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Mt Belford from Missouri Gulch, CO

no permit
61 6 0
Guide 6 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List CO > South Central
4.7 of 5 by 3
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Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 4.01 miles
Trailhead Elevation 9,658 feet
Elevation Gain 4,403 feet
Accumulated Gain 4,454 feet
Avg Time One Way 6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 18.85
Interest Perennial Creek & Peak
Backpack Yes
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
20  2016-07-12
Missouri Gulch Trail
13  2015-07-26 rvcarter
48  2014-09-18 big_load
31  2011-08-18
Missouri Gulch Trail
Author rvcarter
author avatar Guides 33
Routes 304
Photos 2,146
Trips 236 map ( 1,436 miles )
Age 73 Male Gender
Location tucson, az
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jul, Aug, Jun, Sep → 6 AM
Seasons   Late Spring to Late Autumn
Sun  5:48am - 6:12pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Eat your Wheaties
by rvcarter

Likely In-Season!
There may be no place in Colorado where more 14ers can be accessed than along Clear Creek Road (CR 390). Clear Creek, with its huge lake of the same name, is located about halfway between Leadville and Buena Vista to the west of Hwy 24. The 13+ mile Clear Creek Rd cuts east/west through the middle of the Sawatch Range, and provides access to several trailheads, including three leading to five 14ers: LaPlata (from the south), Huron, Missouri, Belford, and Oxford. The goal of this hike day was Belford, and maybe nearby Oxford if the weather was good. Belford, Oxford, and Missouri are accessible out of the Missouri Gulch Trailhead (may be called Vicksburg on some maps) located about 7 miles in. A very fit and ambitious person could do all three in one day. However, just getting to and from Belford was enough for me. From the top of Belford, Oxford looks further than 1.5 miles (and 1300 feet of additional climbing) away, and I didn’t want to be stuck on that ridge with rain moving in from the west.

A loop could be made of the Belford climb by returning via Elkhead Pass and down the gulch, but it is somewhat longer and I wanted to get down the mountain as soon as I could because of the weather. I didn’t even eat lunch till half way down. The very-easy-to-follow trail to Belford is comprised of three distinct sections. The first part (the lower section is actually called the Missouri Gulch Trail and continues to Elkhead Pass) is along the creek that flows down to the trailhead through a canopy of pine/fir trees. There is lots of running water and continuous sound from that water along the way. Near the top of this section just short of the treeline is where lots of backpackers make camp for an easier climb to the peaks. The only thing you need to watch for, especially after big rains, is the impromptu log/branch/twig crossing of the creek. The second part (starting just before where the trail splits for Belford and Missouri Mountain) is relatively gentle and takes you to the base of Belford (about 12,000 feet), passes through an explosion of Columbine and other wildflowers, and lots of wetland willows at and just above the tree line. This area is a photographer’s heaven. The third part is what you ate your Wheaties for earlier. It is an endless (nearly) series of steep switchbacks on an exposed ridge that is a knee killer on the way down (and I forgot my hiking poles). This 2100+ foot part is slow and hard, and it will suck your heart out (you lost your lungs a bit earlier).
The relatively large Missouri Gulch Trailhead was full when I arrived after 7:00 a.m., but there was plenty of free parking along the road. Surprisingly, I encountered very few people on the lower half of the trail. There were a few dozen near the top, but not the huge number I expected on a weekend day.

From the top of Belford, the views are magnificent. The peaks of a dozen or so 14ers are visible, including Massive, Elbert (along with Leadville and Turquoise Lake) to the north, LaPlata to the NW, Huron to the west, and numerous Collegiate Peaks to the south. My take is that just getting to Belford is a heck-of-a day, including Oxford for a twofer is for the young, strong, and maybe foolish, and including Missouri Mountain for all three peaks is a stupendous achievement. Whatever you choose to do, it will be an excellent day in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness of central Colorado, as it was for me.

Endnote: highly recommend the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map 129, “Buena Vista Collegiate Peaks” for planning and navigation.

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2015-07-29 rvcarter

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Mt Belford from Missouri Gulch
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    After Elbert, I immediately got back on the Colorado Trail with the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness on my mind. The stats reflect a six mile detour I had to made off the CT to reach the Missouri Gulch trailhead via a road walk along FR390.

    Initially, I had planned to summit Belford and Oxford from a lesser used route via Pine Creek, however, a local assured me that the Missouri Gulch trail and TH was the way to go. He also assured me that someone would stop and pick me up along the way to the TH, but that did not happen and I ended up covering about 16 miles with the heavy pack including six along the road before I even reached the TH. Although, part of the problem may have been my hitchhiking skills, as I had never hitched before and probably looked a little out of my element to most passing motorists. After a few failed attempts, I was quick to give up and accepted my road walking fate. After all, I was thru-hiking the CT, what was six more miles along a road?

    No worries about the little road walk though, as the TH re-energized me and after "loading up" on some water, I started making the climb to my campsite at 11,600 feet. I put loaded up on water in quotations, because a worried local had informed me to be careful, as there was about a two mile stretch to start the trail without water. The concerned local obviously did not know I was from Arizona, where we call three miles between water a blessing, needless to say, I filled up about a liter's worth. At this point in the day, I was willing to skimp a little on the H20, if it meant lessening the pack weigh a little, as with a TH elevation of 9,600 feet and 16 miles already under my belt, this would certainly not the easiest late afternoon climb that I had completed in recent history. The climb was a little bit of a smoker with a full pack, but I was rewarded with probably one of the better campsites above the treeline. After the usual camp chores, it was a struggle just to stay awake past daylight and I was completely out by about 19:30. Two long hard days, some warm temperatures, a lot of sun and a couple 14ers on the plate for breakfast, simply had me yearning for some much needed rest.

