Mt. Belford, a Vigorous 14,000 Foot Hike
Chris and his friend from New York have made a tradition of climbing together in Colorado, and while the pandemic derailed all plans for this tradition last year, they have come back in force this year! Below, Chris shares the details.
While 2021 is far from fantastic, thank goodness some freedoms have been restored as of 2020. One of my best friends from New York visited Colorado in early September and joined me for two days. 14-year-old hike in the Sawatch mountain range. We had our eye on three 14ers, in particular:
* Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford, a joint hike we planned to do on Thursday
* Mt. Elbert, who we touched on Friday with other racing club teammates
Here’s our itinerary, in case it helps someone else interested in doing something similar:
Beginning of the hike
I picked up Gavin when he arrived on Wednesday and we drove straight to Buena Vista, a small town about 2.5 hours west of Denver. Buena Vista is a great central location which gives you access to a beautiful mountainous playground. It was fun spending time in the car catching up and making up for lost time. We stayed at this great one bedroom Airbnb (I crashed into the sofa) and checked out the Eddy Line restaurant, a local brewery I remembered from a birthday lunch years ago. We got ready for Thursday’s hike by packing our food, drinks and gear and went to bed early. The AirBnB actually didn’t have a smart TV (horror!)
We woke up at 4.30am and hiked at 5am the next day. The trailhead for Mount Belford and Mount Oxford is just a 33 minute drive from Buena Vista. The road to the trailhead is a pretty heavy dirt road, but the All Trails directions got us right there. We were walking around 5:45 am, which is much darker than I remember. Still, a lucky flashlight in the car made it less intimidating (bringing a headlamp or flashlight is a must).
This hike was difficult… immediately. Usually there is a gradual climb or a cold portion but this hike was quite difficult the entire way. It also didn’t help that we somehow got off the trail and ended up climbing halfway over a waterfall and over the steep rocky surface of a mountain. It was hectic, to say the least. Finally we were able to find the trail and almost kissed the ground when we did.
The rest of the summit was a steep switchback slog like the 14ers do, and we made it to the top… only to see thick, heavy cloud cover and a bit of light sleet.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by what we dubbed ‘the situation’ and seeing the sleet / cloud cover, we decided to jump on Mount Oxford, the second peak we had planned to hike. Luckily there was a really gentle trail at the back of the mountain which was a godsend. There was even a pretty gorgeous rainbow that appeared at around 13,000 feet.
The rest of the descent seemed endless, but it was very rewarding when we got back to the car.
Details: All in all we did 9.5 miles. This was the toughest 14er we’ve done so far (and it’s only a class 2). I would also do this later in July or early August to avoid any cloud cover. We have unfinished business with Belford and Oxford so we will be back!
We packed our bags and left the apartment at 4:30 am and arrived at the Mount Elbert parking lot at 5:20 am Friday… and it was already packed! We were lucky enough to land the last parking spot (!) And we started to sabotage it with our racing team friends Joe and Zach.
Mount Elbert was two miles longer than Mount Belford, but the trail is better marked and very easy to follow, some hikers call it the “gentle giant”. The weather was also amazing on the way, cool but sunny. We reached the summit at 8:50 am and took the obligatory photos even though there was cloud cover that had set in.
After that we booked it and got back to the parking lot at 10:50 am. From there we drove to Idaho Springs and stopped at Westbound and Down Brewing for delicious sandwiches and beer (and well deserved!).
Details: All in all we did 11 miles and it was worth it. It is certainly long, but the effort is rewarded by the achievement.