This has become an annual trip to Colorado for three guys from Kansas and Missouri to hike the mountains and summit fourteeners. Paul (Kansan) started the ball rolling in 2008 by wanting to hike a fourteener the year he turned 60. Harry (same age) and I (one year younger) joined Paul and we’ve never looked back in the enjoyment and friendship that comes with these August trips.
Last year we stayed in Leadville and summitted Elbert, but it was a struggle for all of us. After getting home, Paul realized he needed a second hip replacement. The surgery was in January 2011. He then focused his rehab and training to make the trip to CO again in August. We stayed in Leadville again with Belford and maybe Oxford as our goal.
We were up early and drove from Leadville. There were a good number of cars already there. By the time we packed up and headed up the trail at 5:30 with our headlamps, several car campers were also getting ready to go.
It’s probably our ages, but the initial steep climb and switchbacks through the forest were very tough. On our way up, a young man passed us – as did many others – running up the trail. We later met him again as he was running back down. His cardio system must be awesome!
Paul and Harry going up the forest switchbacks after sunrise
We were very happy to break out of the forest. The good news was we were on a much gentler slope. The bad news was we could now see the ridge climb beyond. The 14er.com route description let us know about the elevation gain to the summit, and it looked intimidating.
Paul and Harry looking at the ridge and switchbacks to come
So we worked our way across the meadow toward the ridge, stopping at the trail junction to Belford and Elkhead Pass. Our plan was to come down from Elkhead Pass and not have to retrace the same steep slopes on our descent.
Trail junction for Belford and Elkhead Pass, a pause to refresh
We finally made it to the base of the ridge and started up the many switchbacks.
Paul and Harry at the base of the ridge, lots of elevation to gain
Michael and Paul ready to take on the switchbacks
The route description and other trip reports were accurate. This was steep and tough hiking for us. At about 12,700 feet, Paul realized he just didn’t have the legs to keep going. The replacement hip wasn’t necessarily the problem. The surgery also cuts muscles and tendons at the hip joint; it takes time to fully recover and get them back to “normal”. So, reluctantly, Paul headed back down. Harry and I kept going. We later told Paul that the hike got even more steep and difficult after he stopped, so he probably made the right decision. There will be another day.
Harry on the ridge and switchbacks trail
Rocks and plants of the mountain
We kept slogging up the mountain and met a young man passing us on his way up. His GPS said we were a little over 14,000 feet. We got very excited as we didn’t know we were that close. In a short time, we crested the ridge and could see the easy trail to the summit.
Harry walking up the easy summit trail with another hiker on top
Belford’s summit is interesting and quite different than any others we had been hiked; very angular and sharp rocks with no real good sitting areas. We reached the summit at around 11:30 or so. We were fortunate to have two other younger guys on the summit while we were there so everyone got their pictures taken. One was “running” over to Oxford to beat any potentially bad weather. He mentioned that he had already done fifteen 14ers this year and was “on a mission” to do them all. We felt fortunate that although the weather was cloudy for most of the day, it never rained and we didn’t hear any lightning that was close.
Michael and Harry on the summit, sweet!
While we thought about and hoped to make Oxford on the same hike, we decided against it. A combination of the weather, our stamina and the incredible down and up from Belford to get to the Oxford saddle. I don’t think the route description does that justice as to the difficulty. In fact, the young man that ‘ran’ to Oxford said when we saw him again that the re-ascent up Belford was the hardest hiking he had ever done.
View of descent from Belford to the Oxford saddle
After having lunch on the summit – just below where we could sit - Harry said he would not go down the ridge and switchbacks ever again. So, we headed for Elkhead Pass and the Missouri Gulch Trail. We had planned to do that anyway, but the tough ascent made it an easy call. The views from the pass in both directions were fantastic. We could make out the Missouri Gulch Trail than continued over the pass and went further south. Later on our way down, we met a couple hiking into the Pine Creek area to go camping.
South view from Elkhead Pass and the Missouri Gulch Trail
The hike down the Elkhead Trail in the Missouri Gulch was enjoyable. It has a moderate slope with wonderful views all around. Neither Harry nor I could believe we had walked up the Belford ridge as we walked down. We talked to a very nice young woman from Oregon. She had driven out to see the Rockies for the first time. She made it up Belford and Oxford that day and hiked Missouri Mountain the day before. Oh, to be 20 years old again! She was already thinking about coming back on her spring break. We told her about 14ers.com so she’ll be well prepared next time. We also made note of the trail junction that goes to Missouri Mountain but passed it by for a future hike.
Looking to the Belford ascent ridge from Missouri Gulch
Junction with the Missouri Mountain trail to the left, looking north down the Missouri Gulch Trail
Rocks, lichen and mountain plants
We were lucky to see a pair of White-Tailed Ptarmigans on the way down. Their summer coloring is the perfect camouflage when seen - or not seen - against the rocks.
Ptarmigan, where's Waldo?
On the remaining descent, Harry didn’t want to walk over another rock if at all possible. The forest switchbacks seemed to go on forever and wore out our legs. But we were glad to be down and see Paul, arriving at 4:15. He had stayed at the trailhead, talking to all the other hikers and let them know he had friends up on the mountain. We missed Paul on Belford but enjoyed this trip as always. We all hiked to Native Lake on Saturday (west of Leadville) and then drove home on Sunday. We started thinking about next year’s trip before we left town……
This is what Harry's feet felt like on the way down Belford
A beautiful ending to another great day in the mountains!