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On Walkabout On: Mt. Belford via the Missouri Gulch Trailhead

Basic Information

  • Name: Mount Belford
  • Where: Buena Vista, Colorado
  • Max Elevation: 14,197 feet
  • Distance: 4 miles (one-way)
  • Elevation Gain:  4,500 feet
  • Time: 3-5 hours (one-way)
  • Difficulty: EasyModerateHardDifficult
  • More Information: 14ers.com

Route Up Mt. Belford & Mt. Oxford

Mt Belford Route

 Topographic Map of Missouri Gulch

Missouri Gulch Topo Map

Elevation Map of Missouri Gulch Hike

Missouri Gulch Elevation Map
Note: The first bump is Mt. Belford, the 2nd bumb is Mt. Oxford, the third bump is Mt. Belford again, and the final bump is Missouri Mountain.

Narrative

This past weekend the weather forecast had no lightning storms predicted for the entire day which was great news for planning a hike up a Colorado 14er.  A full day of good weather meant I could go on a longer hike to summit two peaks in one day.  The two peaks I had in mind were the 14,197 Mt. Belford and the 14,153 foot Mt. Oxford in the Sawatch Range.  The trails to these peaks are accessed from the Missouri Gulch Trailhead located off of Chaffee County Road 390 which is 14 miles North of Buena Vista, Colorado:


View 14er Trailheads in a larger map

From my house in Colorado Springs it was a 3-hour drive to reach the Missouri Gulch Trailhead.  That meant I ended up leaving my house at 1:15 AM.  Yes I know that is crazy early, but fortunately I was able to get to sleep at 7:30 PM that evening and received a few hours of sleep before departing.  The drive was largely uneventful until I reached County Road 390.  The last four miles on the road before reaching the Missouri Gulch Trailhead were very bumpy.  Despite being bumpy the road is still easily passable for anyone driving a sturdy 2-wheel drive vehicle.  I drove on this road last November when I hiked up Huron Peak and it seemed even bumpier now.  When I pulled into the trailhead parking lot I could see there were a lot of people parked and sleeping in their vehicles.  As quietly as I possibly could I put my gear on and departed down the trail at 4:20 AM.  The beginning of the trail is marked with these nice signboards that I took a picture of later in the day since it was completely dark out when I began the hike:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

Here is a closeup look at the map provided on the signboard that shows the trail to the summits of Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford.  Strangely the trail up the nearby 14,067 foot Missouri Mountain was missing from the signboard:

IMG_5818

Just past the signboards there is this Collegiate Peaks Wilderness sign that was missing the word “Peaks” on it for some reason:

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Sign

Then passed the sign there is a bridge that crosses over Clear Creek:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

Since it was dark out I could not really see the water underneath me as I crossed the bridge, but I could definitely hear it.  Here is a picture from later in the day of the roaring water flowing down Clear Creek:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

After crossing the bridge the trail then begins a number of long switchbacks up the side of a hill.  This section of the hike gains a 1,000 feet in altitude before the trail levels out and follows a creek.  At 10,800 feet there is a critical creek crossing that needs to made.  Due to the darkness I did not see the creek crossing and ended up wandering up a social trail for about 15 minutes before realizing my mistake.  The trail I followed became quite small which tipped me off that I went the wrong way.  So I turned around and went back to a clearing near the creek again.  By carefully looking around I spotted the wood laid across the creek to cross.  Here is a picture from later in the day of the crossing site:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

After the crossing the creek the trail slowly ascends again before reaching the remains of what appeared to be an old mining cabin.  Here is a picture once again from later in the day of the cabin:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

After the cabin I began to approach treeline where I finally had enough sunlight to begin taking pictures.  Here is a picture that shows the first view I had during my hike of Mt. Belford:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

According to the book “A Climbing Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners: Twentieth Anniversary Edition Mt. Belford was named after Colorado’s first Congressman James B. Belford.  His red hair and fiery speeches earned him the nickname of the “Red-Headed Rooster of the Rockies“.  Belford was a big advocate for the free coinage of silver which made him popular with miners.  Due to his popularity with miners and the fact Mt. Belford has a red rock outcropping on its summit this is likely the reason why some unknown miners decided to start calling this mountain Mt. Belford which became the name that has stuck to this day.  Additionally Belford before moving to Colorado lived in Missouri which could be where Missouri Gulch and Missouri Mountain received their names as well.

