Day 1: Easy day to Base Camp or So we Thought
The Trailhead Scott at our first camp
We ended up leaving at 7:30 a little later then we wanted to but still pretty early considering we each only slept a couple of hours the night before. We had been up most of the night packing the sled of supplies we would need for the week we were spending in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. The plan my partner Scott and I had, was to attempt to climb up to 5 Fourteeners if conditions were good and we had the energy. At the minimum we wanted to summit Belford, Oxford, and Missouri. Harvard and Columbia would just be a bonus.
Getting to the trailhead was a little dicey. The register said no one had been to the trailhead in over a month. We plowed through 6 inches of snow in my 4runner to get to the parking lot. We then did some donuts for fun and to pack down the lot so it may be easier to get out if it snowed over the next 6 days. We finally got our stuff together left the car at 12:45.
I started out pulling the sled. It was much heavier then I expected. The first little bit was downhill then across a bridge. As I started down the hill the sled tipped over and headed towards the creek. This was not a good start the trip and foreshadowed the problems we were going to endure with this damn sled. We got the sled upright and managed to wrangle it across the bridge and started the uphill section where we thought it would get easier. Man, were we wrong.
I dragged that dead body for 30 minutes before I was exhausted. Scott then took it for a while and fell to the same fate I did. We were making very slow progress. I took it again as we made our way to the switchbacks. Here we took a short break for a cliff bar and water. Scott said he would take it from here and pull it up the rest of the switchbacks. After another grueling hour we finally made it to the end of the switchbacks and I took the sled for the last time. I struggled thought the aspen trees till we finally met the creek. Having climbed Belford before I knew we still had a steep section though willows before we reached timberline. It was around 4pm so we decided to camp for the night.
Day 2: Finally Reach Base Camp
Scott taking a rest from breaking trail Second Camp
We woke up to cloudy skies the next morning. We got a slow start thinking that it would be easier going with little ground to cover. We didn’t get out of camp until noon making for the lack of sleep the night before. I had the idea of packing the sled with our lighter clothing and putting the food and heavier supplies in our packs to help lighten the sled a little bit. We were maybe 15 minutes outside of camp when we once again hit an obstacle.
As the Trees gave way to the willows the snow became extremely soft. So soft that we were sinking up to our thighs wearing snowshoes. I had never experienced such an exhausting trip just to get to base camp. We decided to leave the sled, go find camp, empty our packs, and come back for the stuff in the sled.
Scott and I took turns breaking trail finally making it to the cabin ruins near timberline around 3:30 pm. We quickly emptied our packs and dashed down the hill for sled. We assumed the packs would be lighter with just clothing and such going in the packs. After I packed my share of the stuff and hoisted my pack on I realized we brought too much stuff. My pack felt at least 10 pounds heavier then the previous trip up the hill. If there was a bright side to any of this, at least this time the trail was packed. We made it to our camp in about an hour, just in time for the sun to go down.
We dug into a snow drift next to the ruins of the cabin to help provide some wind protection. We went to bed planning to do Belford the next morning.
Day 3: Something Good Finally goes our way
Belford with our accent route up the ridge to center left Scott Making the final push for the summit
I woke up at 10 till 5 and decided to sleep till my alarm went off at 5 am. I closed my eyes and when I opened them again it was almost 6 am. I woke Scott up and the first words out of Scott’s mouth are “You want to take a rest day.” I convinced him we should attempt Belford and if we aren’t feeling up to it we would just scout routes up both Belford and Missouri. It was a wonderfully clear day which was a pleasing change from the two previous overcast days. After making a couple of liters of water we packed up and made our way to the base of Belford.
At the base we strapped our snowshoes on our packs and put on our crampons. Our plan was to just do the summer route it looked the most wind blown. The first part was steeper then 45 degrees with talus hiding under the seemingly deep snow. Eventually that gave way to less steep tundra like terrain. So far it looked like a pretty easy accent but then things got worse.
After taking a short break to tighten up our boots we ended up post holing through waist deep snow up about a 35 degree slope. I stopped to take a break and Scott caught up and joined me. Scott took off his gloves to get a water bottle out of his pack. His glove liner fell down near his feet when the wind picked it up and blew it 30 feet below us. Scott slid down to try to retrieve it when the wind picked up again and blew it into the gully on the north side of Belford. It was gone so Scott pulled out his extra mittens and we continued on.
View from the top as scott accends the last ridge
We finally got off the snow, took off our crampons and walked on the rocky tundra. As we began to find the trail intermittently I got a second wind from a cliff bar I ate earlier. We were both however struggling with the wind which was now easily above 50 mph. I reached the final ridge and was immediately blown off my feet. I fought my way to the summit and waited for Scott. I would say the winds were 70 to 80 mph. Scott made up by 2:30 about 20 minutes after me. We snapped and few pictures then decided how we were going to descend.
Our Decent Route
We decided on the north gully as a decent route because we thought we would be able to glaciate part or all of it. We were able to glaciate the top part that leads into the gully but once we got into the gully the snow became either too soft or not steep enough to get going with our packs on. The bright side came when Scott was Glaciating a small section in the gully. I called out to him to watch out for what a thought was a rock in the middle of the snowfield. As he got closer he picked up the supposed rock to show his missing glove liner. It was the upside to our long slog back to base camp. We arrived back at camp at 5 pm and collapsed. Tomorrow was definitely going to be a rest day.
Days 4 & 5: Rest and Relaxation
The next morning we looked out our tent to see a complete turn around from yesterday. The wind was blowing pretty hard and it was now snowing. We did various odd jobs that day like leveling out our vestibule, and building a snow wall. We decided to make a judgment call in the morning as to if we would climb Missouri.
In the morning we awoke to horrible winds once again but no snow. We were both pretty badly wind and sunburned so we decided to throw in the towel and go home. At about 7:30 an older man passed by our tent and we chatted with him for a few minutes he said he was going to try Missouri. We packed up and headed down the trail to arrive our car at 12 pm. The sled was much more obedient going downhill.
Although we only got one mountain done it was still successful in my mind. We scouted many climbs that will be great in the spring when the snow is better. Those we will hope to climb this may and hopefully we will have another story to tell. Until then may the mountains stay steep and beautiful.
Me at the Top
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