| Standard Up, Elkhead pass Down
The alarm went off at 1 AM and after only getting about 2.5 hours of sleep, my body was entirely unwilling to wake up. Luckily, I had packed all of my gear a few hours before so all I had to do was wake up, put on some clothes, and get out the door. Within 20 minutes, I was leaving the house and driving towards Leadville with the high goal of doing a Belford / Oxford / Missouri combo.
The drive to the trailhead was uneventful and since it was my third time into that area in the past 2 months, I was extremely comfortable with where I was going. I arrived at the trailhead at 3:30 AM and was surprised to see 4 cars in the parking lot already. The last time I was at this trailhead, 2 months ago, I had the only vehicle here.
I quickly got geared up and started hiking at 3:50 and was making my way up the dark trail. There was no moon, so my headlamp was extremely helpful on this morning! As I hiked up through the forest, I noticed some particles floating through the light of my headlamp and also the faint smell of a campfire. I didn’t dawn on me until after tree line that I was able to smell the smoke and see the ash from the various wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico.
I made the creek crossing, which was running pretty high, by 4:25 and was to the cabin by 4:42. I was pretty happy with my pace and thought that if I kept feeling this strong, I would make my goal of grabbing all three mountains. I made my way up the valley and before I knew it, was making my way up the ridgeline towards the summit of Belford.
Looking down the valley towards the trailhead from the ridgeling
I didn’t really see too many people in the early morning. I could see the faint hint of a headlamp on the ridge high above me, and every now and again, see the movement of someone else on the mountain. It didn’t take long before I was topping out on the ridge and making my way over the brief flat area before the summit block. The wind had picked up and I was a little chilly (and too lazy to take my bag off and grab an extra layer) so I snapped a few quick pictures and started making my way to the saddle of Oxford, that was my first goal anyway.
The last time I was on this mountain was April 27, 2013 and there was significantly more snow on the mountain. In fact, the entire way up the valley was spent dodging pockets of snow and hoping we wouldn’t posthole. The ridgeline was not any better and with snow filling all of the switchbacks; it was easier to just walk straight up the ridge. Unfortunately, that expended all of my energy and by the time we made the summit of Belford, time was running short and I wasn’t feeling well so I had to descend without getting Belford’s sibling. I knew it would stink, but I had to come back at a later day to hike Belford again just to get Oxford.
Ridgeline on April 27, 2013
Fast forward back to the present and I am quickly making my up to the summit. I cross a small snow field and then top out on the rock outcropping of the top of Mt. Belford!
Snowfield near summit
View from the summit
I quickly make myway down the saddle and decide to pause and take a quick break, since I didn’t take one on the summit. I had a snack, grabbed my sunglasses and stocking hat, and took in the sights. A few minutes later, I am heading down the saddle and making my way over to Oxford.
View of the saddle
The route up was really quite nice. The saddle was gentle and there was really only one snowfield to dodge. Before I knew it, I had topped out on top of Oxford! There was one other person there with her dog, but they quickly left and I had the summit to myself. I spent about 30 minutes on top, taking in the views, resting, taking pictures, and consuming some food!
Summit of Oxford
The hike back up to Belford was a little on the slow side. The smell of smoke the entire way up Belford made me feel a little funky and even though the winds switched direction and the smell went away, it still took its toll. As I climbed back up to Belford, I was still deciding on whether I was going to do Missouri or not. I began the decent down to Elkhead pass and I must say this route is much more pleasant than the standard route of Belford. I took some pictures of wildflowers along the way and was studying the East Ridge to Missouri as I approached my decision point.
I bumped into someone climbing up from Elkhead pass and we chatted a while. Turns out, he just came down from Missouri on the route I was planning on talking. After getting some information (basically that the rock is pretty rotten and there would be significant scrambling), I decided that I was done for the day. My legs were a little on the tired side and my head wasn’t with it, so I called it and headed down the pass for the car.
Along the way down, I passed more wildflowers, a pair of Ptarmigan, and several other hikers. The stream crossings were running pretty high and I had to use my ice axe as a walking stick on one of the wider crossings. I think that later in the season, these won’t be a big deal, but with all of the snow melting off of Missouri, the streams were running high.
The rest of the trip down was uneventful and I was making decent time back to the car. I took several more pictures, including one of a marmot near the cabin, and enjoyed the scenery all the way back down to the trailhead.
I reached the car right at noon which made my round trip time around 8 hours and 10 minutes. I wouldn’t call it a great pace, but since I tacked on some extra mileage by descending onto Elkhead pass, I was happy with it.
Overall, the hike is pretty nice. I wouldn’t call it one of my favorite hikes, but it is definitely better than the slog up some of the others. Since this was my first solo hike, I had some experiences that were a little more profound than what I am normally used to. There were no distractions by other people to take me away from my thoughts and I was able to focus entirely on the matter at hand. In some ways, I found it pleasant… in others, not so much. I feel like I am slightly more motivated when I am hiking with a partner. I don’t know if it’s the desire to not fail in front of another person or if talking with someone on the way up takes my mind off some of the hardship that I am dealing with, but I can see the pros and cons of both ways. At the end of the day, I was able to get back to a mountain that I was unable to reach previously so I feel pretty good about that!
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