Generally I am the one who picks out and plans what mountains we will climb and Andrew is the picker-outer of what rock climbing routes we tackle so when he suggested we return to the scene of the fail and complete the Belford group I was all in, sort of. At the end of June when I barely had any experience we went into this group with the idea that we would take all three 14ers and as many 13ers as we could handle, in one day, from the trailhead. How many did we leave with you ask? One, Mount Missouri. So not to bore you with the details, I will just say we changed our plan early in the morning and tried to descend Missouri's east ridge becoming cliffed out about three quarters of the way down. It was a long and nerve racking day full of lessons and growth.
So it was redemption time and Andrew came up with a rather appetizing plan. I have classes every Monday through Thursday until 5:45 p.m. so he proposed we have everything packed up ready to go and head deep into the Sawatch range right after I get out of class Thursday evening. I was hesitant but when he said we back pack in Thursday night, camp, and wake up at 4 a.m. to try and catch the sunrise on top of Belford I was sold for two reasons: 1) I have always wanted to back pack in to the forest and set up camp in the black of night, and 2) We have been talking about watching a sunrise on top of 14er since we started doing them together.
Thursday around 5:30 p.m. I rushed through a quiz in hopes I could get out a few minutes early (I have my priorities straight). Walking out of class with a few buddies an interesting event was taking place in the sky. One that shot furious bolts of electricity straight at our heads. This storm was directly a top of us and so severe I could smell the lightning making contact . I have never ran so fast in my life and thanked my lucky stars when I was safely encased in the little red box supported by 4 rubber tires that gets me where I need to be. Was this a sign to stay out of the Sawatch? Na.
We cashed in another summit picture at which wich but decided half way to Silverthorne that we needed more food. So we fat-assed up and stopped at Noodles and Company and Smash Burger and consumed our 2nd and 3rd meal before we hit Fremont Pass. As we passed by Buffalo Mountain the last light was disappearing through a mess of thunder storms turning the entire visible world pink for about five minutes. I have no picture of this so you will have to trust me, it was breathtakingly pink. We drove through rain, fog, hail, thunder, lightning, and possibly some marmots falling from the sky until we arrived at the dry Missouri Gulch TH. Back packs on we began the trek around 9:37 p.m. to the old log cabin near tree line.
My memories of this hike consisted of long, steep, and rocky. I am happy to report my progression, it is actually short, still steep and rocky but was much easier than 2 months ago. However, I was dressed like I was hiking into the arctic tundra in January so we had to stop a few times until 90% of my clothing was removed. I also discovered on this pack in that I am afraid of night dark (not to be confused with early morning dark). Now I know the whole saying, "danger is real, fear is an option," but I was afraid and convinced that something was going to munch me before we made it to camp. Somehow I was wrong and we made it to the log cabin in 1 hour and 17 minutes and set up camp in 15.
Camp (taken next afternoon)
The alarm went off at 4 a.m. and we were on the trail by 4:40 ....guess we didn't want to see that sunrise after all Still convinced we could make it we hightailed it to the fork in the trail (left goes to Bel/Ox right goes to Missouri) and began the ascent up Belford. At this point I had accepted we may not make the sunrise but I reveled in the nearly full moon that illuminated our path. No head lamp needed, this my friends was spectacular. I was allowed a new perspective as the mountains seemed to dance in the shadows of the moon. Because of the lack of attention being paid to the trail I tripped and fell several times.
The most legitimate head lamp around...
Now here is the reason I am really writing this report. I was humbled on the moonlit filled switchbacks of Mount Belford. It is not that I underestimated this mountain but after an incredibly successful and strong day on La Plata's Ellingwood Ridge last Friday I thought that a mountain like this would be a breeze for me. It was not. About half way up the nose of Belford I felt weak and not just "this is hard" weak but my legs turned to jello, I was ravenously hungry and thirsty, and I had terrible cramps weak. I actually thought to myself, "I don't think I can make this summit," and that thought has NEVER crossed my mind not even on the first 14er I did. And then the wind hit. The kind of wind that manages to suck the breath from your lungs. I put on every arctic tundra hiking layer I had and forged upwards but my normal sunny disposition and positive attitude were being sucked out alongside my breath. As well, it was cold. I was no longer having fun! How could this be? I told Andrew I was okay but it was going to take me some time to reach the summit so he should go on. Turns out he waited for me about 10 minutes shy of the summit where we had our own make shift summit sunrise in the shelter of some rocks. In the time it took me to reach the mock summit I discovered two things: 1) I am weaker than I thought and 2) I am stronger than I thought. We continued onwards to a very windy and cold Mount Belford summit which took a little over two hours to attain. We were the first two on the summit for 8/23 and shared its cold windy solitude for 10 minutes.
Our so close but no cigar summit sunrise.
Bel's crazy switch backs! (Taken from the Pecks Peak descent)
One of the only original Bel summit photos (brrrr). I am never too exhausted to hold up the which wich bag.
