| Oxford ...with Belford (again)
Mt. Belford (14197') and Mt. Oxford (14153') via Missouri Gulch, July 7, 2012
11 miles and 5800' of gain/loss
6th and final report on this tour
It had been a very good tour up until now and we wanted a good finish. I had managed to "clean up" all of my unsuccessful Colorado summits up until now, except Mt. Oxford. Two years ago, I reached Mt. Belford and was going down toward the Oxford saddle when I was thundered off. I would have to reclimb Belford in order to claim Oxford some future day and that day had arrived: July 7, 2012.
This hike did not start out well. It was raining at 3 am at the hotel...great for the dry Colorado landscape, but harder on us. It rained lightly as we started out, then a bit harder as we moved up the gulch. Things eventually settled down for the early morning hours.
I reveled in the fact that, if I was successful today, this would be the last of my three hikes up Missouri Gulch, also the last time I would sleep in Buena Vista, and I would earn my Collegiate degree, etc. It felt good.
Dave pressed hard up Missouri Gulch, not only did he have fresh legs, but whenever I hike with him, he is strong and tireless. I did my best to responsibly lead when I was in front. We took several short breaks up the tough switchbacks and a longer break at the cabin site.
We continued on above treeline, then onto the Mt. Belford Trail. A few minutes after the fork, at 12200', Dave told me that he was no longer comfortable hiking up Belford. Dave has legs of steel and really enjoys walking through the woods at home. Dave opted to continue up the Elkhead Pass Trail then back down Missouri Gulch. He expected to come back up the Gulch from the trailhead, and hope to meet me on the lower slopes of the Mt. Belford Trail. I gave Dave the car keys and we discussed the logistics of communication, routes and expected time of arrival. It was 6:40 am.
The switchbacks up Belford seem endless, but manageable. I knew I would spend the next two hours doing nothing but toiling up the very straightforward Northwest Ridge Route. I stopped to take a photo of a lovely foggy mountain scene at 13330'. The fog thickened as I gained elevation. At 14000', I met three ptarmigan, it is amazing how well they can camouflage, if it were not for the fact that they were running down the trail toward me, I may not have noticed them.
I turned onto a more exposed ridge and the wind blasted me rather suddenly, about 30 mph. It was also chilly, with occasional light rain. This is when I brought out the windbreaker, also a balaclava, which I fashioned into a beanie.
The route takes a funny turn near the top, I had forgotten about this from my trip two years before. The wind relented and I made it to the summit. Belford became my first repeated 14er. It was 9:45 am.
There was a lot of cloud cover, and afternoon thunder is always a risk, so I chatted up fellow summiteers then decided to leave for Oxford pretty quickly.
Views all the way to Oxford were rare in between the clouds. Most of the time, visibility on this ridge was about 1/2 mile. I noted how difficult it would be, mentally if nothing else, to reascend Belford in the next 1-2 hours. I reached the saddle, then a false summit. I was pleased as punch to see the true summit ahead, but with nobody on top, aw shucks, another false summit, and this one had fooled me. Finally, I saw folks at a summit shelter and could celebrate my 28th 14er, my Collegiate graduation and my completion of the Chaffee County 14ers.
We were fogged in. There was a hint of high ground toward Belford and some spots on the level summit appeared to be higher than the true summit.
Helping my celebration was a curious summit marmot, who is probably used to handouts from hikers here. He was a friendly sort and he even posed with me for the summit photo.
Back to Belford we go. I had a nice conversation with a school teacher from Ft. Collins on the trip down to the saddle, being a teacher in Colorado means great summers of hiking if you are interested in that. I needed to stop talking and do more breathing on the uphill to Belford, and eventually the school teacher passed me on the way up.
I heard a rockfall which I figured out came from Missouri Mountain. While it sounded huge, Dave saw it on his hike to Elkhead Pass and told me it was one lone boulder coming down the mountain. Then I heard the more familiar and unfortunate sound of thunder. With clouds all around, it is hard to discern which cloud is the electric one, or are they all becoming electric at the same time. This one was south of me and passing to the west, but there would be more.
I did not waste much time making the Belford summit, at 12:18 pm, then rolling down the Northwest Ridge toward Missouri Gulch. With many hikers below me in the queue, we all made our way down in light to moderate rain, which sometimes switched over to sleet.
I was relieved to be down off of Belford, then down to the cabin site at timberline. There was a more formidable cloud over Missouri Mountain again, to the south, but in general, clouds were dissipating.
I made the long trudge down Missouri Gulch, happy in my accomplishments, but also a bit sad that it is unlikely that I will ever return here. Maybe when I retire to Buena Vista.
I met Dave at the trailhead at 3:16 pm, as he opted to head down to the trailhead in front of me once the weather fouled. I was amazed that it only took me 3 hours to descend from the summit of Belford. Just as I was getting good and acclimated, it was time to go home.
Dave and I washed up then enjoyed a celebratory feast at Eddyline in Buena Vista. We packed and packed. On Sunday, we opted for a driving tour. This included Red Rocks, Mt. Evans, Clear Creek Canyon, and a few passes. We ran out of time on the Peak to Peak Highway near Nederland and took CO 72, the interstates through Denver, and Southwest Airlines, back to Baltimore.
My totals for Colorado 2012: 64 miles hiked, 26,647' gained and lost, an average of 832' gained or lost per mile, in seven days. Five 14er summits if you include my first reclimb: Columbia, Missouri, Harvard, Belford and Oxford. I have summited 28 Colorado 14ers now.
It was a great time and I only hope that Dave agrees that it was fun and challenging. I will be back in 2013 for more big western adventures high in the Rockies.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):