Peak(s):  Mt. Belford  -  14,197 feet
Mt. Oxford  -  14,153 feet
Date Posted:  08/05/2018
Date Climbed:   07/31/2018
Author:  proimion
 Bel-Ox via Elkhead Pass, Pine Creek backpacking   

Here is an epic 3-night backpack adventure that included Belford and Oxford summits via the seldom-used Pine Creek and Elkhead Pass route. A small group of 9 scouts and adults made the journey from Littleton, CO. For scouts, this was a "high adventure" trip that required each scout be at least 13 and 1st Class rank or higher. These scouts had proven themselves before on high altitude routes and dozens of camping trips.

The itinerary:

  • Day 1: Hike 9.25 miles (2,349 vertical gain) from the Pine Creek Trailhead to "Camp 9" (so called because it is about 9 miles). Setup camp and rest.
  • Day 2: Hike from Camp 9 over Elkhead Pass to Belford and Oxford, then back to Camp 9. Total: 10.25 miles, 3,778ft vertical gain. Rest in Camp 9.
  • Day 3: Hike back about 4 miles toward the Trailhead to "Camp 5" (since it is about 5 miles from the TH). Took a leisurely pace and did some fishing in the numerous ponds and streams along the way. Setup camp and rest.
  • Day 4: Hike the rest of the way back to the TH and enjoy delicious hamburgers and pizza in Buena Vista. Total miles for trip: 28.9.

You could easily do this route in fewer days if you are ambitious. But however you do it, you will be in relative isolation compared to the traditional Bel-Ox route. You will also enjoy a constantly changing view of Mt Harvard, as you will see it from several angles.

DAY 1: Pine Creek Trailhead to Camp 9

There is lots of information already on the internet about the Pine Creek Trailhead and the private property you must cross initially (costing $1 per person). There is little I can add to the vistas you will encounter:


There are numerous places to draw water from Pine Creek, none better than Bedrock Falls:


We found a perfect campsite about 9.25 miles up the trail. See the map--there is a waypoint "Camp 9" marked. Another 5 minutes up the trail, the stream crosses for another ideal place to draw water. We could see one of our two targets for the next day from Camp 9: Mt. Oxford, which was actually "behind" us now to the northeast:


It seemed amazing to think that if all went well the next day, we would be looking down from there on our camp. We setup our tents, a cooking area away from the tents, and a bear bag site (scouts keep a very clean campsite to avoid problems with bears and the far more common rodent "mini-bears"). After dinner, we enjoyed the sun setting on Mt Harvard:


DAY TWO: Belford and Oxford

We woke at 4am to frost on the ground and late-July temps in the mid-30s! I think this was primarily due to our location in a valley, beneath some of the highest peaks in Colorado--an obvious place for cold air to settle. We ate breakfast, purified some water, and got ready. The weather would warm quickly and remain perfect all day. In the early morning light, we traveled up Pine Creek about a half-mile to the Elkhead Pass Trailhead. Here is a picture taken much later in the day on the way back so you can see what it is like. On the way up, it was dark, of course, and could be easy to miss:


After a quick climb through the forest, we reached treeline and a long meadow Southwest of Belford. Your destiny is the headwall visible at the center of the photo. At the top of that headwall is Elkhead Pass and then you go right up the ridge to Belford, which is hidden behind the peak on the extreme right of this photo:


From the meadow, the headwall seemed ominous. But it was not as bad as it looked--only one switchback. Before we knew it, we were atop Elkhead Pass and looking back down at the meadow:


So far, we had not seen another person. But now atop Elkhead, people began to appear from the standard Missouri Gulch routes below to the north. The trail from there up to Belford is obvious, and it wasn't much longer before we were on top of our first goal:


The route to Oxford is obvious from the top of Belford. Of course it involves a climb down...


...and then up to the summit:


The downclimb from Belford to the saddle is about 645 feet. Of course we had to come back up that on the return. It was an arduous climb that the scouts took to calling "645 feet of suck." But they persevered and pushed through a bit of discomfort to make it. But before all that we enjoyed some quality rest and food on the summit of Oxford (the awesome monstrosity of LaPlata visible in the background--a summit these scouts had done 3 years earlier):


From Oxford, we also gawked at the weirdness that is Mt. Belford. I mean, really, what other 14er looks quite like this?


After the "645 feet of suck" we made it back to Elkhead Pass, descended the headwall and found ourselves in glorious isolation of the meadow, surrounded by Harvard and its diminutive neighbors. The summits were not overly crowded (it was a Tuesday), but people and dogs were a constant presence there and on the trail between Belford and Oxford. There were also many people coming from Belford and going back to Missouri Gulch via Elkhead Pass instead of back down the standard route, which I hear is a scree pit. We were the only ones going from Elkhead to Pine Creek, so once we descended Elkhead Pass to the south, we didn't see another person again.


After 10.25 miles and almost 3,800 vertical gain, we arrived back home at Camp 9:


DAY THREE: Back East to Camp 5

You can see on the map the waypoint for Camp 5. After a full day of hiking the day before, the scouts weren't in much of a mood to put in another 9 miles, so we went about halfway back to the TrailHead. Since we were in no hurry, we stopped to look at the ruins of various cabins and do some fishing. Camp 5 was very near the Colorado Trail, and as a result, we began to see more people, including a large horse camp. This was in marked contrast to Camp 9 where we saw nobody. Sadly, the increased population meant more trash. It was sad how some could be so careless.

DAY FOUR: Back to the Trailhead

Not much to say here, other than we hiked the final 5 miles or so back to our vehicles and then had lunch at the Eddyline Brewery and Restaurant on South Main down by the river in BV. Sadly, due to scout policy, the adults could not partake of the excellent beer there, but the home-brewed root beer was a good substitute. We finished up the day with some rafting in the Arkansas through Brown's Canyon, which gave us all a great chance to cool down. Overall, the scouts really liked this trip and it was a unique way to do a couple of 14ers. It provided enough of a challenge but wasn't overwhelming. It allowed us to take our time and really enjoy the scenery of the area. All the scouts on our trip had done 14ers before, but always on a day trip which tends to be rushed and a bit crowded. This was a nice change.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
08/06/2018 13:43
Good report. I want to do the same trip this September.

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