|Peaks:||Mt. Belford - 14,197 feet|
Mt. Oxford - 14,153 feet
Missouri Mountain - 14,067 feet
We arrived at the TH at about almost 7 PM on Friday because we left home almost an hour later than planned and then there was construction on the Bridge between Johnsonville and BV that held us up for a while. Within 10 minutes we snapped this photo of the TH signs and were on the trail with our dog headed for somewhere near treeline (hopefully past the ol' cabin.
I was excited to finally get my wife up to see this beautiful valley despite the nasty approach. That approach was not something that I was looking forward to for a second time (especially with a stuffed pack). There is no warm up here. You go over the river via the bridge and then straight up you go for the next couple of miles.
After looking for a spot near the cabin, we decided that we should be camping farther up to save some elevation gain from the next couple of days. About ¼ of a mile past the cabin the dark set in and headlamps were completely necessary. We gave up on searching for the perfect spot and picked an absolutely horrible spot. I wish I had a picture of what we both agreed was the worst place that we ever camped. We setup the tent as it began to rain thinking we were going to be eating a cold spaghetti dinner and were eventually able to sit in the tent and have the food cook just outside and then we just ate in there. I would have been scared of doing for that because of animals but my .357 mag made me feel a little better about it.
After getting to sleep around 11 or so and sliding into eachother all night because of the slope, we awoke at 5:30 AM the next morning. My plan was to step off by 0600 but Anna was a little slower than I am getting ready and we were off by 0630.
Less than half an hour later, as we were on Belford's steep finger of a ridge, the sun began to peak over the ridge at the other side of the valley. The red is the trail back to Missouri and Elkhead Pass.
Around 8:30 we made it to the summit. As slow as we were hiking, only 2 individuals passed us on the way up and I believe only a few started before us from what I saw.
We had someone snap a quick summit shot of us. Anna decided that she would stay on Belford and watch me as I did oxford so she could save some energy for Missouri the next day. Looking back down Belford, we could see many folks coming up so I knew she would have plenty of company. We had our summit celebration shot of whiskey and she snapped my traditional shirtless flex shot (notice the Scooby doo underwear) I was off for Oxford.
Instead of carrying our full pack of rain gear, emergency gear, first aid gear, food, etc, I just grabbed the small camelbak that she was carrying and the camera and took off with the Dog.
I was able to snap this great pic of Harvard and Columbia from hear the top of Belford's saddle.
32 minutes later I was on the top of Oxford. It went fast because I was able to jog the flatter portions. I took my shot of whiskey, my shirtless photo (not included in this TR), slammed a cliff shot and 6 minutes later I was on my way back to Belford not looking at going back up the other side.
Including my short stay I was back at the summit of Belford only 1:13 later. Anna was greeting me as I returned with the Dog.
By this point, there was a block party going on at the summit. I had to snap a photo.
Quietly we decided to descend via elkhead pass. As we didn't want the block party to follow us . We took this route for a couple of reasons. First, it was less steep than the ridge route of Belford. Second, we wanted to see what Missouri was looking like and our approach for the following morning. Anna got this picture of me, the dog's behind, and Harvard in the background.
The flowers were absolutely stunning in the valley and Anna took over 100 pictures of them.
Passing by the Missouri Junction some darker clouds began to pour over. We passed a few parties who were done with Missouri and were on their way up for the other two. We instructed them that from that direction Oxford would be a better choice and then Belford and then Down. That is the best way to alleviate as much back tracking as possible. It was almost 11 am at that point and I really wanted to caution them not to head up that late for the other peaks, especially with darker clouds rolling over. I kept my mouth shut in the end. I don't think I would have changed their minds. Being caught in a couple of storms myself in my earlier 14er days, I know better.
We made it back to the Belford/Elkhead Pass junction at about 11:45 and I snapped this photo of the route up the ridge. We then proceeded back to our camp which was at about 11,500'. We ate some lunch and packed up all of the gear to find a better site. We had already spotted a few places on the way down and had a good idea of what we wanted.
From there on out, it rained on and off (mostly on) and even some hail between noon and after 9 PM. After a good nap, I snapped this photo of Anna:
This campsite was much better. It was semi-hidden from the trail and was near the river about ¼ of a mile after the split for Elkhead Pass and Belford on the Elkhead side about 100 yds before you cross the river in the next picture. It is visible coming down the trail but not up and was near enough to the river without risking being washed away in a flash flood.
Anna also snapped this photo of some of the Columbines up there. There were thousands all over the place. These pics are between rain storms. We made it during a 15 minute bout of sunshine down to the riverbank to filter some water and wash our feet and faces.
