Peak(s):  Mt. Belford  -  14,202 feet
La Plata Peak  -  14,344 feet
Huron Peak  -  14,006 feet
Mt. Oxford  -  14,158 feet
Mt. Yale  -  14,200 feet
Browns Peak  -  13,523 feet
Date Posted:  08/10/2022
Date Climbed:   08/04/2022
Author:  Hiking_TheRockies
 Sawatch Shenanigans   

Sawatch Trip 2022

La Plata, Huron, Belford, Oxford, and Yale
July 29 - Aug 5

Total Mileage - 37.5
Total Gain - 18,600’

Over the years, I’ve learned more and more about the Colorado 14ers and strived to climb them. The majority of my summits thus far have been day trips, and I’ve never gotten to spend more than a night to climb some of these beautiful and challenging peaks. Luckily, a window of time opened up this summer for my dad, friend and I to take an eight day vacation to Buena Vista to try to knock out some 14ers. The original plan was nine fourteeners, the ones we did this trips plus Harvard, Columbia, Shavano, and Tabeguache. However, we quickly realized that hiking 14ers back to back to back is challenging on the muscles and overall very tiring. Even if I wasn’t sore the next day, I felt tired and slow from the previous hike.

So we made a decision to make our trip five instead of nine summits and have rest days in between. Even though my big goals to knock out a ton of Sawatch 14ers wasn’t met, it is awesome that we will get to come back another summer to continue experiencing the beautiful wilderness that is the Sawatch Range. After doing these five hikes, I’m really happy that I was able to have such a great (albeit challenging) time with my dad and friend in these amazing mountains. I hope this trip report will be a good read and hopefully helpful on some of these routes. Enjoy!

Hike 1 - La Plata
7.0 miles, 3400 ft of gain

We decided that because my dad had not been hiking as much as me so far this summer, we would start with a “warm up hike” to kick things off. We chose the Southwest Ridge route on La Plata peak for an easy start. After doing that hike, “easy” is not the way I would put it.

The hike is 7 miles long and comes in at around 3500 ft of gain. This already clocks you in at above 1000 ft of gain per mile. The hike, however, consisted of flat sections of trail followed by very steep sections of trail, which resulted in a tough push in the last roughly mile and a half. Nevertheless, we had a fun time climbing La Plata!

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Me at the TH

Out of the trailhead, we hiked a couple hundred yards up a rough road that goes to the sign below the trail. From here we followed the trail up through the trees, which follows near a creek all the way up into the basin above tree line. We periodically got views through the trees towards Huron and the Three Apostles, which was very beautiful. The trail up through the trees is not too long, probably a mile or less, before you emerge into the basin that you will eventually climb out of. The trail is not too steep and in pretty good shape.

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Hiking up through the trees
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Emerging into the basin

The basin is really pretty once you get up above tree line. The trail goes up towards the back end of the basin while crossing a stream a couple of times. Some sections were really muddy while we were there.
From the basin, you can look back at where you came from to see amazing views of the Three Apostles, Huron, and beyond. The surrounding basin walls are very beautiful, including a very jagged ridge to the north. From here, we followed the trail to the end of the basin, where the trail turns to steep dirt and scree and rises quickly above the basin and to the ridge above. This trail was very bad and was not fun to come down.

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Entering the basin
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Upper basin. The trail to get above the basin can be seen on the upper left

After taking the dirt and scree trail, you rise to a saddle that shows the trail that leads to the hardest part of the hike—a large, steep climb up to the La Plata summit ridge. From the saddle, the views are very nice and it is easy to see the trail to the upcoming rock scramble. While ascending the steep face, there are a number of community trails that we took, some marked by cairns. It is a lot easier to take these paths than go straight up the rocks.

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Views from the saddle
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The trail towards “the big ascent”
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Yuk

After the rock scramble for about 1000 ft, we topped out near the summit ridge. It took us about fifteen or so minutes from there to get to the summit.
The clouds above us were building, so we snapped a few photos and started out descent. The summit was beautiful, but the star of the show was Fred the Marmot, who paid us a visit.

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FRED!

The descent provided more good views, but it was also challenging to descend the 2000+ feet of rocks and dirt that took us down to the basin. The descent from the saddle down into the basin was especially difficult, because the dirt and scree was really easy-moving, so I slipped a lot on the way down. The descent was beautiful, however, and we got some cool photos. From there, we descended back into the trees and returned to our car.

