| Elkhead Pass .....
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Having experienced 3 marches up & down the Belford switchbacks over the years - I'd recommend any trip planner consider making the Elkhead Pass part of their up/down loop for these two great peaks. Saves a bit of knee wear and tear, and would be a shame to miss this spectacular scenery since you've spent the time and energy coming up Missouri Gulch already! Sure, it stretches the hike by about two easy miles - but, in my opinion, beats you up less.
This trip, we (my wife and I, 100 years old combined this year - and our reluctant hiker son Adam, 14) hiked on past the Belford turn-off for the standard norhtwest route, and followed the well defined trail on its way up & out of Missouri Gulch as it climbs toward Elkhead Pass. We camped not far from a water crossing near 12,010, about a mile past the Belford turn-off. In retrospect, we could have just as well set up camp closer down to that Belford trail junction, and woudn't have had to hump full packs a bit higher. Especially if your plan is to come off the mountains via the Belford northwest switchbacks - you'll have to back track up to return to get your camp packed up. But you sure will avoid any crowd of tents spending the night around the junction.
The next morning we set out up the trail as it finishes its climb out of the gulch, passes the Missouri Mtn trail junction, and switchbacks (gently but firmly) up Elkhead Pass. You'll soon come to the crest of Elkhead Pass and see a lone 3' or so tall large rock cairn as the trail goes off to the left (East) just before the crest. Take time to peak out over the crest and look south out over one of Colorado's most beautiful - Missouri Basin with the Pine Creek Trail running through its core, and lakes and high peaks and great expanses all around. I think these views alone make Elkhead Pass a not-to-miss!
We continued east up the still well-defined trail following the Elkhead Pass ridge drop off just to our right, those views with us as we gained altitude. The trail soon turns to the north, and about a mile from Elkhead Pass gains the Belford side of the saddle between Belford & Oxford. Our goal was Oxford, so we turned right on the good east/northeast trail with the infamous elevation drop to the low point of the saddle. Hiking on through pretty fierce winds this day - but looking to stay dry for hopefully a few hours.
We made the summit of Oxford and joined about a dozen others, all but one had come up over Belford. Ben, up there with his pretty German Sheppard told me that he came up over Waverly Mountain from the Colorado Trail, north of the junction with The Pine Creek Trail. He reported very beautiful with several water crossings and some beaver activity that backed things up into good sized ponds.
Congratulations to our good sport son Adam - this was his first bottom to top 14er experience. There were many other places he'd rather be this day - but he didn't complain being drug along on his parents' obsession.
We returned down to the Elkhead Pass junction, decision time for Adam, since wife and I have visited the Belford Summit previously "Do you want to go for it?"
"Nope." Was his instant reply.
Either way, we would have come back to this junction and down Elkhead Pass because where our camp was.
As a great day hike, I'd recommend the loop best up Belford northwest flank, and then over to Oxford, back down Elkhead Pass so as to not fully regain Belford Summit and also save going through the switchbacks on the standard route down.
We rewarded Adam a few weeks later. His 2nd peak was the easier Handies.
Photo below of Adam displaying his "enthusiasm" on his first 14er summit - making every effort not to switch one finger over.
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