Not sure if the rain would let up for dinner, we once again had to cook outside of and eat in the tent.
The rain cleared again and we got out for a last photo before dark
The next morning we woke up at 5:30 once again. This time to more rain. We decided to lay there for a while to see if it would blow over. The plan was to be all ready so when it cleared up we could make the summit. We easily fell back to sleep and I woke up at about 7:30 shortly after the rain stopped. That's the awesome thing about Colorado. If you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes. The sky looked ok so we decided to get ready and head towards Missouri while monitoring the weather. We had some oatmeal, hot tea, and a cliff bar for breakfast. We probably didn't start hiking until maybe 8:30. I wasn't watching the time but it was later than I would have liked. Only 3 groups of hikers had passed by. I assume they were all late due to the weather as well. Anna was feeling great and we made it to the Missouri split in no time. The sun was now out full blast and the sky was blue. We lathered up in sunscreen and set off for the summit. We could see that the first group already made it to the top of the ridge. After we went up the first few switcbacks, I snapped this photo of most of the route up the ridge. As nasty as the photo looked, the trail wasn't too bad. People the day before made it sound much worse.
I was actually glad for the poor early weather because I'm sure that prevented many from venturing out. Anna's goal was for no one to pass her for the day so she held a fast pace compared to her normal. We could see another group down below that was catching up. This ridge went quickly and in about an hour we made the top of the ridgeline. Huron was waving hello to us-
The clouds began to darken a bit at this point and became somewhat worrisome. I felt that we had time to summit before things got bad so we pressed on. This is what the rest of the ridge looks like to the summit from where you top out. You actually hike mostly on the other side of it though.
I had been warned from other's TR's of this short class 3 downclimb that you have to do just before the last push to the summit. I didn't think it would be too bad but was a little worried that Anna would not appreciate it. She is definitely a class 2 hiker and plans on staying that way. The mud made it a bit interesting. I climbed down below her and coached her through the moves. I suppose we could have slid down on our butts, but I don't roll like that! The rocks had good holds and we were able to grip our way down. The dog just kind of scurried right down the dirt line. For serious peak baggers this section is fun and nothing but a cool little bonus surprise, but I wanted to include the photo for those who are newer to climbing or are planning on bringing kids or something. This section is there and is definitely not just class 2.
Anna did much better than I thought. Finally, we made it to the summit. I grabbed this photo of most of the route up.
We had the summit to ourselves! Yay. Having Missouri to yourself on a Sunday in late July is nothing short of a miracle.
After our traditional shot of whiskey, I had to do my shirtless pose. I was up for something new so I decided to do some pushups on the side of the hill and had Anna take the pic. I may not be in the Marines anymore, but you just can't un-program some things from the Brain of a Marine.
Anna gave one last good Hooray before the decent. As we snacked a bit, the other group made it to the top.
The clouds were coming in from the West, the South and From the South East a bit. This is usually not a good thing. When systems converge, things tend to get nasty. I told Anna that we needed to be moving fast but careful. You cannot sacrifice safety for speed…. Ever! We made it back to where you drop down off the ridge and about half of the way down to the Missouri split from Elkhead pass at about 13'500 and it began to rain. When we saw hail, we donned our rain gear and suited up. The hail was just small but it lasted about 20 minutes until we made it to the junction. It stung the hands a bit but was not terrible. Just before dropping down the ridge another hiker was coming up and headed for the summit. Anna cautioned him due to weather and he said he was gonna hurry. Getting back to the junction we heard a few loud lightning and thunder strikes and were wondering about that guy. I bet he needed to wipe after that! After another 45 mins or so, we made it back to camp safely. It began to rain again so we jumped in the tent and had a snack. A while later the rain let up so we packed up and got out. The rain probably only stopped for about 15 minutes and began again and remained steady all of the way back to the car and most of the way home. We trudged down the trail and made it back to the muddy TH at about 3:15. We put on some fresh clothes, had a cold brew and set for home paying special attention to stop at Pancho's in BV for a burrito. That always does the trick!
This makes 7 weekends in a row and 9 total trips for the season to make 14 summits of 13 new peaks (Belford in May and now) for a grand total of 23. My goal is 25 for the year for a total of 35. We shall see… I do have a full time job and time will get slim once school starts in another month.
If you have had the privilege to hike with Jean Roy (the Canadian) this summer in his adventure to get all of the 14ers in Colorado, please join us in Westcliffe on Saturday Evening to celebrate his finish. I'm sure there will be more postings about exactly where and when. Just watch for them.
See you at the top!!!