| Insane Wind Ascent at Mt. Belford
Our windy story began one very WINDY Saturday morning. I'm guessing that my brother Mark chose this day to climb because he was thinking that Mt. Belford might be too easy and we needed an extra challenge (Thanks a lot, Mark!). The weather forecast was predicting over 75 mile/hour wind gusts at 13,000 feet and that this would mean even higher winds at 14,000. The snow storm was forecasted to roll in with a vengeance at about 2pm. Oh well, we’d faced high wind before. So, how much worse could this one be, right?
The parking area at the trailhead was easy to find based on the 14ers.com directions. The road was plowed nicely all the way to the parking lot. There was only a bit of hard-packed snow on the road in some sections. There was one part of the road that required a four wheel drive vehicle because there was some deep accumulation of water and ice. Also, the parking lot had enough snow to make it more difficult for 2 wheel drive vehicles to enter.
We arrived at the Missouri Gulch trailhead at 6:30am. We were welcomed by the ominous wind which was already howling through the trees. We spent about 15 minutes getting up the gumption to get out of the nice warm vehicle. Begrudgingly, we started our climb at 6:45am.
The trail through the treeline was fairly easy to follow for the first couple of hours. The snow on the trail had been packed nicely by hikers during the previous weeks. There was only about to 6 to 8 inches of fresh snow on top of the hard-packed trail. There weren’t any fresh tracks and we had figured that we would probably be the only ones on the mountain today. The trees provided a fairly calm setting and protection from the wind, but we could still hear the wind’s threatening tone growing in the distance.
The switchback trail was pretty straightforward until we reached the old log cabin ruins. With the recent snow it became difficult to pinpoint the trail after leaving the ruins. So, we lost the trail a couple of times mainly because of areas of large snow drifts. When we lost the trail it was still easy to see the general path because we could see the Peak of Mt. Belford and the entire face of the steep spur approach. However, it was tough to pinpoint the path of least resistance to work our way through the deeper snow. This caused a lot of extra work before getting to the spur.
We also lost some time in the deeper snow by getting off track. The snow in the section between the log cabin and the bottom of the spur was about 1 to 2 feet deep on most parts of the trail. However, there were some parts where we got off track in deeper snow areas that were about 3 to 4 feet deep. We were still glad that we made the decision not to carry the snow shoes. It would not have been worth the effort to carry them for such a short section of deeper snow.
Deep Snow Section Between Ruins and Spur
Deep Snow Section Between Ruins and Spur
Once we reached the Spur to began the steep part of the ascent, we were exposed to our first taste of the wind’s full fury. We were out of the snow, but now it was time for some serious wind. We knew that the wind would be a challenge on that day, but we weren’t expecting it to be so strong that early. Adding insult to injury, it was a swirling head wind. There were many times when it was actually impossible to make forward progress. We came up with the strategy to burst quickly during slight lulls in the gusts and hit the ground and grab rocks to anchor ourselves during the crazy wind attacks. I can’t be sure of the exact windspeed, but it seemed like the gusts were well over 75 miles/hour.
The wind was getting so bad that during a huddle at about 13,000 Mark looked up at the peak and yelled frantically “Is this futile???” It’s funny because I was thinking the exact same thing. Were we going to do all this work in a 70 mile/hour headwind and reach a point where it was physically impossible to continue because of lethal windspeeds? We’ve been denied at 13,300 feet before on our first attempt at Mt. Antero. So we both already knew what it felt like to be “so close, yet so far away” and forced to turn around for safety concerns. We also knew that it was likely that the winds would continue to increase with time and at higher altitudes. We decided to push on a bit further.
The good news is that the switchback trail up the spur was fairly easy to follow and didn’t have much snow (most of the snow had blown off of the spur). There were a few places with some ice/snow sections, but the micro-spikes carried us right through with no problem. In better weather, this part of the climb would have been relatively easy class 1 trail strolling. However, as always on the 14ers, the peak was much further than it looked and the last two thousand feet was a relatively steep climb. The peak kept getting closer and closer. We were pushing it as fast as we could move. So, I actually started to believe that it might be possible to achieve it.
Starting up the Spur in Haze and Wind
Mark climbing the spur at 13,000 ft. in the haze
Not looking good
Finally, after hours of relentless pounding and howling wind, we made our summit push and crawled up the last few boulders on our hands and knees to avoid being blown away. When we were making our final glorious steps onto the peak, we saw an outcropping of rocks through the haze. It seemed like the rock outcropping might possibly be a few feet higher then our current location. Oh sh--! False F-ing peak! False peaks are always a mind F---, but they are especially fun in gail force winds.
We looked across the ridge-line and wondered if it was actually possible to cross over to the real peak without being swept off the mountain. The winds were blowing swirling snow in all directions. Meanwhile, Mark was making hand gestures motioning toward the real peak because the winds were too loud for verbal communication. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but I knew that Mark was ready, and that after all we’d been through, we had to give it a shot. It took everything that I had to crawl to my feet and go for it.
We sprinted across the ridge-line in a low tuck on our summit push. We quickly scrambled up the up the rock outcropping like monkeys and summited Mt. Belford at 11:30am. The clouds were becoming more dense by the second and visibility was diminishing quickly as the storm rolled in early. We knew we needed to get off the mountain quickly before the white out.
Reaching peak rocks
That’s probably the fastest descent that we’ve ever made. I can’t express the joy of getting back to the treeline. It provided us immediate comfort and shelter from the wind. We scampered and skipped down the mountain in Mary Poppins form. We were elated! We arrived at the car at 2:30pm and headed home toward Albuquerque.
I’ve never faced a mental challenge anywhere near this difficult in my entire life. Previous 14ers have each seemed to throwout some unwelcome surprises, but this one pushed us beyond the imaginable limits of determination. I’m glad we made it, but I don’t think that I’ll try an insane WIND ASCENT again in the near future. However, it would definitely be worth visiting Mt. Belford again under nicer conditions. It’s a beautiful mountain that was meant to be enjoyed in sunny, calm summer weather.
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