Mt. Belford - 2nd week of May, 2002

Mt. Belford - 2nd week of May, 2002

Page Type: Trip Report
Lat/Lon: 38.96060°N / 106.3606°W
Date Climbed/Hiked: May 14, 2002
Note: this report was written from memory on February 16th, 2004. It is pretty accurate, however, and I think there is a good lesson to all contained within it.

This was the second summit of a trip I took with my dad during May, 2002. If memory serves, it was the second week of May. I had summited Missouri Mountain The day before, and was a bit tired. I had noticed the night before that the moon was in a good phase for a sunrise attempt.

I did not set an alarm, but decided if I woke up at night, and it seemed like a good time to leave, I would. As luck would have it, I woke up at about 2am, and got ready to leave. After fixing up some oatmeal in our camp at 11,000 feet in Missouri Gulch, I left up the trail with my headlamp. From my ascent the day prior, I had seen there was very little snow on the western side of Belford, and I chose to leave my ice axe behind. Once I had left the trees, I was able to navigate without use of my light, as the moon was nearly full.

I was able to follow the trail as it climbed steep switchbacks up the western flank of Belford. The plan was to summit Belford, watch the sunrise, and continue to Oxford. As I neared the summit, I could tell my timing was working out quite well, and the twilight had just begun when I reached the summit.

I was on the summit quite early, and it was very cold. I had on a two pairs of pants, coat and other winter gear, and I was absolutely freezing. The experience of watching the sun rise alone on the summit was mind bending. I managed to snap a few photos, including one of the mountain's shadow. I had never seen a photo or a description of such a sight, and the photographs do not do it justice. It is truly amazing to see how large the summit is from it's imposing shadow.

After almost an hour and a half on the freezing summit, and tired from the previous day's ascent of Missouri, I decided I would prefer to get out of the wind and back to camp for a nap rather than summit Oxford. It had been about six hours since I had woken up.

As I had ascended I noticed a large coulior northwest of the summit during my ascent, and since I was so tired I was interested in glissading down it to save time and energy. There is nothing like a good glissade to hasten a descent.

As I approached the top of the snowfield, the snow was very hard and icy. It was not even 7am, and it was still well below freezing. Without an ice axe, I was a little concerned about the glissade, but I did have ski poles with me to use for self arrest. After considering the fall potential, it seemed the runout to the pitch I was looking at was reasonably save, so I arranged myself for a sitting glissade using my ski pole as a brake.

I scooted on my but for a few feet, and then began down the snow. Faster and Faster, until I realized I was still accelerating, even though I was braking with all my might with the pole. Soon, I was in trouble, and had turned around on my stomach, in an attempt to self arrest. I remember trying to look down to see how far it was to the bottom, but could not see anything because my boots were spraying ice in my face as I bounced down the icy coulior. I quickly realized how far I was from the bottom did not matter much, and I should focus on arresting my fall. After was seemed like an eternity of ramming my ski pole into the ice with all my strength, I began to decelerate, and slowly ground to a halt.

When all was said and done, I had fallen over 800 feet. When I was sliding on my right side as I was rotating around to lay against the slope, my pant leg was pulled up by the ice rushing past me. My right calf had been badly abraded by the ice and gravel embedded within it. It looked similar to road rash, but the edges were much smoother than what is caused by pavement. I would find out later that the entire butt of my outer pants were completely worn away.

I checked myself over, and found that I was okay, with no serious injuries, and I carefully descended the remainder of the snow, ice, and gravel filled gully on foot. I saw another climber when I regained the trail in Missouri Gulch, and attempted to hide my torn pants and bleeding leg out of embarrassment.

When I arrived back at camp, my dad was quite surprised at my injuries, although they were minor. To date, this is the most sever climbing accident I have had. I learned a few lessons: Don't take risks when alone, Don't cut corners because you're tired, and Always bring your ice axe.

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