Peak(s):  Mt. Belford  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  02/16/2010
Date Climbed:   02/12/2010
Author:  Chicago Transplant
 Mt Belford and The Return of Old Man Winter  

Mount Belford and The Return of Old Man Winter

Appx 14 miles RT
Appx 5200 vertical feet
Just under 11hrs round trip
Climbers: Mike Rodenak and Jamie Princo

As with most peaks, winter requires a little extra effort between the longer distances one has to park from summer trailheads, and of course the oft required trailbreaking through untracked snows. So far this winter has been feeling a little more like fall in some areas due to roads remaining accessible and beat down paths already existing. I was able to climb Grays and Torreys in January without snowshoes for example. With bigger snows finally starting to arrive to the hills, all of that was about to change!

Looking west from the summer trailhead

Jamie and I had been talking about a trip to the San Juans to take on the challenge of tackling Uncompahgre in winter, but with recent heavy San Juan snows and an unfavorable forecast we decided to stay closer to home and turned our attention to the Sawatch. All kinds of ideas were tossed around, but with snows moving in we decided to try and go for something we might have a reasonable shot at "day tripping". Jamie having recently climbed Missouri from the west, remembered that when they passed the Missouri Basin trailhead 2 weeks ago a broken trail was present. Would it still be there? It was worth a shot and Belford became our objective.

I secured Friday as a vacation day and we met at the standard winter trailhead at 5.40am at the entrance to the Clear Creek Ranch. The road ahead was passable for a mile 2 weeks ago, and we were able to do the same parking at the forest service sign. The 2 miles round trip we would save may not be much, but 14 miles in winter is easier than 16, and we were glad to get a small head start on our day. After these recent snows though, I would say this extra drive is no longer possible and people should park at the Clear Creek Ranch end of the road where plowing stops.

We made excellent time up the snowmoblile tracked road and covered the 3 miles to the summer trailhead in one hour on the nose. After a quick bathroom break (which doubles as a nice windshelter in winter) we started towards the trail, which to our delight was indeed broken! A few names in the trail register from January and a Feb 2 attempt were the probably the people we had to thank for this gift.

I love broken trails in winter!

Broken trails in winter are a luxury, and one that I have no problems taking advantage of. I tend to focus my attention to skiing in winter, so the two or three 14er attempts I make each winter are something I like to try and maximize my success on, a broken trail sure helps in that department!

We continued to make excellent time on this broken trail which was strong until just below the cabin where some wind blown snows filled it back in. We took another break here for sunscreen and a quick snack. It was about 9.30 when we left the cabin, if we could keep this up, we even might add Oxford to our day!

Above the cabin the trail crosses the only real avalanche threat to this route in winter, a gully that comes off of neighboring Pecks Peak, seen in this photo below. As you can see, not much snow in there right now and it did not pose a threat. As you can also see, the snow wasn't that deep in the upper basin as grass and rocks are visible poking through.

Avy path looking fairly dry

The same looked to be the case on Belford off ahead of us. We did not follow the summer trail, as it led back into some trees and willows that seemed to have more snow, and instead navigated above them on the rocky/grassier slopes to minimize trailbreaking.

First view of Belford

After about 1/2 an hour of that we reached the base of the ridge where we had another snack and stashed our snowshoes before starting up the ridge at about 10.15.

The lower ridge was the crux, a little steeper and with snow covered rocks the stiff boots had a harder time finding solid purchase.

Lower ridge step

At this time the forecast of "30% chance of snowshowers after 11am" started to look like a reality as Missouri was beginning to see the edges of the storm move in.

Snow moving in on Missouri

We continued our ascent and reached the halfway point of the ridge at around 11.30am.

Looking up the ridge from near 12k

By this time winds were picking up and some new snow mixed with a lot of blowing snow looked like it was going to accompany us the remaining way. The image below shows Jamie just approaching this halfway point.

Looking back at Jamie from halfway up the ridge

Above this another 1000 feet or so remained, and the weather and elevation gain began to take its toll. Where it took us only about an hour to from 12k to 13k, the final 1000 feet took about 90 minutes. The last couple of hundred feet of which the winds and blowing snow really picked up.

Upper half of ridge

The last photo I took was this one of the summit block in the blowing snow around 1pm, just before we reached the top. About 7hrs from trailhead to summit, average pace of 1 mile an hour - pretty good for winter!

Summit block getting socked in

We found a reasonably sheltered place on the back of the block, but light snow still found us. We discussed Oxford, but neither one of us really had our hearts into it at this point. We were tired from fighting the wind and snow, and knew the reclimb of Belford would sock us pretty good. We decided Belford was all we were going to climb today and headed back down.

The hike out was uneventful, we made good time on the descent of the ridge and managed to reach the cars in less than 4 hours from leaving the summit. It was still daylight. We headed to Buena Vista and Pizza Works where we nearly polished off a 20" pizza between the two of us, then camped at Elephant Rock with intention of some 13ers the next day. The weather over the Sawatch never broke, but to our east things were looking much clearer - so we did some 9ers in Chaffee County before driving home.

PT 9125 near Turtle rock has some fun easy scrambling on granite boulders...

PT 9125 A near Turtle Rock

Castle Rock E was less fun as snow covered down sloping rocks and stiff plastic boots don't really get along.

Castle Rock E

My drive back started to run into some heavy snows near the Clear Creek Road turnoff and they didn't let up - the heaviest of it being in Leadville. Had we attempted Belford on Saturday, we probably wouldn't have been successful.

I guess Old Man Winter finally decided to wake from his long sleep. Back to skiing next weekend for me, maybe for once I won't need to use my rock skis.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/17/2010 02:59
Looks like you guys got a nice window for low-snow conditions on the ridge. We had to stay in snowshoes till 13,400 on Huron the week before. Dang, I should have been with you guys on this trip! And I needed Oxford, too!! (Oh well...back to the slow-shoes....)

Nice job, gentlemen, and a solid TR!



Some days...
02/21/2010 23:50 mile per hour is good. Congrats on a tough ascent, broken trail or not. The cold, snow, altitude, and wind - especially the wind - all add up to a typical winter 14er beast of a hike.

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