| Belford from Pine Creek TH via Elkhead Pass
I haven’t seen any posts on this exact route so I thought I’d give a report. This route is great for anyone who is not in a hurry to summit, but who also wants to enjoy stunning backcountry scenery on the way. We did it as part of a 4 day backpacking trip and it was highly worth it.
Route: Pine Creek Trail from trailhead at Chaffee Country Road 388 to Elkhead Pass trail to Mt. Belford summit trail (southeast side).
Elevation Gain: 5397 ft (Pine Creek TH 8800ft; Mt. Belford 14197 ft)
Distance: 12 miles one way (approximate – I didn’t have GPS measurements)
Dates: Hiked to campsite Sunday 08-11-13; summit climb Tuesday 08-13-13
On Sunday we drove from the Denver area through Leadville and down Hwy 24 to County Road 388 about 18 ˝ miles south of Leadville. This final leg is a one mile dirt road that starts out very smooth but then you bear left on a smaller dirt road to the trailhead and the last 100 yards is a bit rocky. We made it in a 2WD Toyota Sienna van. There are a couple of places to park before the end if you have a low clearance vehicle.
The trail crosses private property, so bring some cash to drop in the envelope with your vehicle info. As of this trip it was still $1 person and $2 per animal.
The trail officially starts at a gated road.
You climb through pine forest, gaining about 1500 feet in the first 4 miles or so to the intersection with the Colorado Trail where you cross Pine Creek at the Collegiate Wilderness sign.
Beyond that the trail levels off quite a bit and the valley opens up to expansive views of grandeur.
Little John’s Cabin is an interesting historic site at the intersection of the South Pine Creek Trail, a couple miles past the creek crossing.
We made camp about 7 ˝ miles in, roughly ˝ mile before (that is, east of) Bedrock Falls. This seemed to be the last ready-made campsite before the falls, and it could fit 3 tents. Near the creek, with a great fire pit and nestled in between the south base of Mt. Oxford and the north base of Mt. Harvard at about 11000 feet, I’d give this site a 7 or 8 out of 10.
We took a day off on Monday, checking out Bedrock Falls, a large rock slab over which rushes the pristine waters of Pine Creek.
After an afternoon of rain and a below freezing night (in early August!), we set out at 6AM Tuesday morning for Belford’s summit, up through the Missouri Basin. It became clear that the higher elevations were dusted with snow.
We estimated about 4 ˝ miles to the summit, which at about 4 hrs of hiking for our group, we knew would put a Belford/Oxford duo in doubt unless we had good weather. But we were OK with that. After the Elkhead Pass trail intersection, you begin to gain elevation more rapidly through more evergreen forest.
Breaking out above tree line you enter the upper Missouri Basin which is a land of willows giving way to tundra surrounded by 14ers and 13ers. This is a place to drink in the scenery that you spent all this energy to reach.
Some parts of the trail get a little spotty, but cairns mark the way.
Elkhead Pass is a steep climb, but not dangerous.
When we reached the pass, it was winter-like conditions. Wind at about 30-40 mph, 40 degrees and a light coating of snow on the ground. Though we prepared with the right amount of layers, I admit I wasn’t expecting this! We headed up toward Belford’s summit across the frozen tundra and soon found a trail.
The views on the summit ridge are as spectacular as you expect from a 14er.
We made the walk along the mostly level final section to the rocky Belford summit, reaching it at 10:15 AM much satisfied with the day.
We spotted this bird near the top. I think it’s a ptarmigan.
Looking over at Oxford, we decided not to make the trip for a second peak, since darker clouds were starting to gather in the west and we’d need about 3 more hours of good weather to summit and then get back to treeline. Probably the right call, since we got rained on about an hour or so later during the descent.
The Missouri Basin was even more spectacular on the way down, with clouds and shadows bringing out rich contrasts. Here’s a look at Mt. Harvard from the northwest.
And a view of Emerald Peak, Iowa Peak and the south slopes of Missouri Mountain from Elkhead Pass. As we passed this section, I thought a good way to do Missouri would be to hike up the saddle between Iowa and Missouri and follow the ridge up.
On Wednesday we hiked up to Twin Lakes in the Missouri Basin and I took this composite photo of Missouri, Belford and Oxford. Our Belford climb was from the lower right valley, up the left central basin and over Elkhead Pass to the summit.
The next day we hiked out. It truly was a satisfying trip, a slight taste of heaven and a reflection of the infinite goodness of the Creator.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):