Peak(s):  Mt. Belford  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  07/21/2008
Date Climbed:   07/19/2008
Author:  KeithK

 Land of the Flies  

Mt. Belford (14,197')
July 19, 2008
Northwest Ridge (Standard) – Ascent; Elkhead Pass – Descent
Round Trip: ~9.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,500' T-shirt sightings: 2!
By myself, but hardly alone!

"There is a trail most of the way up Belford, and the peak is one of Colorado's easiest fourteeners." – Gerry Roach

Sounds good to me, Mr. Roach, sign me up! At least that's what I wanted to believe. I knew, however, that this was going to be a Sawatch challenge greater than any I have taken on yet. Four miles and over 4,500' of elevation gain is nothing to take for granted; this hike felt like more than that.

Cruising up the Winfield road at 7:30 p.m. Friday evening, it was apparent that this place is really popular. Every campsite was taken, and I drove up to Rockdale before being able to claim an acceptable, somewhat level spot right near the old town site. I suppose I could have just stayed at the trailhead, as I was sleeping in the back of the truck, but I felt the need for at least a little privacy. I settled in for a reasonable night's sleep with the full moon shining bright. Four o'clock brought the alarm, and the mental challenge of convincing myself that getting dressed and ready to hike was more important than staying warm and cozy. By 5:00 I was at the trailhead, ate some breakfast, dug out my headlamp, and began hiking.

Basically, the first 50 feet of the hike are the nicest, downhill to the creek. It's ALL uphill from there! Reminiscent of Mt. Yale or Mt. Shavano, the rocky trail begins to ascend immediately, gradually winding to the west and then to the infamous Missouri Gulch switchbacks. I'm not sure how many there are, but they are plentiful, and you can feel the valley floor dropping beneath you. I have no idea how long it took me to reach the old cabin remnants, but I would hazard to say that I did not make good time.

Starting out by headlamp…

A brief respite just before the stream crossing…

One of the highlights of the hike; the Columbines in full glory, and I've never seen so many in one place. There were hundreds along this stretch of trail, and plenty more all the way up into the basin.(Photo taken during the descent)

Looking down the gulch from the first break in the trees…

The first view of Mt. Belford…

The hike is very straight forward; follow the trail to the junction where the Mt. Belford trail splits to the left, and get ready for the climb to begin. Much of the trail is visible on the long ridge, and this mountain has to hold the record for most switchbacks on a 14er.

A closer look at the ridge; the switchbacks visible on the lower pitch, and continuous all the way up to the saddle in the upper center of the image…

The route from the trail junction…

Missouri Mtn. guarding the southwest end of the basin…

Starting up the pitch in earnest, this rocky outcrop actually has a solid trail through it…

It was a busy day up there; I'd guess at least 3 dozen hikers on the mountain. Even though the switchbacks make the hike easier, it is still steep and unrelenting, and I felt like I'd never make it up the ridge. Still, the views were opening up, and the surrounding Sawatch Range seemed to drop lower and lower.

Another view up the grassy slope…

Another hiker pointed out this critter to me…

More interesting wildlife…

The final pitch to the summit…

I finally reached the summit, after a long morning. I didn't check the time, but I would guess it was already noon. The skies were non-threatening, and it was a perfect day to attempt the route over to Oxford, but I was not confident that I would have the energy to get back over, so I decided that it would have to wait. Mt. Belford has an odd summit; it's basically a huge rock that sits on top of the mountain, very different from most summits. And, it was covered with black flies! Annoying, pesky flies that seemed to be everywhere and on everything. I've never seen anything like it. To that point, the flying insects during the entire hike were thick; from mosquitoes down low to persistent and fearless flies of many shapes and sizes all the way to and from the summit.

I spent some time visiting with other hikers, pointing out some of the visible peaks, especially the Elks, and of course taking some pictures.

Summitudinal Splendor…

Looking east over the Arkansas River valley, far, far below. Mt. Sherman is the snowy peak right of center, appearing just taller than Mt. Sheridan…

Holy Cross, far to the north…

Mt. Elbert, center, with Mt. Massive peeking over its shoulder…

La Plata Peak…

The Elks! But, why is it called Snowmass?

