Peak(s):  Mt. Belford  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  09/25/2010
Date Climbed:   09/22/2010
Author:  ChrisM

 Belford standard up via Elkhead Pass down  

I had done a lot of route research for this climb. I wanted to visit Missouri Gulch once and try to get all three: Missouri, Belford and Oxford. When that idea went by the wayside, I explored the different routes up Missouri and liked the west slope from Clohesy Lake, but for a later climb. Now, I am set on climbing Belford and Oxford the standard route with a different possible return that I discovered doing research. It adds about 1.5 miles on the route, but the route is a gentle walk and avoids the steep switchbacks on Belford.

Now, watching weather on my days off to pull off a twofer, it seemed okay. Not ideal, but precip after 3pm was alright with me. Spent the night at the trailhead under a full moon and was on the trail by 4:30am. Knowing my downhill speed can be slow, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time and a "relaxed" climb. As described, the trail by darkness was easy to navigate, although I did manage to get misplaced at a stream crossing, of course, but quickly got myself back on track in short order.

First glimse of dawn on the gulch looking back

After hiking through the gulch, the real climb begins at the base of Belford.

Somewhere before dawn, I met Scott and John from Atlanta, GA, and we were together for a short time. Athe the trail split, they went to Missouri and I made a left turn toward Belford. I assumed they were from these parts. This was Scott's third visit to Missouri Gulch, for each mountain. He explained about snow and high winds causing the extra trip to summit Oxford. I confidently mentioned that I planned to make one trip for B and O, and then climb Missouri from the other side.

The trail consists of humerous switchbacks on a somewhat wide ridge going nearly all the way up.

Another look at the warmth of the sun, something I wouldn't feel this day.

Looking toward Missouri basking in the sunlight

I made it to the cabin, someone uses that as a time hack, at 5:55am (1:25), and normally, I'm just happy seeing the sights described by others, not time. The almost immediate uphill climb from the bridge near the trailhead goes on for about 1000' and then there's a less aggressive trail until you get to the base of Belford, we're not talking about the summit base, but where the switchbacks begin. A little before that, is the trail split between Belford/Oxford and Missouri. Go left for B and O; right or straight for the "show me" mountain. It was light enough at the trail split to stow the headlight. 2300' and about 1.5 miles later, you're at the summit. This part of the climb could have been fairly boring, but the wind picked up so one switchback was into the wind and the next was with your back to the wind. I figure it was about 15-20 with gusts to 25 or so. Enough that always had 3 points on the ground (two poles and one foot) while moving and I sat down for breaks.

Finally the switchbacks end and the incline seems to soften a little

Coming up on the summit. Notice this is a direct shot into the sun. Cloud cover forming

I got to the false summit and was amazed at how fast I summited, until I realized that wasn't the summit. Looking over at the summit, I saw a huge rock. Just then, I looked behind me to see heavy clouds moving my way. I scrambled to the summit as fast as I could and literally rance across the marker. No time for the standard round of summit shots basking in the sunlight!

Having not seen many of these, I was really surprised to find this one. I wasn't looking.

Summit rocks in front with Oxford in the background. I still thought I would be able to make it there.

The snow on Missouri wasn't there a few minutes ago, high winds were not abating

The wind only got worse, the higher I got on the route. So, wind and clouds make snow pellets that ping off my breaker, but still manage to hit my face. Ouch! Where's the face mask and goggles? At home. By now I was wishing I had an anchor or a place to hide until the weather cooperated. I headed down the path toward the Oxford connection and found a somewhat large rock and hid behind it. A chance to regroup and look at the maps, GPS, and route description. I was there no more than 15 minutes and went over to the ridge so I could see Oxford and the conditions. Snow pellets were all over, including Oxford. They were still pelting me and I was trying to decide what to do. Then, through the clouds, you could see the sun trying to shine through, but it wasn't working. Nothing was calming down. I faced Oxford and took a few steps, then reality set in. High winds + snow pellets + no escape + slippery rocks + unstable weather = not today. I had stalled as long as I thought I could. The wind chill factor was very low and I was dressed for it and it was only 9:15am in the morning!! How could my climbing day be over already, I thought. I wish I had taken pictures of my wind refuge spot.

Oxford is peeking out at me while I am on the shoulder of Belford trying to figure out what to do.

All this thinking wore me out, but I decided to make the descent interesting. I decided to go toward Elkhead Pass and go down the gentle slopes and intersect the Missouri trail. While going down the back way, the sun came out enough to cast my shadow for a few minutes just to get my goat, the wind stopped and then it rained the whole way to the trailhead.

This the Elkhead Pass departure! Missouri dead center and the way down is a gentle slope to the right.

Lower clouds and trees!

Not seeing any scenery on the way up in the dark, views were awesome coming down even though it was raining.

The aspen are a bright yellow .

I ran into Scott and John again. They made it to their summit just in time and had experienced the same weather conditions that I had. Needless to say, I had to admit that I didn't make it to Oxford. Scott put a positive spin on it, but I was still a little down by being that close and not achieving it. Another day!

Not a great picture. More of a forced smile, knowing I couldn't climb a pair of 14ers so close to each other.

A typical trail view after the speedy ascent at the begining

The last view of Clear Creek and surrounding foilage

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Thanks for the nostalgic report
09/25/2010 19:20
Forgot how perfect that basin is for watching the aspens change. Don't beat yourself up for not making both, Oxford is actually a ways away.


Good work!
09/26/2010 01:51
I just climbed Belford today, the trees are truly beautiful! And don't worry, your not alone, it took me three times going up Missouri Gulch to get all three peaks!


Like it!
09/27/2010 01:04
Looks like a good day in the mountains, even with the graupel and rain. You knew when to call it and turn around, never an easy decision.
You have plenty of company re: taking multiple trips to complete these summits...Don't let it get you down!
It's gonna take me three trips to complete Missouri, Belford and Oxford, too.


Nice TR
09/27/2010 21:27
Based on your experience, would you reccoment the descent to Elkhead Pass?


09/27/2010 21:28
How about the spelling in the above post ...sorry it's Monday.


Going back tonight to capture MO and OX tomorrow
09/27/2010 21:43
I'm finished being so hard on myself. It isn't very productive. I try to look at everything that doesn't go quite right and figure how to learn from it. I would rather learn from someone else's learning curve, but sometimes I provide the data! Yes, I like the Elkhead Pass area, very pleasant terrain and right in the crossroads of several major mountains. If you do the standard route up for Belford and Oxford, this is a nice alternative to the steep switchbacks going down on Belford. I think 1.5 miles longer, but you can go faster. Not as hard on the knees.

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