I pulled into the trailhead parking lot at 11:25PM with about a dozen cars already there although no one was stirring. Another car arrived shortly after me with another couple of people who like me approached the trailhead marques to check things out.
I soon settled into my sleeping bag in the back of my GMC Sonoma pickup and dozed-off under a beautiful full moon shining through the trees which made it feel like I was sleeping under a bright street lamp bathing everything in a bluish hue, quite nice really.
I set my watch for 4:30AM but was up before that as others were now awake and making ready to hit the trail. I was on my way by 5:15 equipped with my headlamp and gloves as it was rather cool but pleasant and scattered clouds had now moved in and obscured the moonlight.
The trail immediately descends to where you cross a large bridge and then the trail becomes quite steep, heavily wooded, with many switchbacks as I climbed quickly to where I could see other car headlights approaching the trailhead parking lot from down below. The switchbacks became less and longer and then the trail straightened-out a bit. I then crossed a log bridge heading off to the left as daylight was now making it much easier to see. Another 100 yards and I passed the group of six who had started up before me, I was soon at a broken down log cabin where several tents were pitched yet nobody was around. Here I removed a layer and stored away my headlamp and took a brief rest.
Back on the trail for a little ways more and I was out of the woods and into an open, very green and lush valley with many grasses, plants, and bushes. To my left (east) stood Mt Belford and to my right Missouri Mountain with the rising sun now on its upper most reaches and I had to stand and gaze in awe at the beauty before me.
I soon came to a sign for Mt Belford to the left and Elkhead Pass to the right, going left I was now above tree line and climbing again and the switchbacks were many, short and very steep as I made my way up higher to where I could soon look back down to the valley where the group I had passed was now out of the woods and moving the same way I was. Looking up and to my left I saw a herd of 8-10 mountain goats gathered in a tight cluster grazing on the green, steeply sloped mountain side. I now looked further up the trail where I saw two people well ahead making their way towards the summit.
The trail continues on up to a small saddle where the trail then turns left and the summit can now be seen above and I was surprised to see that I was now only a short ways behind the two ahead of me as I then reached the summit about 30 seconds after they did at 7:50. The view was fantastic in all directions and Mt Harvard is most prevalent directly east. We soon took photos of each other with our respective cameras and they pointed-out Mt Oxford to the northeast and the trail across the saddle. I rested for about 10 mins, took a few more photos, a long drink of water and then made me way down to a small saddle where I noticed a group of about 5 people heading up a trail from the right heading to the Mt Belford summit. I beared to the left under more scattered cloud cover which kept things cool and I added a layer as a steady breeze was blowing from out of the east.
I now saw three figures heading up towards the Mt Oxford summit along the very visible trail ahead of me. The trail heads down very steeply to where it levels-out a brief ways and then begins ascending again up the saddle to a false summit on the left. The trails bears to the right and levels slightly and I could now see people on the summit ahead to the right, I reached the summit at 8:50 and was greeted by two guys and a small black dog. We exchanged pleasantries and photo shots with each others cameras as the sun finally broke through the clouds and the improved lighting made for far better photo opportunities all around. The two guys stated that the trail I had seen the 5 person group approaching from was Elkhead Pass trail and was the preferred route back down as it’s not nearly as steep and much more forgiving to the body. I stayed and rested as the two guys and dog headed back down. I now had the summit to myself for a good 20 mins as other people were now making there way across and I started back down at 9:37 and was back across the saddle by 10:20 with lots of people heading towards the Mt Oxford summit from Mt Belford.
My decision to take Elkhead Pass trail back down was a good one……..the greenery, wild flowers, picas, marmots, and views were gorgeous and the grade was far easier although a bit farther perhaps. I saw the two guys and black dog again and only six other people all the way back down. I made it to the trailhead and back to my truck at 12:40PM with clouds building and rain sprinkles.
About 80 yards up the trail from the trailhead there is a small white fenced area containing the grave of an infant (William Huffman) who had died in 1884, I didn’t see it on the way up in the dark. It tugged at my heart and I couldn’t help but think of what a harsh life it must have been back then to live in the high mountains of Colorado……..miles from anywhere, trying to raise a family, incredible.
Next stop……..The Coyote Cantina in Johnson’s Village for a cold beer and an order of nachos. My 17th & 18th 14’ers, sweet!!