The southern Elks, with Castle Peak in the center…

Huron Peak…

To the south, Mt. Princeton, Mt. Antero, Mt. Yale, Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak…

Mt. Harvard is very impressive…

And of course, Mt. Oxford is just right there…

Knowing that I was not going over to Oxford, I still felt that dropping down to Elkhead Pass would be the way to go, as that steep trail down the side of Mt. Belford just did not seem appealing. I would much rather add some distance to the hike, in lieu of the knee busting and fall potential on the standard route. Besides, it was a glorious day, and I didn't feel any real rush to get down.

The descent route into Missouri Gulch via Elkhead Pass; this is definitely the way I will come up for Mt. Oxford when the time comes.

The trail begins right at the junction with the Belford/Oxford trail, and a small cairn is present. It is a nice, gentle grade, and the hikers in front of me were moving down it very quickly. For some reason, I could not move any faster than I was, and I think that three weeks of hiking without benefit of both arms was catching up to me, as I just did not feel confident that I could speed up without falling. Still, a nice leisurely pace had me at the top of Elkhead Pass in no time.

Looking south from Elkhead Pass at Emerald Peak, and the beautiful basin below…(And I'd love to know the name of that pointy peak left of center, I can't seem to find it mentioned anywhere)

Missouri Mountain's gnarley east ridge…

A look at the standard route up Missouri Mtn, and the cool waterfall that drains the east face couloirs…

Looking down Missouri Gulch from Elkhead Pass…

Looking back up to the summit of Mt. Belford from Elkhead Pass…

The trail down from Elkhead Pass was easy and enjoyable, with only a few sloppy snowfields and stream crossings to deal with. There are a couple of very short sections of steep, loose trail, but by and large it's a much better hike in my opinion. Still, by the time I reached the old cabin, I was borderline exhausted, and the steepness of the last mile and a half of the hike hit me hard. Sore feet and a swollen hand convinced me to scrap my plans for La Plata on Sunday, and I arrived at the trailhead feeling more relieved than accomplished. It was a long, hard day, harder than I had imagined, and an anti-climactic and premature finish to what was supposed to be a productive weekend in the mountains. Oh well, I can think of worse things than having to go back and spend more time hiking!


 Comments or Questions

”1” Armed Bandit strikes again!!!
02/05/2011 00:22
Dude, your climbing those peaks in earnest now...and with one arm to boot!! Just think if you had 2 arms eeh?? Great report and write up as always.... hope your getting in shape for Snowmass!



Great Trip Report!
07/22/2008 15:37
Great report. I did the climb on 7/21 and there are millions of flies up there. Also, great pictures!


Name that Peak!
07/22/2008 15:49
That is Unnamed 13,762 (and is above Silver King Lake). From the Pine Creek TH, it is 24 miles roundtrip to the summit and back. Great climb ... very isolated ... we didn‘t see a soul when we did it. Nice peak ... go get ‘er done! Thanks for posting!


Nice Work!
11/30/2010 17:28
Looks like a great day I can't wait to do this in August. Has anybody signed your cast yet? You should be tracking your 14er accomplishments on that bad boy


07/22/2008 22:56
Thanks everyone. This hike was more than I expected, and not to be taken for granted.

Kirk, Snowmass will be pretty iffy considering I get the feeling that you‘re only a couple of weeks away from it!

Presto, thanks for the info. It‘s a cool looking peak, for sure, and that part of the Sawatch is really interesting looking.

Aaron, no signatures. For some reason, I just haven‘t made a mark on it yet. Now, I‘m going for cleanest cast ever award!


Great Report!
07/28/2008 12:40
Great details and report and PICTURES!! I‘m hoping to hike this in early August, and am very new at climbing. I will be climbing with a more experienced partner but I completely understand about feeling more relieved than accomplished! More power to ya having climbed one-armed!

Vermont Refugee

Great job
08/08/2008 02:18
Keith, you should be commended for slogging upwards and writing your thoughts down with equal effectivness. One of hte best trip reports I‘ve read. Funny how many insects there are in the central 14ers this year; by comparison Pikes Peak has had almost none.

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