and get the summits. I took a nap on a rib of grass as Danny bulldozed upward. 45 minutes later I painfully dragged my sorry self to the summit of Shavano. On the 7 mile descent back to the car I was a zombie and an ibuprofen had no effect. Danny’s good company and sense of humor are the only reason I’m not still crawling back to the jeep.

These were the only 2 outings I took this winter. They’re also in the running for what could have been the only 2 times I left my chair this tax season. I’d like to think that the altitude sickness was the result of a lack of sleep, food, and water, but in the grand scheme of things, I will put it square on putting too much focus on work and not enough on myself.

Post Shavano I made a pact to get back into prime time 2012 form. It’s a work in process. Walking, running (gasp!), climbing (more like watching and learning), scaring myself, and lifting on a daily basis have become a staple. A successful test run on a snowy Horseshoe and Peerless in mid May felt damn good. I also bought a Fitbit. One of the coolest (and most addicting) gadgets I’ve ever owned. I think all present on Lackawanna can tell you how many steps it is from car to summit.

Speaking of Lackawanna… this is a trip report about a sweet weekend in the Sawatch so here goes.

A shorts and gaiters kind of day. Missouri Mountain front and center. Jason, we should beat the guy’s @ss that cracked your snowboard in half man. Photo by David.

Those on foot:
Peaks: Emerald Peak (13,904′), Iowa Peak (13,831′), Missouri Mountain (14,067′)
Date: May 30, 2015
Trailhead: Missouri Gulch
Distance: ~ 14 miles
Elevation Gain: ~ 6,300 ft.
Participants: Steve Cummins, Dillon Sarnelli

Those on skis:
Peak: Mount Belford (14,197′)
Date: May 30, 2015
Participants: David Yarian, Jason Blyth

The approach from the TH to treeline was straightforward. No pictures required. Snowshoes and/or skins went on in the upper basin soon after reaching snowline. The task at hand from here was gaining Elkhead Pass.

Well maybe one picture is required.
Discovering a new found appreciation for the rear panel. Full disclosure: I’ve had this pack for over a year and never realized until this moment that if I unclip the shoulder straps, bam, full access. What a noob. “Sarnelli, what is that stupid grin on your face all about?”
Mount Belford… caked.
Emerald, Iowa, and Missouri (L to R) to the southwest as seen from the top of Elkhead Pass – Elevation 13,220′ and 4.1 miles from the TH.

Perched atop Elkhead Pass, Zambo and JB opted to ski Belford while Steve and I would take the 500 foot plunge off the pass and go for Emerald. One might ask – Why would you trek all the way to Elkhead to ski Belford? Better question, why would you trek halfway to Oxford to only ski Belford? These are questions you don’t really answer.

Elkhead Pass “summit” shot before parting ways. Not pictured, Steve, who was nowhere to be found!

Jason and David pushed on to Belford while I plunge stepped off the pass to rendezvous with Gendarme Steve. If we were going to get home today, Rockdale and/or an ascent over Missouri would be the only way out. Any re ascent of the Pass would be sketch as it was already baked.

Our approximate route from Elkhead Pass to Emerald through Missouri Basin.
The Apostles looking awesome from the the summit of Emerald Peak.
Summit of Emerald Peak – Elevation 13,904′ – May 30, 2015. Steve, great to share the summit with you man!

The route to Iowa: Descend 600 feet to the saddle at 13,340′ and then climb about a half mile up Iowa’s south slopes to the summit at 13,831′. This was easy peasy on a wide snow covered saddle.

Summit of Iowa Peak – Elevation 13,831′ – May 30, 2015
The connecting ridge between Iowa and Missouri. From the low point one could drop west into Rockdale, drop east into Missouri Basin, or continue north on to the summit of Missouri and eventually back into Missouri Gulch.
“Dillon, do you think I’m on a cornice?”
A look back at the route as we ascend MO. Emerald – top, center. Iowa – right.

Meanwhile back on Belford:

JB, living the dream. Photo by David.
The Zambino, like a boss. Photo by Jason.

Back at the ranch:

Summit of Missouri Mountain – Elevation 14,067′ – May 30, 2015.
Descending Mizzou’s north ridge, the last major hurdle.

From the summit of Mizzou, we elected to stay ridge proper and down-climb a few towers to avoid triggering any sort of slide or put ourselves in a bad spot. The task at hand was to reach the point where the ridge meets what would be the standard summer route down into Missouri Gulch. There were several parties that had skied Missouri that day, but their route seen in the next picture, ended about 20 feet below the 2nd or 3rd rock cropping that I’m taking the picture from. I believe we were the only party to summit Missouri on this day.

Myself doing a little recon. “Steve, it goes!” Staying ridge proper on the northwest ridge. Up and over, up and over.
Mizzou’s northwest ridge mellowing out.
Happy to be getting out of dodge. It didn’t matter what aspect you were on today. It felt like temps were in the 70’s, a far cry from our PNW-like May, and the peaks were all ready to shed a layer.

Extra Credit:
Peak: “Lackawanna” (13,823′)
Date: May 31, 2015
Trailhead: North Lake Creek
Distance: 3.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,600 ft.
Participants: Brad Peterson, David Yarian, Jason Blyth, Steve Cummins, Dillon Sarnelli

This might be a pretty sweet picture, but all I see is Brad’s beard.
Brad, my Fitbit says we’ve only gone 40 steps today.
1.7 miles, 3,600 feet… No caption required.
Worth it.
The last dude that tried to ski Lackawana.
Zambo, tell us how much you liked Lackawanna.
Parting shot.

What I learned on this trip: Ginger cookies are nasty, when JB says we’re going to Eddyline, we’re not really going to Eddyline, the rear panel on my pack is worth every penny, couly season is going to go through August, a lot of folks think I have a motorcycle, and the pretzel bag is off limits to the individual handling the Elk carcass. Great weekend gents!



10 thoughts on “Emerald from Missouri Gulch – With a Side of Belford and Lackawanna

  1. Mr. Sarnelli – Great weekend there, buddy! Blyth let me in on ya’lls peak baggin’ plans down in the Sawatch and man that looks like fun. Another time hopefully. Gosh, I haven’t been to Missouri Gulch since May 2008 when I skied those C Couloirs, but it really is a cool basin and your pics really how special it is, especially blanketed in snow on a bluebird day. Cheers, my man!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Papa Brando! Thanks buddy. Missouri Gulch looked pretty unreal. The amount of snow on these peaks in June is crazy. JB told me he talked to you. I made sure! Oh and special thanks for being my 1st follower, haha. I have 3 now. There are prizes for that. Lets make another outing happen soon!


  2. Hey Dillon, this report makes me wanna go and wallow in the willows if the Missouri gulch sometime very soon. 🙂 Can’t believe you were caught by Lacka’s willows too. Okay, it took me 2nd trip there to figure out they are bypassable if you hug left of the approach. Also, somebody is going after Cents, I see 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Natalie, it’s a centennial kinda spring/summer? Missouri Gulch looked like a skiers paradise, but it’s melting. Hurry. You’ve been absolutely everywhere. Pretty awesome. Those damn willows. We (as in Steve) figured it out on the way down. Thanks for being my 3rd follower. 🙂 Appreciate it!


  3. Great weekend, buddy! You took some killer pics here, especially the one when I’m in my drawers. Let’s get out again soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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