I never imagined I would attempt do nine 14’ers in three consecutive days, especially with the difficulty level of Ellingwood Point, Blanca Peak and Little Bear Peak. I woke up at 4:00 am on day three, I mustered the motivation as I limped around the room and slowly put my shoes on for a final day of hiking. Before I was even fully awake, I was packed up in the car and driving out to the trailhead. I pulled into the dirt lot and a number of cars were already parked, empty of their passenger. As I got out of my car, I glanced up at the thousands of stars and beautifully clear sky. I trusted that the weather report of continued clear skies and temperatures in the high 60s was correct.
I started hiking and instantly found myself in switchbacks, climbing in elevation quickly. Still in darkness, I could hear the creek rushing beside me. This ridge line, as most trails do, followed the gulch beside it. I continued on the trail, clearing the trees fairly quickly and beginning a climb directly up a steep hill littered with switchbacks. I made my way half way up the hill before the sun had risen enough for me to take a picture of my progress. A couple of other hikers were on the trail below still traversing the switchbacks. At this point in the climb, the temperature had risen to 45 degrees, but as soon as I emerged from the tree line, the wind started to pick up making it feel considerably colder. A constant 15-20 mph wind swept along the hill and down the gulch. While wind is common on these peaks, the higher I climbed on this one, the stronger the winds got.
Finally, I could start to see the top of the mountain. The winds were biting through my layers and as hikers failed to complete the climb due to the forcefully high winds, I kept pushing on. It was a surreal experience to have a strong wind push me up hill and then moments later turn a switchback and cause me to crawl on all fours with my tucked head down to make it to the next switchback. As I hit the ridge, I found myself getting blown over and off the trail every couple steps. The cold wind knifing to my bones and soreness from the previous hikes aching through my muscles made the sum of the physical pain almost unbearable. Yet, the desire to succeed and all of the people who are motivated by my efforts gave me the strength to press on. As the warm sun hit my face, I knew I would make it. I peaked over the top of Mt. Belford and then the ridge line trail over to Mt. Oxford. After taking a couple moments to shelter myself from the wind and refuel a little, I was back on the trail getting blown down the hill towards Mt. Oxford. A short hike later, I arrived at Mt. Oxford’s peak and settled in the shelter for brunch. I eventually crossed some wildlife on the hike. This little guy was relentless in his effort to acquire some of my trail mix. This included jumping on my shoulder, climbing in my backpack and just siting next to my hip hoping for a crumb to fall. I named my companion Charles Stewart McHungry.
After a short reprieve, I was back in the wind which calmed enough for me to hike against the wind without crawling. Back down the ridge and up to Mt. Belford, I continued on the ridge to the saddle between Mt. Belford and Missouri Mountain. My original plan was to climb back down the gulch and around to the class 3 climb to the top of Missouri Mountain. As I got to the Saddle, I met up with another climber who was going to take the tough class 4 route up the southwest side of Missouri. I elected to join him to save time and hopefully energy in the long run. We assisted and worked through the climb, making it to the top in great time. As we climbed back down to the ridge and down the gulch, I checked the time. I was about an hour ahead of my best projected time. In no time, I was back in the tree line and safe from the harsh wind. As I jogged down the remaining switchbacks, I relished the scenery that I missed in the dark segment of my journey. As I got to the car, I found new motivation realizing that I completed eight of nine planned peaks in three short days. The only untouched peak remaining was the 6 mile hike of Mt. Huron.
After I snapped a few finishing photographs, I drove the 2 miles up the road to the hidden trailhead of Mt. Huron and found some very similar scenery. Starting my hike up the gulch on the other side of the Missouri Mountain, I was able to reflect and appreciate everything I completed over the last three days. I enjoyed the hillside, the trees, and the trail, knowing I was making better time than I hoped. Fortunately, the wind was much kinder and after a pleasant hike up Mt. Huron, I reached the peak and took in the surrounding views. I made my back down the mountain to my car and made it home to complete a full and safe long weekend adventure.