Mt. Belford (Sawatch Range) – Standard Northwest Ridge Approach (Class 2)
- Attempted 9/7/15
- 8.0 miles round trip
- 6 hrs RT
- Easy 14er (Class 2)
- +4,500′ net elevation gain (14,197′)
- Sunblock (at that elevation, you’ll feel the sun)
- Tech shell (you will want a shell to protect you from the wind)
- Nanopuff jacket (always layer when attempting a 14er)
- Headlamp (you’ll have to be starting this hike earlier than most 14ers)
- Light gloves (for climbing and warmth)
- Hiking poles (save the knees!)
- Lunch and lots of snacks – I mean LOTS
- Lots of water! I can’t express how much you will want.
A few of us decided to go hike the Bel/Ox combo on Labor Day this year as a last hooray before school really began to kick our butts. We left Boulder around 4a and arrived at the TH at 6:30a – the TH being the same approach as to Huron Peak, except you don’t go as far on the trail. Any 2wd car can make it to this TH if they avoid the scattered potholes on the road. We set off around 7a because it was raining when we arrived and eased up a bit around 7a. This was short lived and it began to rain pretty good again. The weather had anticipated a very light wind in the morning that was to pick up just a bit by noon, no rain – what a lie that was! The approach to Belford was in the trees for a good ways, so we at least had the trees to shelter us from the rain. It was a pretty approach in the trees – not quite La Plata level, but still nice.
Anyway, the trees had a decent grade to the clearing. It reminded me a lot of Huron’s approach in the trees; funny how that worked out! There was a place where the trail comes into what may seem like a campsite/very small clearing. The trail appears to go straight; however, you actually have to cross the river over a makeshift bridge (which is rather stable compared to La Plata’s makeshift bridges). You’ll be heading to what may look like Mt. Oxford, but is in fact a 13er (I believe Pecks Peak) that is just to the North of the Belford/Oxford Traverse. We were misled by our altitude in this manner. Shortly after the bridge crossing, we reached the clearing. Along the way I met some folks heading down whom had an eventful morning: The man had proposed to the woman! Cheers, you two – no better way to propose than on a 14er!
Once we reached the clearing into the valley, the rain died down (Hallelujah!). It was a very pretty valley with Missouri Mountain on your right with its very jagged ridge to the South (the standard approach is from the North, so you avoid the nasty jagged ridge, it is only a class 2). The trail splits to Missouri and Bel/Ox very quickly after making it into the valley. From here, the grade of the ascent slowly gets steeper and steeper. Truth be told, it didn’t feel too steep to me, but we were taking a lot of breaks due to the wind trying to blow us off of the mountain. The wind and clouds were rolling right over Missouri (which looked pretty nasty); while we were getting blown around, we never had the clouds advance over Belford, so we continued hiking. The wind got worse and worse, so we began taking longer breaks behind rock formations. I have never been so grateful to have a tech shell as I was that day: It was a beautiful day when the wind died down, which was sporadic, to say the least. September 14er hikes always seem to bring lots and lots of wind.
We finally managed to make it to the summit pitch. At this point, I had the feeling that the traverse over to Oxford wouldn’t be very smart, as it is pretty exposed to wind on the connecting ridge. We summitted and the euphoria was palatable! We contemplated turning around a couple times, but we were all very determined to at least summit Belford. It was very pretty on the top looking South-ish to rest of the Sawatch Range. We also had the summit to ourselves, despite passing several groups on our way up. We hid behind a natural rock structure to avoid the bulk of wind and took a quick summit photo. The wind was out with a vengeance, I have never seen such strong winds. I could be exaggerating, but those winds felt 60+ mph. If you stood up, you had to grab onto rocks to vault yourself off the summit and down the rock structure to avoid getting blown over the mountain.
Upon our descent, we faced just about every weather Colorado sees: wind, rain, hail, snow, you name it. Each alone isn’t ideal for a 14er, but Mother Nature decided to compile a few of these in the haily-windy-death-of-hikers mix. It was so much fun having hail pelted into your face with 60+mph winds. No tech shell or pair of sunglasses could protect all your skin from what nature had to throw at us. However, it was all worth it for a great hike with great company! And while the traffic going back to Denver from Buena Vista was ATROCIOUS (I’m talking about 5 hour drive back, 2.5 hr drive to TH in the morning), we ended up getting all-you-can-eat sushi in Golden. Who could possibly be upset with all-you-can-eat sushi for dinner?! Heaven. On. Earth.
Overall, I would definitely hike this mountain again (and I have to, as it turns out, to summit Missouri and Oxford in the future). I think I will try and do all 3 mountains, as the traverse is only 16 miles or so to knock out all 3, and I may as well if I make that drive all the way from Boulder. However, these mountains won’t be first on my to-do list next summer. I am pleased to announce that I intend to do Capitol Peak next summer, mid-summer when the weather is warmer and the rocks are stable from the ice having already melted. I have been working lots on my rock climbing and I am confident that Capital won’t be scary so much as it will be fun at this point!