Missouri Mountain
Descent Route: North Face Couloir
March 24, 2006

Today was another stellar day in the Colorado mountains. Mike Cuseo, John Hagman, and I left the hotel in Buena Vista at 6:30 a.m. and arrived back at Vicksburg and the trailhead at 7:30. It felt strange to be headed right back up the same trail we had descended only 13 hours before, but Missouri Mountain had great snow and was a sure thing to ski from the summit. With our packs much lighter than the day before, we made quick progress up to 11,600 ft. and the site of our camp from the night before. A flock of ptarmigans was enjoying our tent platforms and scavenging scraps of oatmeal cleaned out from our bowls the previous day. Normally I try and practice ?minimum impact? camping and leave no trace of my presence, but a few bits of oatmeal seemed ok for these hardy birds.

By noon we were on the steep slopes of the North Face of Missouri. We were able to skin up to 13,000 feet at the base of the couloir which lies furthest east on the big face. Even though our skiing in Belford and Oxford had shown us that there was good snow stability in this area, I was a little nervous about one slope we were skinning up. After digging a pit in the snow to assess the stability, I decided that I didn?t like the way it looked and we moved east onto a rock ridge and relative safety. We then threw the skis on our back and front pointed in deep powder up a steep couloir, which would take us within 200 yards of the summit. Steep snow climbing is one of my favorite aspects of mountaineering. It?s hard work you gain elevation quickly, and get to feel the snow in a way that?s hard to match. The snow in this couloir was 12? to 16? deep, and we all smiled when we thought of the turns that lay ahead.

By 1 p.m. we were on our third fourteener summit in three days. I know its kind of redundant, but the views on top are just amazing. Mt. Huron and Ice Mountain lay directly west, only a few miles away. To the east is Belford and Oxford. You can see all of the Elks (Castle, Pyramid, both Maroon Bells, Snowmass, and Capitol) as well as every other Sawatch Range fourteener. We could even see the San Juan Mountains and the summits of Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn in the distance. Gazing out upon the Colorado Rockies from the summit of a fourteener is a pleasure that every resident of our state should savor. As I turned my attention the skiing in front of me, I stared down at what would be one of the best ski descents I have done yet on my project. The North Face of Missouri has four or five great couloirs that descend from the summit ridge. Mike Cuseo went first on the couloir farthest west, skiing effortless steep powder, and then set up his camera out in the basin for a good front on angle of my descent. John descended skiers right and set up his camera on slope. When the boys were ready I dropped in off the top and skied the central couloir on the face, 1500 ft. of fast, deep winter snow. This type of skiing on a Colorado fourteener is the exception rather than the norm. To have great powder snow combined with solid stability in the snowpack is rare, and we all considered ourselves very lucky to have timed this ski descent so well.

By 2:45 p.m. we were on our way back down the trail to Vicksburg. As I sit here and write this I am feeling exhilarated and blessed to have experienced what could easily be described as ?the perfect day? on a fourteener. This project is not without its risks, and to come down the mountain at the end of the day safe and happy is paramount.

Now I?m back at a hotel in Buena Vista working on a plan for tomorrow. Maybe Mt. Yale or La Plata Peak. The southern Sawatch peaks (Princeton, Antero, Shavano, and Tabeguache) still need some more snow.

Thanks for checking in!

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