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On the way down
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Pretty cool cave. There were old minecart rails coming out of the ground nearby.


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Views
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Descending into the trees

This was a tough seven miles, but the views made it worth it. La Plata was a tiring but fun hike! We took a rest day before doing our next hike, the Tour de Huron.

Hike 2 - Tour de Huron
~10 miles, 4000 ft of gain

We drove up from Buena Vista at around 6 am and got to the Upper 2WD trailhead at Winfield a little past 7. The road there was bumpy but do-able 2WD. From the 2WD trailhead, we hiked a little bit down the 4WD road before turning left to follow the old Jeep road to Lulu Gulch. The road is mildly steep but not challenging, and provides some good views once you get near treeline. Pretty far up the road, there is a split that provides the options to go straight or left. We went left to take the now abandoned portion of the Jeep road into Lulu Gulch.

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On the road

We hiked a bit further past the road split and finally rose above treeline to get a view of Lulu Gulch. The entire area is really scenic and it is pretty easy to see the route up Browns Peak, which is the way we chose to go (as opposed to following the road up Middle Mountains and going to Browns Peak from there). We followed the road across the basin, where there is eventually a prominent switchback that turns back towards the valley you came from and heads up the side of Middle Mountain. This is where we left the road to begin our way towards Browns Peak.
To get to the summit of Browns Peak, we hiked up through the basin to the base of a prominent slope to the left of Browns Peak. We went up the left/middle sections of the slope to get to the base of Browns' summit ridge. The middle of the slope was horribly loose dirt that we got stuck in for a while, but the left side of the slope was decently stable rock and tundra. I don't know what the right side was like, but it looked like it was mainly rock.

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Me in the Gulch, hiking up towards Browns Peak
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Going up the slopes on Browns Peak
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At the top of the slopes, looking towards the summit

After reaching the top of the slopes, we hiked up the nicer and gentler ridge to the summit of Browns Peak, where we got a nice view towards Huron. From here we hiked along the side of the connecting ridge and joined with the Huron Trail to make a final push to the summit.

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Looking at Huron from Browns Peak
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Taken from where the ridge from Browns reaches Huron, looking at the summit

The 400ish feet to the summit were steep and difficult, but we made it up in 10ish minutes from where we joined the Huron trail. Weather was building fast, so we snapped some quick photos and got down.

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Summit Photo ft. Three Apostles

On the way down, we saw a mountain goat in the spot Photo #19 was taken (two photos back). We decided that going all the way back to Lulu Gulch was dangerous in the building weather, so we took the standard trail back down Huron. Once we got about 1500 feet below the summit, there was a nice open meadow that we ate lunch in. The weather luckily held on our descent and we actually didn't get any rain at all.

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Goat
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Lets be honest: the PB&J is the best sandwich.

We descended back to the 4WD trailhead, where we had around a 1.75 mile walk back to the 2WD trailhead, where we parked, making this trip a full Tour de Huron. Despite the difficult ascent to Browns Peak and Huron, the entire hike was beautiful and I would defiantly do it again. Additionally, we saw NOBODY until we joined with the Huron trail, so we had all of Lulu Gulch to ourselves... on a Sunday!

Hike 3 - Belford & Oxford
11 miles, 5900 ft of gain

On my original, ambitious itinerary, we planned to add Missouri into the mix to do a triple 14er day, but after La Plata and Huron, we decided that we would have to do Missouri another day. Despite taking a 14er off our hike, this hike was still pretty strenuous. We were thankful to be parking at Missouri Gulch Trailhead instead of going all the way to Winfield, and we were able to wake up a bit later than normal. We also got to see what I believe was the start of Section 2 of the Trans Rockies Run, which was scheduled for that day. We got there as the people were setting up signage and a starting line, and later in the hike we heard cheers coming from down the valley.
We started up the trail, which is kind of steep but pretty nice. My dad realized he had a blister on his big toe about a half mile up, so we stopped so he could apply moleskin. After that, we continued trecking on towards treeline. When we emerged into the valley, we took a water break and then continued forwards.

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Emerging out of treeline
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Looking back towards the valley

A couple hundred feet above treeline, we started the climb up Belford. It's just one massive, tough push all the way to the summit, and it took us more than an hour to get all the way to the summit. The climb starts after you go down into a stream bed and back up. The views get nicer the higher up you go, but getting up to Belford was defiantly not easy. After hiking up the trail for what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached the summit, where we ate snacks and got some nice views of Missouri.

