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As I shielded myself from the wind, I took off my gloves and tried to heat my fingers with my breath. I tied my snowshoes to my pack, ate a granola bar for energy, and drank some much needed water. Then, I took a deep breath and rested for a moment. I was sitting behind a large boulder near the summit of Mount Belford, and I was exhausted.
Perhaps this was because I have gotten out of shape. That, coupled with the surprising amount of fresh snow and the lack of trail usage, made things tough for me. Starting at 7 AM, I had to break trail the whole way. At first, the walking was easy: hard, crunchy snow, maybe a few inches deep. But above 11,000 feet, the snow was more than a foot deep. It would be anywhere from one to three feet deep from there to the top. I wore my snowshoes, but they did not help much, because the snow was all granular powder.
After many steep switchbacks up the valley from the Missouri Gulch Trailhead, the trail straightened out and the terrain became a little flatter. This was a pleasant scenic area, with an aura of remoteness. A cold creek flowed through the snow-covered evergreen forest, and the sun, which I could see shining on peaks around me, felt very far away. I walked across some icy logs to get to the east side of the creek, but then it looked as if the trail disappeared. The tall willows and small trees in the area were weighed down by the heavy snow. Many of them had bent down to touch the ground, completely hiding the trail. I bushwhacked my way through, quite literally, and trudged through the ever-deeper snow, all the way up to timberline.
Just after passing an old decrepit cabin, I came through the wall of trees, and the entire Missouri Gulch opened up before me. The namesake Missouri Mountain was immediately visible ahead, and to the southeast I had my first view of Belford Mountain. I could see the rest of my route, and I was somewhat discouraged to see that the snow looked even deeper on Belford’s west slopes.
In this pristine valley, I saw no human footprints, but many tracks of elk, deer and mountain goats. Two other hikers did catch up to me and we talked a few minutes. As we were standing there, we spotted some bighorn sheep and mountain goats on the slopes above us. The animals blended in with the rock and snow and were too far away for a picture, but they were neat to see. I was relieved that someone would be breaking the trail for me, but the good feelings quickly faded when the guys took off on another route, heading up the slopes leading to Pecks Peak and the northern false summit of Mount Belford. I decided to stick with my plan and follow the standard trail to Mount Belford’s west slopes.
What a long slog this turned out to be. The deep snow never got any better, and the wind got worse as I moved higher. By the time I made it to 13,000 feet, my hopes of making it over to Oxford were long gone. It took me eight long hours to reach the summit of Mount Belford. I knew it shouldn’t take nearly that long, but my legs were burning and the snow had added a huge punctuation mark to my journey.
© 2005, Brad Snider
|In total, I had watched ten hikers and a dog going up the slopes between Pecks Peak and Mount Belford, but only a couple of them made it to the summit. Their footprints had already crossed the summit knob, and I saw they were well on their way to Mount Oxford. I had already watched the others turn around and return down the trail they had made. I took numerous pictures, as I always do from the summit, but I realized later I had not even taken any time to enjoy the views. I was exhausted and hurting, and I was eager to make it back down the mountain and out to my jeep. |
The others had cut a nice trail, so I followed their footprints straight downhill through the deep snow to the north of Mount Belford. To my relief, the wind was nonexistent here, and I enjoyed a pleasant and speedy descent down the now well-defined trail. I made it down the snowy slopes in just over two and a half hours. I only stopped to look at an old fenced-in gravestone in the middle of the woods, part of the Winfield cemetery.
It was nearing dark by the time I made it back out to my jeep. I enjoyed the hues of purple and blue as the sun set on the mountains during my northeastward trip home. Meanwhile, I reflected on another surprisingly difficult mountain. Many experienced climbers scoff at the “hills of talus” in Colorado, especially the fourteeners, but I have come to find that most any mountain can present a challenge, especially when weather or snow cover is a factor. I have been turned back on “simple hikes” more than once because of wind or snow, and today I found myself relieved that I was even able to make one summit of my planned duo. Out there lies a workout and a challenge not for the faint of heart. Take it or leave it, but don’t take it lightly.