| Standard route - Belford/Oxford combo
Belford and Oxford:
Before I go into my trip report, I’ll start with a few things to hopefully help other hikers:
1) The drive: easy access to the trailhead for cars. No need for 4WD/clearance.
2) Camping: Lots of spots to pitch a tent about a mile before the trailhead on 390 (on the left hand side). After this area, there are not many good spots to camp. At the trailhead, the sign says “no camping”, but there were several tents pitched up when I arrived. There are a few spots along the trail, most of which are between the 1.5 and 2 mile mark.
3) The trail going up Belford: The trail up Belford is steep, but not technical. Because of the steepness and constant switchbacks, the trek to the top is a bit of a grind. I was a little surprised it is classified as a class 2 trail, especially when Quandary is class 1 (I thought Belford was easier). I can only guess it is a class 2 because of how steep it is as there really are no rocks to climb over or technical parts to the trail. The trail is also easy to find and easy to follow in daylight or darkness. As of today, there was no snow on the trail.
4) The saddle between Belford and Oxford: The trail going down from Belford is steep and easy to slip on. Once down to the saddle, it is an easy ascent up Oxford with a gradual grade and easy trail going to the summit. There was a small snow bank shortly after the saddle going up Oxford. The snow was fairly deep and unavoidable, but easy to cross and only about 20 feet long. No need for microspikes or other equipment to get through. This was the only snow on the trail. Coming back up Belford after summiting Oxford is a little more difficult due to the steepness, but again the trail is not technical and is easy to follow.
My trip report:
Time started: 3:45 AM (From parking lot)
Belford Summit: 6:30 AM (2 minutes at top)
Oxford Summit: 7:15 AM (15 minute rest at top)
Belford Summit (return): 8:30 AM
Return to car: 10:30 AM.
The original plan was to drive up from Denver on Saturday morning with a 6 AM start time. Due to weather reports predicting storms by noon, however, I decided to drive up Friday night instead and get a really early start. I drove up Friday and pulled off about a mile before the trailhead where I found a lot of different campsites available with flat areas to pitch a tent. I didn’t really do any research beforehand, so this was a big relief to find this area. Otherwise I would have had to sleep in my car.
I woke up at 3 AM on Saturday, packed up my tent and gear and drove to the trailhead. By 3:45 I had begun hiking. The trail averages over 1,000 ft in elevation gain per mile and the first two miles is pretty steep and tiring. Once you get to tree line, the trail flattens out a bit for a half mile or so until the Mt Belford turn off. Then it is just a lot of steep switchbacks all the way to the summit. I passed just one hiker on the way to the top and she was said she was going up Mt Missouri, otherwise it seemed I had the whole mountain and trail all to myself. This is a rare thing on a 14er.
I was feeling pretty good on this hike and really didn’t stop at all on the way up Mt Belford. It was still dark and cool most of the way which made the trip enjoyable to me. I managed to make it to the summit in less than 3 hours (6:30 AM). I am in good shape, but was also hiking with a broken toe so I really did not know what to expect. My pace was probably faster than average, even for me, and I would guess that at a normal pace, one should expect about a 4 hour hike to the top. When I reached the summit of Belford, there was not one single other person at the top, much to my delight. There was also storm clouds on all sides (surprising for this early in the morning), so I decided not to stay long and immediately began course towards Oxford.
The trip down Belford going towards Oxford was steep and treacherous. I don’t like to use trekking poles, but was very happy I brought them this time for this section. Once down in the saddle, the hike up Oxford is pretty easy with a gradual incline and easy trail. It took 45 minutes to hike from Belford to Oxford and I reached the summit around 7:15. Thankfully, the clouds had started to break up a little. Once again I had the whole summit to myself and I took advantage of it by screaming out a few frustrations into the empty space around me. If any other hikers heard it, I am sorry. I didn’t see any rescue helicopters or anything, so thanks for not calling for help. In hindsight, that type of thing should be taken seriously on a 14er and I actually regretted my yelling afterward. I am a pretty quiet person, and it just felt good. The only other notable thing about Oxford was the fact that there was a toaster at the top. I cannot think for the life of me who would hike up a 14er with a toaster and then leave it there, but apparently someone did.
I spent 15 minutes on Oxford screaming and eating breakfast before I headed back up towards Belford. The trip down Oxford was quick and easy, but it was a slow and steep grind back up Belford. Between the steepness, being tired from hiking, and lightheaded from the lack of oxygen, it was a bit of a struggle to get back up. It is a short climb, but not an easy one. Once back on Belford, now 8:30 AM (it took an hour to get back from Oxford to Belford), my day of solitude had come to an end as there were a lot of hikers on Belford now. Several other hikers asked me why I didn’t go down the “other way” instead of coming back up Belford. Honestly, I did not know there was another way down and don’t see any mention of it on 14ers.com, so perhaps someone else can post about this in a trip report? That sure should would have been nice to know.
From the top of Belford again, the clouds had mostly broken up. There were still a few small rain clouds in the distance, but no signs of any thunderstorms. I was relieved to know I would probably stay dry for the trip down. Also relieved for the sake of all the hikers now coming up.
The trip down was pretty uneventful. The trail was steep coming up and, surprise, it was still steep going back down. Personally, I think steep trails are harder going down. Once again, I was glad I brought trekking poles for this hike. I made it back to my car by 10:30 AM and happily made it back to my home in Denver nice and early in the afternoon. It rained almost the whole drive back, so I was crossing my fingers for all the other hikers still going up and hope all had a safe and successful trip.