After having to turn back from Blanca Peak last weekend after getting my tail kicked by the Lake Como hike, I was really wanting to get a summit in this month. I wanted to do multiple peaks but was really just wanting to get into the mountains. I had camped at Winfield in the past and I figured it would be a good place to set up base camp and I could try for the Belford/Oxford combo and then, if my body and mind felt up to it, take a shot at LaPlata on Father's Day with my son. I invited Stan, a co-worker of mine, a few weeks ago and he called me earlier in the month and said he would be free to go if the offer was still on the table. Of course, it was, so my son and I left Borger, TX at 8:30 am, picked up Stan in Dumas at about 9:15 and headed out to Winfield...got to Winfield at about 3:00 pm mountain time and immediately set up camp.
Home sweet home..... for a couple of nights
We crashed after dinner at about 8:30 pm, I know I didn't sleep well out of anticipation for the next morning's plans. We all tossed and turned, ended up rolling out of our sleeping bags at about 3:15 am...we thought we were getting up at 4:15, but we forgot to set our watch for mountain time...no harm, no foul, we wanted an alpine start anyways and we certainly got it!!! We got in the truck and drove back east four miles from Winfield to the Missouri Gulch trailhead at about 4:15 am.
Sign at Missouri Gulch TH
After crossing a nice little bridge over the creek, the trail immediately starts heading uphill at a pretty steep angle...not much warm up for this one, it's elevation gaining time right off the bat!!!!
nice bridge right at the start of the hike
The trail is easy to follow in the dark and there is really nothing tricky about it despite it's fast ascent. There is a few times that the small stream must be crossed also.
Some trail conditions during the forest part of the hike
Crossing the creek early into the hike...most of these were taken on the way down since the light was better
Typical trail conditions close to treeline
More trail conditions
The trail below treeline has a bunch of switchbacks and once you get right at treeline there are the remnants of an old miners cabin......
An old cabin just as you reach treeline.
only a few more steps and you get above treeline and get a great view of Mt. Belford and Missouri Gulch.
The view up the gulch at treeline
The hike seems to let up for a while once you get above treeline, but a bunch of switchbacks await you on Belford's NW ridge.
View of Mt. Belford from just above treeline
The NW ridge of Belford is really not all that bad...a little rocky, but nothing really what I would consider loose or sketchy. Once you hit the switchbacks on the ridge, you gain a lot of elevation before you know it...this is where the hike really hit a snail's pace for us three.
The trail is easy to follow and is well kept throughout the entire hike.
Looking down Mt. Belford's NW ridge where all the switchbacks are located
Looking down into Missouri Gulch from close to 13,000 ft.
Once we got to about 13,000 ft, we ran into a couple that were heading down from Belford...they said that there was stormy looking clouds to the west and northwest that were visible once we got up a little higher...we discussed what to do and decided that we would head up a little further and see what they looked like, turns out it was just wave after wave of quick moving snow showers that would only linger for a few minutes at a time and then blow through. But despite this, we set our eyes to the sky because we are fully aware of how quickly the storms can build up and make for a bad day!
Some snow beginning to blow in from the west
After two or three false summits and almost 4 1/2 hours of uphill strain we finally had a view of Belford's actual summit block
Looking up at Mt. Belford's rocky summit block
Not long after we caught first sight of the summit, we were all three on it in slightly less than 5 hours. FINALLY!
There was already several folks on the summit and we knew many more were on the way up...we looked around at the awesome views despite the hazy and cloudy skies, took some pics, made a couple phone calls and got our summit shots!
Looking down into Leadville!
Snowmass and Capitol are obvious as well as the rest of the Elk Range.
Looking over to Mt. Oxford
More waves of snow moving across the area.
Our group on the summit of Mt. Belford
My son and I in our obligatory (but mandatory) summit shot
Stan pointing at some dark clouds moving in while others are coming in behind him!
We looked at the clouds and decided that we would go ahead and head towards Mt. Oxford. Only a few minutes into the hike towards Oxford, the clouds began to look more ominous to us. They seemed darker and and we really didn't want to commit ourselves to the saddle just to get stuck above treeline with a thunderstorm looming over. We had eyed a trail that looked like it ran from the SW side of Belford down towards what we figured was Elkhaed Pass...it was. We decided t wasn't worth the risk carrying on the Oxford, so we made the dreaded call to head down using the trail that went down to Elkhead Pass....we did not regret it though. There are some awesome things to see on the descent from this side of Belford.
Looking down into the basin on the south side of Elkhead Pass
Emerald looking really awesome.
If you were on the summit of Missouri Mountain at about noon on the 16th, you are on candid camera
The trail down to Elkhead Pass from Belford is very well defined and was far more gentle than the NW ridge standard route that we took up....great views of Missouri Mountain and the gulch and a unique perspective of Belford.
A rocky portion of the trail just above treeline
Crossing the stream on the descent from Elkhead Pass
Trail winding through the willows on the trail from Elkhead Pass
Once at the junction for the Missouri Mountain/Elkhead Pass trails, we met a magical and majestic marmot that posed for us like he was a super model.
Came across this majestic critter at the Missouri Mountain and Elkhead Pass junction...what a poser!
We really enjoyed the gulch from Elkhead Pass and took our time since it turned out our gut feelings were wrong about the weather. That's okay...Oxford isn't going anywhere and now that we know we can get to Oxford from the Elkhead Pass trail, we may try to head that way again someday...you live and learn, I guess. It added a little more distance, but it was much gentler on our legs than the steep switchbacks that we had to ascend. We got back to the trailhead parking area right at 2:30 pm...a grand total of ten hours on the trail...dang we are slow! Well worth it though and we learned a little bit about other options for the area too.
Now for my observations and insight:
Start early! This is a long hike and it starts off steep just past the bridge at the beginning of the hike. You are also going to want lots of water...or a filter. There is a lot of places that water is plentiful on this hike, especially below treeline. I was a little too ambitious for the weekend...not sure if it is age, being a flatlander and not having enough acclimitization, not getting good sleep the night before or just out of shape, but Belford's route seemed really tough. I am sure it is a combination of all those factors, but it was still worth doing. It is not a beginners hike for sure though, there is no exposure to speak of...just steep. Camping at winfield was great again, I highly recommend looking into it if you haven't already.
Hopefully this report can help someone out that may be looking into it...just remember, my experience is that of someone coming in from 3000 ft above sea level and that probably has a lot to do with our climb times, perspectives and opinions. HAPPY HIKING!!!!!