Mt. Belford - Northwest Ridge
Climbing mountains is dangerous! Please read the Mountaineering Safety Page and make sure you have a map+compass and can use them effectively. A GPS or cell phone can be very helpful with navigation but you should still be able to use a map+compass in case your device stops working.
(WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. Even the "easy" 14ers (Quandary, Sherman, Grays & Torreys) can be deadly in winter.
|Difficulty:|| Class 2 |
Ski: Intermediate, D4 / R2 / II
|Total Gain:||4,500 feet|
|RT Length:||8.00 miles|
|USGS Quad.:||Mount Harvard|
|County Sheriff:||Chaffee: 719-539-2596
|National Forest:||San Isabel|
|Wilderness Area:||Collegiate Peaks|
From Leadville: Drive 20 miles south on U.S. 24 and turn right on the Chaffee County 390 road.
From Buena Vista: Drive 14.5 miles north on U.S. 24 and turn left on the Chaffee County 390 road.
On the 390 road, drive 7.5 miles to a sign for the Missouri Gulch trailhead. Turn left and drive down into the large parking area. There are restrooms here.
From the parking area, start down the Missouri Gulch Trail. Cross the bridge that spans Clear Creek and continue into the forest. Hike over 1/4 mile and then climb a bunch of switchbacks up through steep forest. Leave the switchbacks at 10,400' and continue south along Missouri Gulch. At 10,800', cross to the east side of Missouri Gulch by turning left - Photo #1. Climb south along the gulch for 1/3 mile until you reach the remnants of an old shack ( 38.98142° N, -106.37393° W) - Photo #2. Continue a bit and leave the forest near 11,300'. The terrain levels out and you can see Belford ahead in the distance - Photo #3. Looking up at Belford, the amount of work ahead is obvious. Follow the great trail as you gradually approach Belford.
At 11,600' there is a trail junction ( 38.9743° N, -106.37322° W) - the Elkhead Pass (Missouri Gulch) Trail continues to the right and the smaller Mt. Belford Trail turns up to the left - Photo #4. Turn left and continue southeast toward the base of Belford's northwest ridge - Photo #5. Photo #6 shows the ridge as it is viewed from a bit higher in Missouri Gulch (not on this route) and Photo #7 is a closer look from the Belford trail. Cross a small stream and, get ready, here comes 2,300' of gain up the ridge - Photo #8. The trail is solid all the way to the summit and there are a ton of small switchbacks as you haul up the ridge. Taken from Missouri Mountain, Photo #9 shows a different view of the northwest ridge. On the upper half of the ridge, the trail stays mostly on the right side. Photo #10 looks back down on the route. Zig-zag all the way to 13,800' where the trail turns right (southwest) toward a point on the west side of Belford - Photo #11. Continue up to a flat spot ( 38.96129° N, -106.36524° W) near 13,900'.
From the flat spot, turn left (east) to see the next section of trail - Photo #12. The summit is not far away, but you can't see it yet. Follow the trail to 14,100' where it eases and continues over to the summit ( 38.960575° N, -106.360832° W) - Photo #13 and Photo #14. Hike up onto the rugged, yellow rock that forms the summit block. Photo #15 and Photo #16 were taken on top.
This hike is on easy terrain but it's a lot of elevation gain in 3.5 miles. The Missouri Gulch parking lot can be packed on a summer weekend. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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