| Belfox- A bluebird day late in the season
Having tackled several 14ers earlier this year (including nearby Elbert), we were eager to end the season with a 1-2 punch on Belfox. The weather looked good and it was still warm, so we decided to give it a shot.
We woke up at 2:30 in Colorado Springs to make the drive: which was uneventful, other than watching the outside temperature. At one point the temperature dipped down to 21 degrees, which was cause for alarm. Driving up 390, we initially missed the parking lot in the dark, it is NOT well marked. It was a balmy 31 degrees and dark when we prepped our gear and headed to the trailhead. Headlamps on, we got our official start time: 6:08 AM.
The nearly full moon cast a dim glow over dark landscape as we ventured into the woods.
The trail soon climbed high up a steep hillside, and we warmed up quickly. A mile in, we shed our jackets and continued onward, with the sun starting to peek up over the horizon. The hike was beautiful in the early morning light, the rugged valley lined with turning aspen trees and dark evergreens, contrasting with the stark granite. We passed a few tents along the way, tucked into small clearings. It wasn't long before we reached the junction in a meadow dotted with short evergreens, and we opted to ascent Mt. Belford on the standard route.
The moon over the ridge early in the morning
Aspens were awesome
Our first target appears
The route quickly steepened and we soon found ourselves plodding up the dreaded switchbacks. For all the talk I had heard about this section, we didn't think it was that bad. We initially focused on a small bump up the hillside, which became known as "the nipple", and worked our way up to that. Once that benchmark was reached, another came into view. We focused on maintaining a slow and steady pace with short breaks and soon found ourselves gaining the ridge. At this point we saw what we knew to be a false summit so we worked our way up to that. Little did we know, the true summit of Belford was actually very close. We stumbled upon the summit and checked: 3 hours and 1 minute, besting our goal of 3 hours and 15 minutes. We felt relieved knowing that most of the "gain" was already behind us. The summit was deserted, and no one came by while we were there.
Climbing high on Belford, we get a good view of Mt. Missouri
My hiking partner "captains" Mt. Belford!
We took a leisurely 15 minute break on the summit, chowing down on energy bars and Gatorade, and debated which way to go from the top. Initially Mt. Harvard looked like the way to go, but we soon realized it was really far away. The Oxford saddle cuts to the left after heading S to Harvard, and steeply descends to the saddle. The talk is justified, this part is STEEP and rugged. There was snow, ice, and mud on this steep route, making it even more perilous. It was a relief to hit the bottom and start climbing up to Oxford. The climb to oxford was not bad, and only 1 section gave us a reason to stop and rest. Again, it rolls off at the top, and the summit wasn't really apparent when we got there. I checked a nearby pile of rocks, and found the USGS marker, 52 minutes after leaving Belford.
Looking back as we traverse the ridge to Oxford
Looking at Mt. Harvard from Mt. Oxford summit
You could pick this thing up and move it...
We took another 15 minute break, snapping pictures and goofing around on the summit. We were the only ones at the top, again, although we could see people coming along the connecting ridge.
On our descent off of Oxford, we became aware of 2 things: 1, we were starting to see a lot more people, and 2: the climb back to Belford looked very intimidating, like a granite giant towering over us that got more menacing the closer we got. Sure enough, it was a lot of work coming back up the steep, muddy, icy slope. I think we both agreed we were most tired re-ascending Belford, but it was also over sooner than we thought. Back to the Elkhead pass junction just below the summit in 42 minutes.
True to the descriptions, the Elkhead Pass route was very nice. Except for a few parts, the route was very gradual and the scenery was great, with a commanding view of Missouri's rugged and snow-streaked face. We worked our way down to the Missouri junction, and (very) briefly entertained the thought of going for it. We went down to shorts and a T-shirt at this point, it was getting hot. After this, it was scenic but we started to feel the distance. We passed several more people, at this point it was after noon and some people were just coming UP the trail. We just shook our heads and continued the slog. We were happy to reach the junction, but soon realized the hike through treeline was going to be almost 3 more miles.
Mt. Missouri fades into the distance. We'll get you next time!
We made several crossings. Here's chaos.
Descending through the "steep forest" was grueling after the previous events, and it was getting HOT by mountain standards. The thought of pizza at Eddy Line pushed me forward. We were so relieved when we finally hit the bridge and be done with the hike. Total time was exactly 7 hours and 30 minutes (that includes 30 minutes of summit breaks); 13.0 miles RT and 5700' of elevation gain. We both set some personal records, it was my "biggest gain" day and his "biggest and longest" as well. The temperature at the trailhead was 75 degrees, a full 44 degrees higher than our departure.
The early fall weather was spectacular. It was a true "Bluebird" day, we saw our first clouds when we stopped in Buena Vista for lunch. It was neither excessively cold nor windy on the summits or the connecting ridges. Only a slight breeze was blowing the entire time. Perfect weather for a great hike.
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