| Belford - Spring Ski Descent
The plan to hike Mt. Belford was initiated by a very motivated, aspiring mountaineer from Orlando, FL named Chuck. He put up a post on the 14ers.com forums, and ultimately four other members (including myself) from 14ers.com conspired to hike Belford together. Unfortunately, I didn't get the opportunity to hike extensively with any of the other members, but I did talk my friend into joining me. My buddy, Jeremy, and I packed our boards up the mountain and skied down. (I used the terms ski and snowboard interchangeably, but technically I snowboard.) I'm no purist and consider the trip a successful ski descent of a 14er.
I met Jeremy Saturday evening around 9:30ish at a house party and convinced him we stood a better chance of summiting if we drove up there that night. After some debate, I got my way and we left Golden around 11:30. We arrived at Clear Creek Canyon Road around 2:00am Sunday. From my research, I expected that snow would make the road impassible roughly 3-4 miles from the Missouri Gulch TH. As expected, we soon ran into snow, and Sally (Jeremy's Subaru Imprezza) couldn't go any farther. We parked 3 miles from the TH.
We slept in the car and woke up around 4:45 but didn't leave until 5:30. After we passed the initial snowbank that prevented our progress by car, the road was essentially dry all the way to the TH. Here's Jeremy in all his ski gear going "WTF?"
We walked up the road a few miles to where a white Suburban was stuck in the snow. It turns out that Chuck got his rental high centered. We helped him dig out his beasty, flex-fueled juggernaut at the price of its bumper.
We got to the actual trailhead at 8:00. The other 14ers.com members had camped up the trail a ways and were way ahead of us. Chuck had just packed in a bunch of vertical and a bunch more driving over the past few days. He was packing a 50 lbs. on his back and was pretty beat. We hiked with him briefly, but he encouraged us to go ahead, and eventually we did.
As we hiked through the trees, we cursed our boards everytime they got hung up on some branches. Luckily the snow was still solid and we didn't need our snowshoes. Eventually, we made it above treeline and got our first good glimpse of Belford.
Snow stability was our main concern. It snowed four days prior to our trip and temperatures remained cold between then and now. Along the way, we observed a few small wet slides, and at one point we heard "whomping." We hoped to ski the gully on Belford's NW face and dug a pit before beginning our ascent. The pit was on a fairly shallow slope (~25 degrees, maybe less), and the top three inches broke off while digging. The new snow was poorly bonded to the old, and although the top layer was thin, we considered it a threat to our well-being.
Nevertheless, we packed our boards up the side of the hill. We considered stashing our snowshoes but decided that we just wanted to bomb down and packed them up too. The trail was covered with snow about 50% of the time, and we occasionally lost the trail. I'm not sure, but around 13,500 we stashed our boards and snowshoes next to where we planned to start our ski descent. The snow there was all sugary and invoked a little confidence in us that we wouldn't die if we stuck to the ridge.
Also, as we climbed, we met Matt and Jason (please forgive me and correct me if that's wrong ) on their way down. Mike had hiked over to Oxford and we met him higher up, a few hundred vertical from the summit. At 1:15 we summited.
The weather had been incredible: nearly no wind and partly cloudy. However, the weather began to turn sour and we left the summit after 30 minutes. We walked down to our boards and strapped in.
We had to fight the urge to bomb down the gully, because we believed that conditions were unsafe enough that we might get injured. Better safe than sorry... We leapfrogged down the ridge for as long as possible before dropping into the gully and skiing out.
We continued skiing down until we finally got stuck in the gulch. We put on our snowshoes and hiked up the side of the hill briefly, until we found the path. We put our snowboards back on and boarded along the path, through the trees. Eventually we passed everyone and somewhere around 3:30ish we could go no farther. Luckily we were a stone's throw away from the TH, and we waited for the others.
Chuck, a god among men, gave us a ride back to Sally, and then he bought everyone a burger and brew in Leadville at Past Time (I think). Everyone was awesome, and I wish I could've hiked more with them. Good luck on Rainier Chuck!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):