| Belford, Oxford, Missouri via East Ridge
I left work Friday promptly at 5 pm from Denver and took 70 up to Copper and then 91 to Leadville and then 24 to the turn off for Clear Creek reservoir. My GPS insisted this was faster than 285 to Buena Vista, though I can't imagine the difference is much, especially considering the traffic jam at Frisco from an accident.
I made it to the TH by 8:00pm and quickly threw on my pack and hit the trail. My goal was to make it into the basin above the trees to camp. Darkness hit before I was a mile in and I had to pull out my head lamp. Shortly after I stumbled upon the campsite of two guys that was practically on the trail. I had to ask where the trail went from here as it seems to terminate in their campsite. It crossed the creek via 3 logs, no wonder it was not obvious in the dark. I continued up past the old cabin where there were several other campers, and found a good spot above the trail to set up. It was probably 9:15 and I quickly pitched the tent and promptly went to bed.
The next morning I hit the trail by 5:15. It was still pitch black and I had already seen 4 other hikers walk by while I was getting ready. I made good time and was quickly at the fork for Elkhead Pass. I went left and began the trek up the shoulder of Belford. The first section was quite steep but well developed. I hiked on until my first scheduled break at 6:15 and then stopped for a snack and to adjust layers. It was starting to get light so I snapped a few pics. Unfortunately my camera has trouble focusing in dim light so one pic is bleary. Image Image .
From hear the trail continued on up to a false summit then skirted around to the right to the actual top of Belford. I arrived just before 7:30am. I took some time to snap a few pictures of the view and of the route to Oxford as well as the east ridge of Missouri. After checking for service on my phone, (none) I prepared to set off. Image , Image , Image , Image , Just then I was joined by the two guys who camped on the trail by the creek crossing the night before. We exchanged plans for the day. They were going for all three as well. The stayed a bit longer while I set off for Oxford. I made excellent time flying down the extremely steep ridge connecting Belford to Oxford partially due to a Red Bull I chugged at the summit. I reached the top of Oxford by 8:45am. I took some more pictures image , image , image , image, and had a snack while I called my girl friend and mom (personally tradition). I left the summit at 9:00 and figured it would take about 3 hours to summit Missouri by the route I had planned on.
I was back over to the fork on Belford before 10 and was glad I was making good time still, especially considering the steep and loose section back up Belford. I quickly descended to Elkhead pass and stopped briefly for a pee. I met three other hikers at the top of the pass who were going up Belford. From here I studied my route (rather what I thought could be a route.) I had read a post from a year ago on 14ers.com about the East Ridge. It mentioned 3 ways to go. A) follow the ridge, but you run into some serious cliffs. B) descend the south side of Elkhead and then cross the basin to the saddle of Iowa and Missouri and follow the West ridge up. C) (the route the writer took) was to traverse the side of the south slope at or around 13.000 then ascend straight up to the ridge just east of the summit. He mentioned some talus, but it didn't look too bad from where I stood.
This is the route I had been planning on, so I set off from the pass with a very slight incline up across the steep slope. It didn't take too long for me to regret this decision. The talus was extremely loose and moved with almost every step. I was making very poor time and did not like where this was going. I looked up and saw a hiker walking along the top of the ridge and though I knew he would run into those serious cliffs, I decided I would take a solid ridge over this crap any day. He happened to stop for a break just ahead of where I was, so I made a bee line almost straight up to him. I must have been 300 yds away from him where I started up luckily he waited. When I reached him, I exclaimed how horrible my route was and I wanted to join him if he didn't mind. His name was Nick and he agreed to let me tag along.
A very short time later we were able to view where the class 4 section was and I though we would just drop below the cliffs to the south and traverse around them. He asked what book I was using for the route and asked if I was using Roache. I said I got the route of 14ers.com but it had been a month since I read it. I assumed he was using Roache. Soon after I realized he was intending on sticking to the ridge and I decided it would be safer for both of us if we stuck together. He had some route data on how to attack the class 4 section. He read it aloud several time as we both studied the rock and agreed on how we would ascend. I really really wish I had taken a picture from here, but for no good reason at all, I did not. I blew up and cropped another picture that show basically the same thing but from much farther away. Image I have decided not to detail exactly what we did to ascend it because I don't want anyone trying it off my poor description. My suggestion if you really want this route, is to go find a published writer explain it.
I will say there is a section of orange rock a little over half way up that is the most brittle rotten rock I have ever climbed. I was constantly concerned that not only could any one of my four point of contact come loose at any time, but that the entire pile of rock could come loose and slide off the face taking me with it. For the most part Nick and I took turns climbing with him going first and me hiding from the shower of loose falling rock in his wake. For the orange rock section we climbed at the same time on two parallel routes since neither of was wanted to hang around on or below this section. I was very glad to make it back to the semi solid granite above this mess. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone a few times on this ridge and I don't recommend it for the casual climber, nor would I recommend climbing it alone.
After we made it back to class 3 hiking, I was pretty tired. The two previous summits and the extra exertion of the ridge were now taking their toll. This was the first and only summit of the day for Nick so he charged ahead, while I took a slower pace. I reached Missouri by 12:30 which is still not too bad considering we stopped multiple times for breaks while climbing the ridge. Image , Image , Image , Image , Image . I descended via the standard route. Image I found it to be in good shape though a few sections were quite gravely and could allow one to slip off the trail easily. I took my time descending and didn't get back to my tent until just after 3. Here I took a long break before packing up and heading back to the car. Overall it was a good day, at least up until this point, but the rest is another story.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):