Monday, April 18, 2011

Mount Belford 4/6/2011

Total Mileage: ~16 miles
Total Elevation: ~5000 ft.
Starting Point: 4 miles below the Missouri Gulch Trailhead
Group: Solo
(click to enlarge photos)

I had large aspirations when this day started. When it ended, I was glad to not be spending the night in my car out of necessity. I had awoken very early to get a good start on this hike. I had figured that the trailhead was not going to be accessible from the recent reports I had read. I wanted to get as close to the TH as I could. As it would turn out, I was a bit over zealous in my car's abilities and started my day stuck in the snow pretty deep about 4 miles from the TH. It was 5:30am and it was still dark. I spent 30 minutes digging my car out with my ice axe to no avail. At about 6 am I convinced myself to proceed with the hike and get my car out later.

The original plan was to climb Mount Belford first, then traverse over to Oxford and at that point evaluate conditions with hopes of climbing Missouri Mountain as well. From the get-go I knew that Missouri would not happen. Not with the added time it was now going to take me to get my car unstuck after my hike. I was still optimistic and thought that today was going to be a two mountain minimum. It was an uneventful 4 mile start to the beginning of the Missouri Gulch TH.

I cached one bottle of Gatorade and one bottle of water here at the TH knowing I wouldn't need it until later. The beginning of the trail starts getting steep right away as it weaves it's way up through the forest. I wore only my hiking boots because the snow was just soft enough for good purchasing but not too soft that I would fall though it. I had Microspikes and snowshoes with me that I would use later on. On the descent of this same section of trail I would find that even with snowshoes on I was sinking 6-8 inches with every step. The warm afternoon made the snow very squishy.

Before I emerged from the trees the snow began to give way and the postholing commenced. I strapped on my snowshoes and continued upward and onward. While reviewing the route for this hike I remember reading about a stream crossing followed by an old abandoned log cabin along the trail. I thought it strange at many points up the trail that I had not passed this area. I never saw the log cabin on the way up or the way down. I have an inkling as to where I missed the trail but it will be fun to return here this summer and see where I went off. Directionally, I knew where I had to go so route finding was not difficult in spite of losing the trail. Snowshoes proved to be quite useful. A tough slog through the remaining forested area and I was out in the open.

A look behind.

Belford dead ahead

Looking at hiker's left.
Two strikes against me now. Getting the car stuck and losing the trail. I didn't think much of it though because I had already decided that not doing Missouri would save me oodles of time. With Belford in sight it was straight ahead to the part that I had been dreading. The shoulder up Belford leading to the summit. Mount Belford is not rated as a very difficult mountain to climb however, the final one mile to the top covers 2300' of elevation. It is long, it is relentless, it is never-ending, and it is tough. In addition to this I had been feeling especially weak all morning long. I can only attribute this to simply having an "off" day. I cached the snowshoes at the bottom of the shoulder and began my ascent up. It took me 2.5 hours to climb that shoulder. I felt the need to stop very frequently to catch my breath. When I was moving it was not much faster than a crawl. I made to the top of the shoulder which put me just below the summit of Belford. Reaching this saddle I had great views of many beautiful mountains surrounding the area. Contrasted with the dreary view of the remaining route.

The way up (summit not visible)
Before too long I was on top and looking at a lot of familiar peaks.

It was around 2ish when I made the summit and I was disgusted at such awful time I had made getting there. I knew there was no way Oxford was in the cards that day. Also, the summit pictures when compared to the pictures in the open basin show a very different weather forecast. I was happy to have one more mountain under my belt and decided to claim it as a victory and head home. I glissaded most of the way down and was down the shoulder in about 14 minutes. I fetched my snowshoes and headed back down trying to see if I could find the trail on the way down. Before that I ran into these sneaky buggars.

Discovered in the late 1700's these strange birds are thought by scholars to be some kind of hybrid of the native warblers and mountain chickens. They are also bred for their skills and magic.

I searched long and hard for any semblance of a trail and came up empty handed. I went down slightly deviating from the way I had come up. I found no trail but instead a tree that looked like it had no place being where it was.

Either a sycamore or a maple spruce. Or any number of other possibilities.
I ended up being able to swing back a bit to find my tracks up. I followed them down to where the trail clearly picked back up and looked around very confused at where I had gone amiss. I shrugged my shoulders (I literally did this) and decided that I'd find out this summer the answers to my questions. I was back to the TH in no time and picked up my stashed liquids and headed down to the next big task ahead of me. I told myself I'd try for 45 minutes and then If I wasn't successful getting my car out I'd call a towing service. This is how my day ended.

I drove out around 7ish and still had a bit more daylight left. I stopped in Buena Vista for a burger and headed back to CO Springs.

Notes to Self:
- Snowshoes aren't the devil after all
- trails are for suckers
- cell phone coverage saved my butt so I should probably switch to Verizon if I'm going to continue hiking.