Mount Belford
Descent Route: East Face And West Face
March 23, 2006

The snow conditions in the Sawatch Range of central Colorado have improved significantly over the last two weeks. With that in mind I wanted to go for an overnight camping mission into Elkhead basin to try and ski three fourteeners, Missouri Mtn, Mt. Belford, and Mt. Oxford. These three mountains all lie within a few miles of each other, and I was hoping that I could get all three done with one night out in the mountains.

For this trip I was joined by Ben Galland, Mike Cuseo, and John Hagman. Ben is directing and producing the documentary film on this project, and Mike and John are local Aspen area skiers and filmers who are incredibly solid in the big mountains. We geared up in Leadville and then drove down to the Vicksburg trailhead at 9660 ft. We left the trailhead at noon, loaded down with tents, sleeping bags, stoves, food, and a big pile of film and video equipment. The tour up through the forest was arduous with all this gear, especially as the trail climbs steeply for the first mile. We made camp at 3 p.m. at 11,600 ft. in Elkhead basin. This beautiful valley is lined on two sides by fourteeners, Missouri to the south and Belford to the East. After a quick break, we set out again to try and ski Missouri Mtn. before the sunset. We skinned for three hours and finally reached what we thought was the summit. Unfortunately, we made a mistake, and ended up at 13,800 ft on the ridge to the north of the true summit. The sun was on the horizon and the walk to the true summit was over a mile, so we decided to ski a beautiful powder face and come back for Missouri Mtn. another day.

After a cold night in the tents, complete with several heavy snow squalls, we rose at 6 a.m. and spent almost two hours cooking oatmeal, coffee, and boiling water for what would be a long day trying to ski Belford and Oxford. The group geared up and began skinning at 8 a.m. We quickly passed 12,000 ft. on the western flanks of Belford. The skinning was easy and it was a perfect day to be in the mountains; light winds, mild temperatures, and a great route planned. After three hours we neared the summit of Belford. The west side of the mountain is pretty scoured of snow, but the east side was filled in nicely, and would provide a great ski descent. Once I arrived on the summit, I saw that the top was rocky and bare for about 20 feet. I decided to employ the Mahon/ Sauer method of skiing from the summit, which entails shoveling snow to create a ?line? to ski off the top. I shoveled for half an hour and created a cool ramp into a ski jump that sent me over a five-foot rock and onto the east face proper. Ben and the crew got some great shots of this stunt.

Ben and Mike filmed as John and I descended the East Face of Belford in shallow powder. As we reached the basin, we traversed hard right, because we had to climb back up to the saddle that splits Belford and Oxford. Another hour of climbing and we were on our second fourteener summit of the day, Mt. Oxford. Oxford is a fairly non-descript peak which offers little in the way of interesting skiing. Because Oxford was pretty devoid of snow, we were forced to ski the only line off the summit that went clean, which was the West Ridge that connects back to Belford. I?ve done really well at skiing challenging routes on all the peaks so far, so I was not let down to have to ski this easy route on Oxford. Once back at the saddle, John and I climbed another 700 ft. back up to the summit of Belford, where we met Ben and Mike again at 3 p.m. We decided as a group to descend the west face couloir of Belford, a great line we had looked at from camp. The couloir was filled with great powder, and we all enjoyed perfect turns on our third run down a fourteener. Back in camp, the sun slipped below the horizon as we packed up the gear for the ski out to the car at Vicksburg. As I mentioned earlier, the trail, which was recently redone by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, is wonderful to skin up, but to descend with a 60 pound back was scary and dangerous. I was relieved to see everyone arrive at the parking lot safe and sound. We drove to Buena Vista to get some sleep and pack for an ascent of Missouri Mountain the next day.

**** I?ll place the Belford photos here. For photos from Mt. Oxford please go to the Oxford page.

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