Mount Belford via Missouri Gluch TH

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Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Feb 26, 2002
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Created On: May 29, 2003
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I approached my Belford climb as a Missouri Gulch hike, and only a hike. I really did not think that I would be able to summit. I had gotten updates from my buddy Bob Dawson, on the avalanche fatality that had occurred on Saturday, February 22, 2003. Also, I had been humbled by the conditions on Elbert the day before and I pretty much assumed that all the Sawatch would have the same conditions. So, I decided that I would enjoy a nice hike in the Missouri Gulch and if the opportunity arose, I might try to summit Belford.
I was worried about getting stuck at the Vicksburg TH if I parked my rental SUV there overnight, and got dumped on by snow, so I parked about a mile down the Clear Creek Reservoir Road. The Clear Creek Reservoir Road is about 14 miles north of Buena Vista on US 24. The Vicksburg TH (Missouri Gulch TH) is located about 8 miles west on the Clear Creek Reservoir Road.
The next morning, I got up and drove to the Vicksburg TH. I got started around 8 am. The trailhead was completely empty. In fact, it looked like the only vehicle tracks going into the parking lot were the ones that I had left 2 nights earlier while I was reconnoitering the TH.
This morning, I actually started out right away with my snowshoes on. I was really beginning to like them. They were starting to feel like extensions of my own feet. I signed the register which is located just over the bridge at the TH. I took note that I recognized several of the names on the register (Hoffmeyer, John Prater and Mike Via); cool! The trail starts off with a nice gradual climb with some switchbacks thrown in for good measure. I counted 9 switchbacks if anybody is interested. The top of the switchbacks was about ¾ of a mile in. Just past that point (under 1 mile), the trail I was following took a sharp left, which I almost missed; whew.
Next, the trail started getting into a little bit deeper snow. Luckily, I was able to follow the beaten path, pretty much. I discovered a little trick to following the path. Every time that I lost the beaten trail, I would stomp around with my snowshoes in a 180 degree area, and usually I would find the path where the snow was hard, and I would not sink to my thighs. Eventually, I worked my way up to the old cabin ruins. This was at about 1 ¾ miles and 11,300’. At the cabin there is a very obvious opening in the trees. When I pushed through that opening, I had the greatest view of Belford, and Missouri, and the Elkhead Pass.
I took a good look at the Belford northwest ridge. I noticed that it was not very deep in snow. I could clearly see that there was a path all the way to the top where either grass, or rocks were poking through the snow. So, that was the point where I decided that I might be able to safely summit Belford after all. I started working my way towards the bottom of that northwest ridge. This was not an easy task either. At this point the path was completely gone. The only thing that I could use to keep course was the ridge that was my goal. I traveled through rocks, then deep snow, then rocks, and deep snow again. Finally, I reached the bottom of the ridge.
At the bottom of the ridge, I took a break and contemplated my plan. I took off my snowshoes, and decided (like my friend Bob Dawson always does) to take the snowshoes with me. I decided that I might need the traction on the down climb. It seemed worth the extra weight for the extra security. I would rather have brought my crampons, but I had left them in the SUV.
I started up the ridge. This turned out to be some class 3 scrambling initially. I’m sure this is not normally the case, but due to the snow drifting, the normal path was not clear and I had to determine my own course up this initial rock climb. Once I cleared this initial rock climb the rest of the way was a mix of boulder climb and steep (almost 45 degree grade) hill climb. Unfortunately, I was not able to follow the switchbacks for two reasons. First they were mostly covered up by snow drifts. Second, the switchbacks were actually more dangerous than just going straight up the hill. The snow that had gathered on the switchback paths was very hard packed, and graded in the direction of “down”, making them difficult to follow without sliding downhill often.
This hill climb grade was a lot tougher physically than I thought it would be. I made it to the top in strides of 30 feet at a time; whew. When I finally got to the top, I was so excited. I stopped, dropped my pack, and got out my video camera and my digital camera and starting taking pictures. Then, I looked to the south and saw a rock pile that looked higher than the elevation that I was at now. Man, I wasn’t at the top? I looked at the path required to get to the true summit and two things bothered me. First off, I would have to cross a huge snow field that covered the saddle between these peaks. Second, I felt that the true summit had a significant amount of exposure and I wasn’t sure that I was willing.
I decided that I would leave my pack, and equipment behind and check out the path to this summit. I found that the snow across the saddle was hard as a rock. I laughed at myself for being worried. Then, as I got closer to the summit, I realized that the path to the top was actually pretty obvious and the risk was minimal. A fall would take a pretty big mistake on my part. When I got to the top I saw the register and I knew that I had truly made the summit. Also, I got an outstanding view of Oxford and Missouri. This was great! It took me about 5 ½ hours to summit. I spent 15 minutes on the peak, just absorbing the feeling and the view.
After I signed in (I almost drop the register cap down the mountain), I took even more pictures, then headed back to my pack. I picked up my pack and started back down the way that I came. The traverse down was much more interesting than the climb up. I was on my butt most of the way down; sometimes on purpose. It was not very fatiguing, but it was very awkward and frustrating sometimes. My Gortex pants were definitely a godsend. Eventually, I made it down to the rock climb at the bottom of the ridge. This time, the path must have been more obvious, because it was a lot easier getting down than it was coming up.
After I got down from the ridge, I put on my snowshoes and started back towards the tree line. From on the ridge, I thought that I could see the direct path from the tree line to the ridge. But, once I got off the ridge, it just wasn’t as clear. However, I did manage to make it back to the old cabin, where I followed my own snowshoe tracks the rest of the way. At this point, I was really flying with the snowshoes. It is funny how just 3 days previous, I hated them, and now my snowshoes were one of my favorite gear. I signed out at the register and got back to my SUV in just under 3 hours. Total trip time was just over 8 hours.
It had been snowing lightly almost the whole day, so I was a little bit worried about getting back to the main road. But, I took my time, and made it back to the main road without getting stuck. After I grabbed a bite to eat, I headed back to Colorado Springs. I had a flight back to Ohio early the next morning…


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