    The tent and I survived a very windy night and early morning. It was so cold and windy that I made my morning coffee in the tent and opted for some powdered donuts that I had bought at a general store in Twin Lakes the day before rather than my usual oatmeal, as it would have required a quick trip to the stream for some water and that was not happening at 0400! Cold and wind aside, I finally got my butt out of the tent. The climb nearly started immediately for me and boy is it a climb up Belford! The trail literally stair-steps up what has to be a near vertical ridgeline in spots. I did see one other headlamp ahead of me as I started the climb. This served as a guide and a small source of sorrow, as the light just kept climbing and climbing, with no end for my tired legs seeming to be in sight. However, eventually I did meet up with the solo headlamp on the summit of Belford. We both agreed the wind might be a little dangerous to shoot for Oxford, but that was not enough to stop our morning there and we headed for the second summit together.

    The hike to Oxford is probably one of the most pleasant stretches of hiking one could encounter while doing a 14er under "ideal" conditions. However, on this day the wind made it far less than ideal and maybe even a little dangerous. I found my hiking poles digging in very deep to the soil just to keep myself upright while dropping down the distinct ridgeline connecting Belford and Oxford. There were some brief breaks in the wind and even a few minutes of relief on the summit of Oxford. However, the conditions were generally frigid and not enjoyable, so we both left the summit after a few quick pictures.

    After Oxford, my newly acquired hiking partner left me for a run at the trifecta and a trip up Missouri, but I still had to break camp and put some miles under me on the CT, so I opted for the less spectacular out and back, a return to camp and then TH.

    It was a knee jarring, uneventful, quick hike down to the TH. I was successful in acquiring a ride back to the CT and picked up right where I had left off the day before after what seemed like a quick day and a half detour into perhaps one of my favorite new wilderness areas, the Collegiate Peaks.
    Mt Belford from Missouri Gulch
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    The described pieces of this hike don't quite capture the route I took, which is one of the most popular: a sort of lollipop starting at the Missouri Gulch TH, going up to Belford, then down via Elkhead Pass and around the cirque past the trail for Missouri Mtn before reconnecting at the cabin for the descent. GPS track is now posted. Overall AEG is about 4500 feet. After only a day and a half at altitude, I wasn't up for the extra 2,000 feet for the side trip to Oxford.

    This is an outstanding hike, with breathtaking views not only from the summit, but also from the pass and within the cirque. There are many connecting trails that provide numerous backpacking options. A great way to approach this is to base camp at the cabin and dayhike to Belford and Oxford or to Missouri. Longer hikes are possible from other trailheads. I'm definitely coming back for another look.

    I started right at sunrise after eating breakfast in the dark at the TH. Midweek farther from Denver, there were only about eight other people in the whole valley that day.

    There were a few flowers left, including a lone Colorado Columbine above 13k feet. There was a great mix of yellow Aspens among the green, and the willows were green, yellow and orange. Grass was getting pretty washed out.
    Mt Belford from Missouri Gulch
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    We try to hike one 14er every year. So far, no one had done Belford, so we did our research... and found that all week it was supposed to rain everywhere. Belford seemed like the best, closest option. We hoped to have enough good weather to do Oxford as well, but made a pact beforehand that if the weather looked even slightly iffy, we'd turn back.

    We packed into three separate cars and headed out earlier than I thought possible for that whole crowd. At the trailhead, we started with an easy pace, but soon began competing with each other to walk fastest. It became an unspoken rule that I was the "pack leader" and no one passed me. Surprising because my "pack" was at any given time around 5-7 of my younger cousins, who may or may not have been in better shape than me. In any event, we all stuck together and told interesting stories on the way up the big hill, taking breathers as needed and stopping for really awesome photo ops.

    The morning had been pretty cold and foggy. Right around the old cabin, we started to pass above it and into blue skies and greenery. The trail branched off and the true work began. At this point, we just went UP. Lots and lots of UP. We joked about what a fabul-ass trip this was, and how butt-iful the surroundings were, while essentially doing the most epic stairstepper in the immediate area. Marmots and pikas showed their displeasure in our presence, but they were fun to watch nonetheless. Eventually, we pushed up to the flatter regions of the hike, and could see even more beautiful mountains for miles. The wind got colder and we hurried tiredly to the summit. Success! We stayed just long enough for some pictures and to make the final decision not to push onward to Oxford.

    On the descent, we passed several family members and encouraged them along. Before hooking back up with the Missouri Gulch Trail, we stopped for lunch and snacks. Then got back to the car as quickly as possible before the storm. If you think going up is rough, try going down this trail... phew! We took naps for a while and then hid in the vehicles while it poured on us. After a couple hours, the rest of our group finally came down the trail. Everyone was soaked, but happy to have finished it. A hot shower in the condo never felt so good.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Leadville: Drive 20 miles south on U.S. 24 and turn right on the Chaffee County 390 road. From Buena Vista: Drive 14.5 miles north on U.S. 24 and turn left on the Chaffee County Road 390. CR 390 is also known as Clear Creek Road. Drive 7.5 miles west on Clear Creek Road to a sign for the Missouri Gulch trailhead. Turn left into the large parking area. If no parking spaces are available, parking along the road is plentiful. There are restrooms here.
    page created by joebartels on Jul 29 2015 9:19 pm
    1 TB Flash Drive... $40
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