From North Cottonwood to Missouri Gulch; Nolan's Tough Old Gut
After a 3-week break from research and rehearsal on the Nolan’s course I was back at it again Saturday. Between then and now, those weeks were filled with an ascent of Pikes Peak from the Cripple Creek Reservoirs, a second finish at Hard Rock,
and a weekend of rest; where I caught up on some much needed/neglected yard work, and hosting some good friends from church over to enjoy some South Carolina low country cooking.
Yesterday I traversed over a good portion of the middle section of the course; from the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead, traveling north over Mt. Columbia, Mt. Harvard, Mt. Oxford, Mt. Belford, and finishing up at the Missouri Gulch trailhead. Often I have thought of, in a most peculiar way I suppose, of the Nolan’s course as being compared to a person’s digestive system, with Mt. Massive in the north (like the top of the map) ,as being the mouth, and Mt. Shavano in the south as being the… well you get the picture. So, the middle portion (Mt. Yale to Mt. Huron), where there aren’t any trailheads that lie directly in the path taken over these massive peaks, could be thought of as the course’s soft under belly, though I would liken it more as to being one tough old gut!
Having previously traversed over Mt. Yale, my next objective was to link the next 4 peaks together, especially to get dialed in on going down the north face of Mt. Harvard, across Pine Creek, and then back up the south slopes to the saddle that lies between Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford. This is a wild section of the course where no real trails exist and few if any people are to be encountered.
Lisa dropped me off at North Cottonwood Creek trailhead just after 6:00 AM, and I gained the top of Mt. Columbia, which is quite the grunt, in just over 2 ½ hours. The traverse over to Mt. Harvard has worried me some,
because it’s so complex, but this time I went further away to the east from both mountains, and much lower into the valley below, and was able to make good time, mostly on grassy slopes rather than scrambling and fighting scree and tippy-top blocks. I got to the top of Mt. Harvard in just over 2 ½ hours.
Descending the north face of Mt. Harvard, I spied the resident goat herd, and was able to connect bits and pieces of grassy sections together to get close to Pine Creek. From being close though, actually getting to and across Pine Creek was another altogether different story, as this valley bottom is much like the foot of the avalanche gully on Mt. Yale’s north face, being absolutely blocked with a complex maze of deadfall.
Once across Pine Creek, I tried as best I could to navigate to a scree-filled gully system that I spied from Mt. Harvard,
which looked like it would give reasonable access to the upper slopes leading to the saddle between Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford. Of course, being about 12-noon, that is when the afternoon’s excitement began as peals of thunder began to echo through the valley. I think the low point of my day was right about here, when I found myself thrashing up scree in a willow-choked gully only to find myself suddenly covered with ants. I don’t know where they came from, maybe they were just hanging out in some of the willows I was trying to swim through, and I tried as best I could to wipe them off while continuing to make slow but steady uphill progress, all the while trying to block the sounds of thunder growing louder and closer from my mind.
At tree-line, I found a nice one to hunker beneath as I let the first of what was to be many waves of rain showers wash over me. I was at about 11,600’, and it was not a bad place at all to pass some time. After a bit the thunder subsided, with thankfully no accompanying lighting making an appearance, and I began making more upward progress only to be stopped again by rain showers and thunder about 1,000’ higher, this time much above any trees, totally stuck in the open. I crouched in some rocks and waited for the storm to pass, being deeply concerned about not being able to see what in the way of more weather was coming over the top of Mt. Belford, and really not wanting to be on the exposed ridge above if a bad storm actually arrived. Finally the weather broke again, and I was able to reach the saddle between Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford. Turning east I began to make my way over to Oxford’s summit, and then decided to turn back towards Mt. Belford, thinking it better to take advantage of the break in the weather, get over the top, and back down into safer terrain of the next valley. Sadly, I did not touch the top of Mt. Oxford, but I did count myself as fortunate for getting all the beta I really wanted from my day’s journey; i.e. finding a better way from Mt. Columbia to Mt. Harvard, and navigating a way across the Pine Creek Valley between Mt. Harvard and Mt. Oxford/Mt. Belford.
I closed the day by descending a direct line down the west face of Mt. Belford to the trail junction at the east face of Mt. Missouri and the tail that leads up to Elkhead Pass. Continuing down to the valley floor and the Missouri Gulch trailhead, I ran much of the way through a hail storm. Once safely back at the car with Lisa, the rain set in for good, keeping up a proper deluge all the way back to Colorado Springs, which was still apparently continuing this Sunday morning!
Sorry for the long post, but I thought it might be good to catch up on what has been happening, and share some of the more intimate details about yesterday that I have been glossing over on previous postings; 19.2 miles, just over 9,300’ elevation gain, and 9,600’ elevation loss, 2 stops to wait out passing storms, and 11 hours car to car.