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I moved out here two years ago from Wisconsin, and hiked my first 14ers earlier this summer (Democrat and Quandary). When I did Quandary, I felt that was the limit of what I could handle at this time. On further review, however, I decided that I wanted to challenge myself with a 14er not in the "green" section in the 14ers.com ranking. My choice was Mt. Belford.
Belford was a pretty good drive from Aurora, about 2 1/2 hours. Even though I was up bright and early, I didn't get to the trailhead until 8:45 AM. The late start didn't come back to haunt me; although I know that starting this late on the longer hikes (Belford is 4 miles one way) can't be a habit.
The intitial portion of the hike through the forest is very steep, lots of switchbacks. It seemed like I had gained 1000 feet in no time at all. I stopped and talked to a nice group of people before crossing a mountain stream. They seemed to think it was too late for me to make it all the way to the summit - nevertheless, I pushed ahead.
After some more steep inclines out of the forest, I entered the meadow and the point where the Belford trail separates from the Missouri Gulch trail. The trail was relatively flat here, but my first view of Belford and the steep climb ahead did make me wonder if I would be able to get all the way up. But I knew that I was at 11600 feet at that point, and so I had 2500 feet to get to the summit. Physically, I felt great. So I knew that if the weather held, I'd get there eventually.
Since I am new at this, my pace tends to be on the slow side. However, the clouds seemed to be building, so I tried to force myself to quicken it up a bit. This resulted in more rests than usual, but I always made sure they were very short rests. But when I did hike, I made sure I went at a fast pace. This worked very well. Although there weren't many people on the mountain on that day, everyone I crossed paths with (descending as I was ascending) was very nice. I looked for opinions on the weather, etc. and everyone was happy to help. All provided encouragement to me and gave me a realistic idea as to how far away the summit was.
There were marmots and pikas all over the mountain. They always disappeared if I got too close, but they were really active, gathering food for the upcoming winter.
This was a very steep climb, but the switchbacks in the trail made it very do-able. I did encounter some minor exposure, but it was barely noticeable. As I climbed above 13000 feet, my rest stops became more frequent, and longer. The clouds seemed to be getting darker. I did give some consideration to heading back down but chose to continue ascending. Once I reached a point where the switchbacks stop and the trail veers sharply west, I knew that the summit was very close and that I would reach it.
What a beautiful feeling to reach the summit. There is a large yellow rock (which is the summit) that you never get to see during the ascent - so it has the feel of finding a hidden treasure. As soon as it appeared, I almost felt like running full speed towards it. At first glance it looks like it's difficult to get on top of, but it really is no big deal. I was able to reach the summit at about 1:15.
The view from the summit is absolutely stunning. The clouds I had seen on the way up never turned into anything serious, so the visibility was excellent. I believe that I was able to see 11 of Colorado's fourteeners - maybe more. Any mountain hike is beautiful, but nothing compares to the view from the summit. I wish I could have stayed up there all afternoon, but it was 2:00, and I knew the descent would take a good deal of time.
I was able to reach my car at the trailhead by 5:00, meaning it took me 4 1/2 hours to ascend, and 3 hours to descend. It was worth every second. It was very satisfying to know that I was able to ascend 4,500 feet, which is a pretty respectable gain in elevation as 14ers go. I'm probably done for this year, but it definitely gives me confidence to try a few more next year. I don't see many posts on Belford here, but of the three 14ers I've done so far, this was by far the most interesting. It had a lot to offer, from the hike near Clear Creek through the forest, to the meadow, to the spectacular view from the summit. I liked it because it offered a great test for a beginner like me, to try to handle the large gain in elevation on a relatively simple trail without too much danger or exposure.
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