Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mount Belford

Last week I had the opportunity to do one of my very favorite things, go hiking with my boys, in one of my very favorite places, Colorado. We stayed at Ores and Mine Bed and Breakfast Thursday night in Twin Lakes and woke up to a wonderful breakfast at 5:30 a.m. of home-made oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar, orange juice, yogurt, a muffin and a nice slice of watermelon. Donna Cornella was a saint to wake up so early and feed as such a nice breakfast. The Missouri Gulch Trailhead was about 14 miles away, 8 of it down a good dirt road. The parking lot was nearly full when we arrived and we started hiking at about 7:15 a.m. The trailhead is at 9,650 feet. What we did not know when we started our hike was that it was also the trailhead for Mt. Missouri, another fourteener. We almost immediately crossed the very large Clear Creek on a beautiful bridge. I'm very glad we had the bridge because Clear Creek would be extremely difficult without it. The trail does not waste any time starting steeply uphill through a beautiful forest. We could hear a small stream to our left, which went down through the center of Missouri Gulch, a valley between the Missouri and Belford massifs. After climbing more than 1,100 feet, at about 10,800 feet, we went to our left and crossed over the stream and continued up the other side of Missouri Gulch. At 11,200 feet there is a partial log cabin still standing and things started to flatten out at about 11,300 feet, as we left the thick pine forest.  Mount Belford lay before us with the northwest ridge we would climb in full view.  Below, Sam and Andrew.
Andrew and Sam with a little clearer view of Mt. Belford.
At about 11,600 feet we reached a junction with the Elkhead Pass Trail which is a route to Mt. Missouri (although we did not know it at the time). We met a group of women hikers from New Hampshire that had climbed the tallest 40 or 48 mountains in New Hampshire and were trying their hand at Colorado fourteeners.  Below, the top-not of the Mt. Belford summit is visible left of center. To the right and down a bit, is the flat ridge at about 13,900 feet. 
We stayed left and pretty quickly hit the northwest ridge and started to climb steadily upward on a very nice, mostly dirt, trail. The trail is steep, but it is a series of very tight switchbacks which give enough sideways movement to flatten out the trail, but not so much that it significantly lengthens the hike. Below, Andrew is behind me and Missouri Gulch unfolds back toward the trailhead. 
Sam is above me and some other hikers are visible further up the switch backing trail of the northwest ridge.
Sam was wearing some very unique shoes that were little more than a little protection for the bottom of his feet. He did very well in them.
I wish more trails would use these sort of compact switchbacks. The area around us was still covered in green grass, but the scenery was not particularly great. It was pretty much all steeply uphill until about 13,900 feet, when we hit a flat spot with a beautiful view of Mt. Missouri across Missouri Gulch. Below, Sam and Andrew with Mt. Missouri in the background. 
From there we got a fantastic view of other high mountains in the area and Andrew and Sam were both awed by the sight. Below, a beautiful basin southeast of Mt. Missouri.
Another hiker coming up the trail toward us.
From the flat spot, we turned left and continued up the mountain for another 200 feet before it leveled out on a ridge, at 14,100 feet. From there the views got even better. Mt. Harvard, another fourteener, to the east.
Right before the ridge, Sam called out that he could see a huge bird, like a turkey. I scrambled up to get close to him and saw a white-tailed ptarmigan walking casually very near him. 
I recognized it from pictures, but this was my first time seeing one in the wild. It let me get amazingly close as I tried to get some good pictures with my point and shoot. From there, the summit of Mt. Belford looks like a little dollop of yellow that has been plopped onto the ridge 
and it was an easy uphill walk to the 14,197 foot summit. Below, Sam right before the summit block.
Looking back toward Andrew as he climbs toward the final ridge.
Sam on the 14,197 foot summit block.
A couple from Denver approaches the summit and Andrew in his red jacked is following the trail along the ridge behind them.
I loved the summit because it was a mass of yellow rock, probably full of sulphur, that was unlike any other rock we'd encountered on the way. Perhaps dropped by aliens? Andrew on the yellow summit block, as seen from the east side.
Across Belford Gulch, the valley between Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford, lay Mt. Oxford, to the east, another fourteener on our itinerary for the day. To our south was Mt. Harvard, another fourteener, and then to the west lay Mt. Missouri, another fourteener. It all made for a very wonderful view. The couple from Denver took our picture on the summit. Mt. Oxford is in the background. 
The hike up Mt. Belford is rated as a class 2 hike which I don't understand, because it is an easy and good dirt trail the entire way. It really is class 1. However, it is a monster climb as it covers 4,500 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles, or 1,125 feet of gain per mile. By contrast, the Sierra Club ski hut trail on Mt. Baldy covers 3,904 feet of elevation gain in 4.2 miles, or 930 feet of gain per mile, at a substantially lower altitude. This was to have consequences on the way down, which I'll cover on my Mt. Oxford post. Looking back at the east side of the Belford summit. 


  1. With that kind of elevation gain, you HAVE to give it at least a Class 2. Sounds breathtaking--literally!

  2. This is one of my favorite things too! It's so amazing the kinds of landscapes that you can see when you go hiking. Thanks for post the photos! Keep up the good work.