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Maybe 1/3 of the way up?
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Scenic valley

After summiting Belford, we began the traverse to Oxford. This was definitely the most strenuous part of the hike, as going up Oxford and then back up Belford again added up to something like 2000 extra feet of elevation gain. The traverse had a decent trail, but the wind was terrible at the saddle we crossed over. Additionally, large, dark clouds were building near us. We summited Oxford and did our best to book it on the way back to Belford, but the steep trail slowed us down. We managed to get back up, but our energy was pretty spent. Doing Missouri in addition to these two peaks would have definitely been challenging.

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Belford Summit
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Traversing, near the Belford summit
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The traverse
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Oxford summit

On the way back down, our luck ran out and we got completely dumped on. Rain, hail, and sleet bombarded us all the way down to treeline, so I sadly don't have any photos from this point of the hike. Going down the side of Belford in the rain made everything slippery, and we took a long time getting down. The experience was annoying, but we were lucky to not slip on the slick rocks. We hiked out to the trailhead, which was nice compared to the difficult uphill and pouring rain that the majority of our hike had consisted of thus far. The Trans Rockies Run was all packed up, and we had the place to ourselves. We changed out of our wet hiking boots, which literally had puddles in them, and drove back to Buena Vista.
This hike had some nice views, but I don't think I'll be doing it again. I'm still happy that we got it done, though!

Hike 4 - Yale
9.5 miles, 4100 ft of gain

Surprisingly, the last 14er we did turned out the be the easiest. We decided to do the standard route up Mt. Yale, on which we were joined by my friend. We were at the trailhead around 6:45, where we saw the CFI doing some trail work. Thanks guys!
The trail up Yale was very nice for the entire time. We worked our way up through the trees, which was probably the longest trail below treeline of our entire trip. We passed a couple of groups while hiking, but the trail certainly wasn't crowded. Eventually we got above treeline, which gave us some pretty sweet views of the surrounding area. There was no wind and just a few clouds in the sky, a perfect day.

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Me on the side of the trail
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A break in the trees
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Above treeline

From above treeline, we had one tough push to get to 13,900', which didn't take us too long. We saw a number of Pikas on the way up, including one that ran across the trail directly in front of where I was walking and scared the living daylights out of me. We saw more people around here, and passed a couple of people who were heading down. But compared to a summer day on Bierstadt, this was a pretty empty trail. The biggest concentration of people was at this flat point before you turn right and start up the summit ridge. We saw three or four groups chilling out around here.

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Looking up towards the summit
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Looking at the ridge from the flat point

I believe there is an intended way to follow the ridge to get to the summit, be we just scrambled along the left side on Class 2 and light Class 3 terrain. We had some fun hoisting ourselves over rocks as we made our way to the summit, which we reached after ten or so minutes.

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Fun stuff
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More of the rocks (taken on the descent, we are on the other side of the ridge)

We ate food at the summit and started heading down. The descent was definitely the best part of this hike because my friend and I ran all the way down to treeline, like maniacs. The we decided to do some trail-parkour, where I am proud to say I did a string of jumps into a 180-degree-spin off a log, where I subsequently landed wrong and completely wiped out (it was awesome). After that, our knees were practically mush so we walked the remainder of the way down. We ultimately had a great time on this hike, and it was my favorite of the whole trip!

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On the way down

This trip was one of the best experiences I've ever had in the mountains. I'm excited to come back to this area another year to try to get the remaining nine Sawatch 14ers. I had such an amazing time, and I hope this trip report illustrated that. Thank you so much for reading and happy trails!!




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Gulf_Coast_Hiker
Great Job!
08/10/2022 13:51
Excellent post and nice pics! I'm heading out there next week for some of the same fun, so thanks for getting me fired up!

PS - The Lulu Gulch route is way more fun than the standard route. Good choice!


Jay521
User
Very nice!
08/10/2022 16:43
Great work getting them. I look forward to seeing more TR's from you.


garcher11
garcher11
08/11/2022 20:54
Great trip report. Excellent pictures that look just like when I climbed them in the years past.
Keep on climbing.
"The trail is there for a reason!"


ltlFish99
excellent
08/11/2022 23:00
report, with wonderful photographs.


Hiking_TheRockies
User
Thanks
08/12/2022 14:42
...everyone for the nice comments. I appreciate all of them. Hike on!



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