James B. Belford image via archive.org.

At treeline I sat down to eat breakfast which consisted of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lucky Charms cereal bars.  Yes, I know not exactly a breakfast of champions, but on a long hike like this one I like the energy a sugar rush from such cereal provides.  As I sat there eating I actually had two trail runners pass me who were heading towards Missouri Mountain.  People that are able to continuously run at these altitudes and terrain always impress me.  As I sat there eating I also enjoyed the views of the aspen glow from the sunrise on the ridge line to the West:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

The aspen glow extended to the South to where it began to hit the ridgeline leading to Missouri Mountain:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

After spending about 20 minutes eating I packed up my stuff and headed up the trail again.  I soon came to the intersection with the trail that leads to Elkhead Pass and the Missouri Mountain trailhead on the right and the Mt. Belford trail on the left:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

I took the trail to the left and began to immediately gain altitude up the western slopes of Mt. Belford.  Soon the trail became steeper and even a bit rocky in places:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

Overall though the trail is in great shape and I made good progress up the mountain.  I had seen no one ahead me on Mt. Belford this morning, but below me I could see a huge group of people snaking their way up the mountain:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

The last thousand feet of the trail were actually pretty easy as I approached the ridgeline that leads to the summit:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

From the ridgeline I had a really good view of the 14,067 Missouri Mountain right across from me that was still holding a lot of snow:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

From the ridgeline I then proceeded to complete the short walk to the summit which was the red rock outcropping that inspired miners to names this mountain after James Belford:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

It was a simple scramble to the top of the rocks where I spotted the US Geological Survey marker designating the the 14,197 foot summit of Mt. Belford:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

I reached the summit at 7:55 AM and it was freezing cold out due to the wind.  I had plenty of cold weather gear on to deal with the cold.  The wind however, did make taking pictures challenging, but I was able to get some from the summit.  First of all here is the view looking East towards Mt. Oxford which was going to be my next destination:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

To the South I had this view of quite a beautiful basin below the 13,904 foot Emerald Peak pictured on the far right:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

Here is a panorama photo I took using my iPhone 5S looking towards the South with the 14,403 foot Mt. Harvard visible on the left and Missouri Mountain on the right:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

To the West the view was dominated by the 14,003 foot Huron Peak poking out over the ridgeline that leads to its fellow 14er Missouri Mountain:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

Here is a panorama of the view looking towards the North where most of the high peaks of the Sawatch Range were covered in early morning clouds:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

From the summit I then began to follow another ridgeline trail that leads to the traverse to Mt. Oxford where Mt. Harvard, the third highest peak in Colorado, could be seen dominating the view behind it:

Picture from Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford

Conclusion

Mt. Belford ended up being one of the easiest 14ers I have climbed.  I made it to the summit of Mt. Belford in 3 hours and 35 minutes which included the 15 minutes I spent trying to re-find the trail earlier in the morning and the 20 minutes I spent eating my breakfast.  I think without missing the trail and taking no breaks that 3-hours to the summit of Mt. Belford is realistic for people in decent shape.  Mt. Sherman will always remain the easiest 14er, but Mt. Belford is not far behind.  For people looking to hike up an easy 14er in the Sawatch Range, Mt. Belford should definitely be considered.  However, the way I look at it if someone is going to hike up Mt. Belford they might as well do the traverse to Mt. Oxford as well.  Adding Mt. Oxford to the itinerary then makes this a little bit more challenging hike and challenging was what I was looking for as I began the traverse from Mt. Belford over to Mt. Oxford.

Next Posting: Mt. Oxford via the Mt. Belford Traverse

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