We discussed our options and whether or not I was in the condition to go on to Oxford. Turning back was not an option even if that meant living the next few hours in discomfort (disclaimer: I know my body, this was a healthy dose of pushing through some pain, not pushing through potentially fatal altitude sickness). The trail from Belford to Oxford is very well defined and it involves more steep up and downs and in our case more cold wind. My advice would be: do not continue on to Oxford unless the weather permits as the storms roll into this group rather quickly and unexpectedly.
Andrew was amazing on the way over to Oxford and his positivity made me discover a third thing: attitude is half of the battle in anything you do. Now I already knew this but sometimes it takes bad cramps and an icy wind at 14,000 feet to really drive the point home. I started changing my attitude and I started having fun again and wouldn't you know eventually the sun came out and the wind stopped (kind of). The battle of layers on --> hot / layers off --> cold continued until we reached the summit of Oxford where we spent about an hour walking around, eating, snapping photos, and laughing at our morning. Oxford is a beautiful summit and we had it to ourselves until the very end of that hour when a woman enthusiastically made her way to the top. Way to go! It was her third attempt and she finally got it, I always love a good success story.
Taken from the low point in the Bel/Ox saddle. Yellow arrow is Belford summit.
Taken from the low point in the Bel/Ox saddle. Red arrow is Oxford.
Summit of Oxford (and only photo of the two of us for the day).
The big and beastly Harvard as seen from the Oxford summit.
Mountains (Horseshoe maybe?) as seen from Oxford summit.
Pine Creek as see from Oxford summit.
I had wanted to summit Pecks Peak a 13er (13,270 ft) one mile north of Mount Belford (take its north ridge) but up until this point we planned on taking Elkhead Pass back down to our camp. Somehow (well not somehow I ALWAYS manage to convince Andrew) I managed to convince Andrew to go off roading with me. We re-summited Mount Belford and ate while we ogled at my favorite 14er La Plata and then headed for Pecks. Although there is no trail it is very straight forward. We stayed on the ridge most of the time only having to bypass a few cliff bands through some loose stuff. Eventually we dropped down to a beautiful saddle area where there where thousands upon thousands of chunky hybrid cricket-grasshoppers (crickethoppers), some animal bones, and tons of mountain goat droppings. From this saddle you ascend a bit until you reach a pile of rocks with a stick poking out, welcome to Pecks Peak. The views from over here are loverly! Descending this mountain was steep and we tracked left from the actual summit. We ended up below the saddle area to the right of a cliff band and left of very steep grass/rock area (we were in a wide grassy gully). You can see the main trail the whole time so if you have some semblance of direction I think the route finding is minimal. The only mistake one could make would be descending off of the summit too far to the right (don't do this). Bushwacking back to the main trail involved me brushing one willow off of my arm. If you are in this group of mountains Pecks Peak is a worthwhile detour.
La Plata you will always be my #1 (Re-summit of Belford)
Belford as see from its North Ridge (heading towards Pecks peak)
Andrew on Belford's North Ridge (Pecks is in lower far distance)
Black Triangle is Pecks Peak
Something got munched. (Saddle of Belford and Pecks)
Chunky hybrid crickethoppers come in two variations red and green.
You're just jealous because I touched its peck (summit of Pecks Peak)
Descending Pecks Peak, the blue arrow points down the grassy gully we took.
The arrow points to the main trail and the point we shot to regain it.
Regaining the trail and a look back.
We arrived back at camp happy and hot (so many temperatures!). I do not have my own backpacking pack just yet so I use one of Andrew's. I am a petite female and Andrew is a tall strong male but one of his packs somehow sort of fits me if we adjust every strap as small as it goes. He has been very kind to me and let me use it (even though it is his regular use pack) so it was time I hauled the dreaded awkward blue Gregory; notorious for pulling shoulders out of sockets, crushing kidneys, and crunching the head into a permanent look down position. This pack is also the one that carries the tent so I had a lot going on during the pack out. We made it back to the car in 35 minutes. The positive side of a negative: Gregory + Gravity = one fast moving girl. It did the walking for me. In no time at all the storms rolled in and the rain started as we pulled on to 24. Near Georgetown we drove through potentially the 2nd worst storm I have experienced (hope no one was on Bierdstat). We went out for Thai food in Lakewood and then I had to rush home and go to work (so I can afford my own pack). I have been all over Colorado the past few days and we are in a cycle of some widespread violent storms. Please everyone be careful out there.
Missouri Gulch TH. If you are ever there peak through the fence, it is pretty.
This ended up being a great day but not because I successfully made the summit of three mountains. It was a great day because I learned what an off day feels like and I don't think we all take on this hobby/sport/thrill/passion/insanity? only to reach the tops of mountains (although it's nice), I think it becomes an intimate experience with ones self and the journey is one of strength and determination. These are just my thoughts. It also crossed my mind that this group is cursed and I should never enter the haunted woods of Missouri Gulch again but I guess I will go with the more poetic epiphany number one. Until next time, be safe, and have fun going up!
From my apartment in Lakewood when we got home.