| Belford and Oxford on a bluebird day
Yesterday, my sister and I returned to the mountains to nab a couple more 14ers before the snow completely set in. It turned out to be a perfect fall day! We got to the Missouri Gulch trailhead before 7:00 and set out on the snow-free trail in the crisp, cool morning air. After a few hundred feet, there was a little snow on or near the trail. As we got higher, there was more and more snow, and once we got up past the switchbacks, about 1000' vertical feet or so, the snow got more continuous. The trail flattens out for a bit and then it keeps going up through the conifers towards treeline. At this point, the trail was pretty much completely covered in snow.
The trail near treeline
We had prepared well for this trip (snow boots, gaiters, snowshoes, etc.) and were soon glad of it. The snow layer was thin and the snow on the trail was pretty packed down through the trees and the basin but once on the ridge, the snow gets deeper and either very hard or powder soft. Currently, on the ridge, if you stick to the right side, there is much less snow and it's not hard to avoid most of the time, although that will change as there is more snow. There were still plenty of places were the snow is unavoidable.
The shack at treeline
Past the shack, our first view of Belford
We reached the shack at 8:00, one hour total from the trailhead. The trail at this point was still easy to follow and there was no wind. The next stretch of trail across the basin was easy to follow as well.
Above treeline, looking back
At the trail junction
The ridge starts out steeper, but once over the first bump, you get a great view of the route.
Starting up the ridge
Over the first bump, a good view of the ridge
Climbing up the snow
A little over halfway up, looking down the snowy ridge
After the halfway point, the snow got significantly sparser, but on the trail there was pretty continuous packed snow.
The sun peeks over the remaining stretch to the summit ridge
We slogged along, and soon we were at the saddle, 15 minutes away from Belford's summit.
Approaching the saddle
On the saddle, looking at Missouri and the Western Sawatch
The trail turns left and climbs past a false summit, and then the true summit is in view.
The final stretch to the summit!
Oxford from Belford's summit
We summited Belford at about 11:00 am, and since the weather was perfect and we had lots of energy, we took a 20 minute break, then left our packs on Belford, grabbed our jackets and a water bottle, and took off for Oxford. The trail down Belford had a lot of snow, but as we got down to the saddle and on the Oxford side, it was basically snow free.
Near the Belford-Oxford saddle
Looking back up Belford
On Oxford's side, feels like summer!
Crossing the only snowfield we encountered on Oxford
We summited at 12:20, one hour from Belford, and were rewarded with great views of the rest of the Sawatch mountains, the Elks, and the San Juans.
On Oxford's summit, looking back at Belford
Snowmass and Capitol in the distance
Uncompahgre and the San Juans, way in the distance
Castle and Conundrum on the left
The Maroon Bells and Pyramid in center, and Snowmass on the right
Our final challenge was the climb back up Belford, which was definitely the hardest part of the day. We took off at a fast walk/jog down Oxford, enjoying the snow-free trail while we still had it.
The moon over Belford
We crossed the saddle and started slogged back up Belford. This was where the burn/exhaustion feeling hit me. We dragged ourselves back to Belford's summit, reaching the top at 1:40, about an hour from Oxford's summit, and plopped down for a good break, our last of the day.
Mount Harvard and the southern Sawatch range
At 2:00, we put our packs back on and started down the trail to where there was continuous enough snow to start snowshoeing. After we got below the saddle a bit, we put our snowshoes on and started heading down on great snow!
Snowshoeing down the ridge
We were able to snowshoe all the way to the top of the steep bump at the base of the ridge, where the snow gets too sparse to continue until lower down. Even so, we didn't put our snowshoes back on, as we wanted to get back down to the trailhead!
At the end of the snow, ready to pack up the snowshoes
The sun set over Missouri as we reached the trees, and the air was cool and refreshing as we continued down through the trees.
A parting shot of Missouri and Belford
Ice forms over a stream beside the trail
We finally reached the trailhead at 5:00 pm. We were the only people in this area all day and it was a blast! Hopefully we'll be able to do some more 14ers this winter.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):